As I write this message, the days are getting noticeably shorter, and the nights are getting cooler. There are sure signs of the Jewish new year everywhere, from the recent full moon to the pomegranates and round challahs I’m starting to see at kosher Kroger and Publix.
As I count down the waning days of 5777, I am already caught up in the swift current of the Jewish calendar. It propels us down a rapid river of self-examination and renewal, all within a few weeks. We ride the rapids in the months of Elul and Tishrei, celebrating all the way through Sukkot to Simchat Torah. But even when the white water abates, the Jewish calendar keeps driving us to become better people all year long.
For me, the rhythms of the Jewish calendar parallel the work Federation is doing with the Front Porch: Unlocking the (Incredible) Potential of Jewish Atlanta — that’s the playful name we’ve given to our communitywide process of self-examination and renewal.
The work has begun in earnest with more than 100 Jewish Atlantans from across the metro area gathering to grapple with our community’s future. The Front Porch has a yearlong timeline, and right now we are using the period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to be reflective and listen closely to what people tell us about their hopes and dreams for Jewish Atlanta.
The Front Porch is a very Jewish process; it even has its own “rebbe.” Our self-examination and renewal work uses a framework developed by MIT economics professor Otto Scharmer called Theory U or Presencing.
Scharmer’s key idea is that in times of disruption, when the past is no longer a predictor of the future, institutions require wide engagement and breakthrough thinking. We will be learning from the future as opposed to just downloading old mental models of the past.
As the Front Porch calendar advances, we will send teams around the community to visit and observe innovative businesses and organizations that have successfully changed their cultures and become more effective.
We’ll metaphorically leave Egypt, moving beyond our own narrow institutional thinking into a radical openness to new ideas. Our promised land will be a new Jewish ecosystem composed of agencies that collaborate, communicate and plan together for a growing Jewish population.
But we don’t have 40 years to wander. We will be gathering, counting, assembling and learning rapidly. By Passover, the Front Porch will move into a series of bold prototypes — experiments that can move us swiftly to action to address the highest-potential opportunities affecting our future. This will drive us quickly, just as the calendar does, to receive a “Torah” for a 21st century Jewish Atlanta, a blueprint and action plan that is more relevant and responsive than ever before.
Our community already has a remarkable infrastructure of synagogues, agencies and programs that support and elevate Jewish life. But too often the “instruments” play as soloists. I want us to become a rich, vibrant orchestra that composes its own new music.
With just a year of Federation leadership behind me, I am convinced that change is urgent and that it is possible. Please join me in 5778 in this creative and deeply spiritual work of community regeneration. Let’s be honest, let’s be constructive, and let’s be brave. Together we can build a community of meaning and mitzvah that brings even deeper purpose to our lives.
Eric M. Robbins is the president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta (jewishatlanta.org).