MESSAGE FROM THE PRESIDENT
REMARKS FROM THE 2019 CONGREGATIONAL MEETING – MIKE DIAMOND
When I was a doctoral student at UCLA, I took a class called “Planning without Goals.” I know that sounds like a bit of an oxymoron, especially for somebody like me who has spent much of the last 25 years of his life facilitating a strategic planning process for colleges and universities. Nonetheless, this concept continues to have a bearing on my life as I look back on the decisions I have made and most importantly for today – why after spending 30 years being a member at Isaiah “at a distance” I accepted the responsibilities entrusted to me as President of the synagogue. At this point in my career I allow myself some retrospective thinking and one thing I discovered is that “most of the jobs I thought I wanted I never got and the jobs that I did get I never thought I wanted or even knew much about.” So, I thought I would briefly talk about how and why I ended up having the honor of being your next President and some initial thoughts on what I would like us to accomplish over the next couple of years.
I will start with Why! As any good academic would do, I went to google to do a search to see if I could find an answer to the question – so I searched “Why did I become a Synagogue President. I didn’t find much and what I found was not very helpful, so I was forced to answer that question for myself.
My commitment to Temple Isaiah, though not very active, was deap-seated. That commitment began to grow and flower without my noticing. I watched my son, Jacob now 38, as he journeyed through our Religious School, became a Bar Mitzvah, and continued through Confirmation, become devoted to the values, highest ideals and teachings of Judaism. I watched as these values and teachings – reflected in the words over our arc: Justice, Justice Shall you Pursue (Deut. 16:20) – informed his life. And I saw my wife Elaine’s deep connection to Judaism grow and flourish here to the point she decided to go to Rabbinical School. Now she continues her commitment to Isaiah and Judaism through teaching Torah.
Elaine and I have been Temple Isaiah members for nearly 35 years. For many of those years, Elaine the one in our family most active at Isaiah. She served on the board in the late 1990s and as many of you know continues to teach the Daughters of Torah study class and is active in Am Tzedek and Isaiah Women. Elaine would come home from long and difficult board meetings (closing the day school, for example) and I would ask – “why in the world are you doing this? Why are you spending so much time, effort, and worry’?
Her answer to that (in her words) was that the synagogue was an important part of my life, and I enjoyed developing meaningful friendships and relationships and taking a leadership role. Her answer then and continuing commitment has inspired me to close the distance between Isaiah and me, but it wasn’t until about four years ago when I became the treasurer that I was able to really begin to answer that question for myself. As the treasurer and a Board Member, I began to see and understand first-hand what Isaiah is all about, the wonderful community that exists here and the significance this community plays in all of our lives – preschool students through us “older folks.” I have made many new friends, developed new and meaningful relationships, shared both celebrations and difficult times and learned and grown from this community. As I traveled to Israel several times with fellow Isaians from across all generations I gained a new appreciation for how our increasingly diverse and multi-generational community brings strength and, when necessary, healing to all of us. As I listened and learned from the individual stories of many of our members, I learned how our families and individuals are supported in their times of joy and need by the strong family of Isaians. And I appreciated how our commitment to Israel and our striving for justice for all is enhanced by our acting together as a community. These stories and observations underscored—and perhaps contextualized—what I had seen in my own family through Elaine and our son, Jacob.
Thus, it was my commitment to this community that led me to accept the position entrusted to me: President of the Temple. It is a personal commitment to do all I can to contribute to the well-being of this community – its clergy, staff, members, and those in our broader Los Angeles Jewish (and non-Jewish) communities. I believe that we all have obligations arising from our tradition and the gifts afforded to us, to use whatever success we enjoy to better the lives of others. It is this sense of commitment that made me want to give back as much as I can to the Isaiah community, which has so enriched my life and the life of my family.
This “obligation” was only reinforced on Friday night when at Shabbat Services when I listened to our wonderful Confirmation students talk about “Why I am Jewish.” Hearing them express their deep commitment to Judaism and how Isaiah so positively impacted their lives so clearly brought home what to me Isaiah is all about much better than I ever articulate.
I have been talking about the why, I accepted being President; now I would like to turn to what my plans are for the next two years and how to move those plans forward. For me, the “how” revolves around focusing on our emerging vision and mission, building a deeper community through engagement, transparency, trust, and ensuring the long-term financial sustainability of our synagogue.
