I read Rabbi Ashira Konigsburg’s Opinion piece, “Forever Young? Community Relegates Adults to ‘Kids’ Table” (Feb. 1) and was intrigued by her assessment that organizations “must find ways to engage and cultivate genuine new leadership” rather than relegating young leaders to the proverbial “kids’ table.” I couldn’t agree more, which is why I felt inspired to share the very positive experiences I’ve been fortunate to have as a young lay leader in the Reform Movement.
I’m 29 years old. I grew up on Long Island. I’ve always been active at my synagogue, Temple Sinai of Roslyn, including founding our congregation’s young professionals program, Sinai in the City, which has over 150 members and meets regularly for social and religious events. In 2011, I joined Temple Sinai’s Board of Trustees, and last year, I had the honor of becoming the youngest member of the North American Board of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), the umbrella organization that leads the Reform Movement.
While it is difficult for young adults to play a leadership role in many organizations, as Rabbi Konigsburg aptly submits, my involvement in these roles is evidence that this is not always the case. Indeed, rather than discount my prospective participation based on my age, the Reform Movement has embraced my active engagement in part because of it—because including a young adult’s perspective is valued as a critical element of achieving the growth and progress we as a community seek to promote.
There are tangible examples of these efforts. When I joined the URJ Board, I was immediately invited to become active in the Union’s Legal Committee, where I could use my law background to help the Movement. More recently, URJ Chairman, Steve Sacks asked me to join an important committee that looks at the financial sustainability of various Movement-wide policies. When Steve asked me to be involved, I told him I wasn’t clear about what all of the policies that we would be addressing even were, given that I had been on the Board all of one month. He responded: “That’s exactly why I want you involved. I need you to ask questions other people are not considering. I want to hear your thoughts as to why we should consider doing things differently than we have always done them.”
Similarly, last summer I participated in a “think tank” which consisted of various members of the Reform community to brainstorm ideas in an effort to improve the Biennial, the Reform Movement’s largest event (which in 2011 had over 6,000 attendees and was addressed by President Obama). Of the roughly 40 people who were there, about one third of them were under the age of 35. These examples personify the message we ought to be sending to our young leaders: you count; we value your opinion; here is your seat at the “adults” table.
What should motivate our community to get young adults involved in leadership roles is not an obligatory feeling to include them, but rather, a reflection of our belief that their inclusion adds value to our discourse. This has broad implications: it invites new forms of participation; it highlights a willingness to hear different opinions; it lets prospective leaders know that their ideas and involvement are both welcome and encouraged. And in turn, this will motivate young leaders to aspire to be in leadership roles in the first place, which must be something we seek if our organizations are going to continue to thrive.
I think this is what Rabbi Konigsburg is addressing when she emphasizes the need for “a true openness to new ideas, a willingness to engage and mentor new leadership, and the courage to let someone with less experience take a chance at leading.” If the Reform Movement’s recognition of these truths is an example of the direction in which our community is heading, then I believe our future will be in good hands.
Scott Reich serves on the North American Board of the Union for Reform Judaism; the Board of Trustees of Temple Sinai of Roslyn; the Board of Directors of the School for Language and Communication Development; and the College Council of SUNY College at Old Westbury. He is a practicing attorney at a law firm in Manhattan, and he is the author of a forthcoming book about what President John F. Kennedy’s legacy means to a new generation of Americans; publication is planned for Fall 2013. Follow him on Twitter: @ScottDReich