- 1. Focusing our efforts on Isaiah’s emerging vision and mission – building work beginning last year Rabbi Dara has articulated an emerging vision and mission for Temple Isaiah: Temple Isaiah: Your Home at the Intersection of Tradition and Innovation where:
- • Every member feels embraced.
- • The pursuit of justice is temple-wide and built on Jewish values. (Deuteronomy 16:20)
- • Jewish learning is lifelong and makes tradition relevant.
- • Ritual is inspiring, forming community and connection to God.
Our job as lay leaders and members of the Board is to bring this vision to life by working with the clergy and staff to develop the strategies necessary to accomplish this.
- 2. Building a Stronger Community within Temple Isaiah –
- • I feel that starting a deeper community starts with building this community within the Board and the staff. This summer there will be two retreats – one for our Board and one for all of our staff – a critical group to achieving our vision and mission. The overall purpose of these retreats is to learn how we can work together as a team and in conjunction with all of our members and understand our role in achieving our emerging vision and mission.
- • Small Group Discussions through Coffees/huddles with any Congregation member who wants to participate. I see these as small group discussions of up to a dozen or so congregants and perhaps a couple of Board Members to hear what is on your minds, explore together how we can make our community even stronger than it already is. I hope to have one or two a month beginning over the summer. Stay tuned for more information on how to sign up.
- 3. Actively Communicate with Congregation on Significant Issues — I believe that transparency to the greatest extent possible is a key ingredient to building trust and community. And, that failure to provide information leads folks to make up their own information which unfortunately is often wrong. I also know that no matter how hard I and others might try there will always be rumors and misinformation (for example, the circumstances around Joel’s departure). But it is my duty as President, along with the Board and other lay leaders to be as transparent as we can on all critical issues. I will use the Isaian, Weekly Bulletins, our website, technology, and other means to enhance a healthy information flow. And, I look forward to hearing from you, as members of the congregation about how we can better communicate and increase our transparency. Please reach out to me either through participating in the upcoming huddles/coffees I just mentioned and any other way you feel comfortable.
- 4. Ensuring Financial and operating sustainability — As noted in my Treasurer’s Report, we are in strong financial condition with no debt and a set of successful revenue drivers – memberships, schools and camps. Nonetheless, it is the obligation of the Board and Clergy to make sure that we create a sustainable financial operating model that ensures our success for generations to come.
To finish the idea of what I would like to accomplish and how we might do that, I want to share some more ideas on the broader issues we face (amongst others, an ethnically diverse Jewish community and diverse political opinions within the congregation) and share some ideas on we might respond to change. I know from my search of other Temple President’s speeches and my meeting earlier this month with Presidents of local congregations that we have much in common with other Reform Synagogues, but how we have responded historically has made us one of the premier Reform congregations and how we respond in the future will ensure our continued distinctiveness and success.
- • Our Congregation is strong, vital and in good shape. From this strength, we can and must respond to the changes occurring around us.
- • Through my experience on the Board over the last four years and from our work on sustainability project, our embrace of the co-senior rabbi approach (notwithstanding Rabbi Joel’s elective departure) and our emerging strategic plan, I believe we are innovative, willing to experiment, take informed risks and learn from and build on our disappointments.
- • These very strengths – of willingness to experiment, to take risks, and to consider the need for change – will guide us to consider carefully and critically our changing times and to seek responses that both honor our long-standing values and recognize the changes in our community. I believe that these times demand that we look at change as an obligation to collectively live our mission that Temple Isaiah is at the “intersection of tradition and innovation.”
I know I have probably gone on too long, but I want to end with a word about what our tradition teaches us about leadership. I am intrigued by the role that Moses played in our foundational story.
- • We know that Moses was limited by personal challenges but nevertheless was capable of achieving greatness. He ultimately, however, discovered that Leadership is not a solo act. Interestingly, he learned to ask for help from his wise father-in-law Jethro, who was not an Israelite, but wanted the people to succeed. It is a lesson for us about engaging and including a broad diversity of voices.
- • Our role as Lay Leaders is complicated as we confront issues and challenges that require us to listen to one another, be open to new ideas and to work together. Throughout Moses journey he experienced frustration and enough anger to smash the first set of the Ten Commandments. Of course, I know we will not reach that level of exasperation, but with all of us working together — the Board, the Clergy, staff and of course congregants and our great custodial and security crew I expect we achieve great things for Temple Isaiah. I look forward to leading us for the next two years