There is much for the Jewish people to learn from the victory of Senator Barack Obama last month, which demonstrates a public yearning for change.
Dissatisfaction with the present leadership and a craving for change also characterise a growing part of the Jewish people, and especially the younger generation, both in Israel and the diaspora. This was clearly expressed at the Presidential Conference, “Facing Tomorrow”, last month in Jerusalem — as reported in the JC. And, more ominously, by the growing number of abstentions in elections in Israel and the large-scale exit from Jewish organised life live in the diaspora.
To assure thriving in a world rapidly cascading towards a new era, a new type of political leadership is needed everywhere. However, this is especially urgent in the Jewish people, which is undergoing a metamorphosis that will endanger its future — unless some of its main features change radically. To bring about needed but painful creative destruction and lay new foundations for the future, new types of Jewish people leaders are required.
Let me illustrate some of the needed qualities. Spiritual leaders must add a good understanding of the modern world, knowledge in philosophy, theology of the main religions, history and psychology to deepen understanding of Jewish traditions. They must be willing to adjust Jewish traditional precepts and also some elements of the halachah to new conditions, such as on the status of women — as characterised outstanding Jewish spiritual leaders in the past but is all too scarce at present. And, most important of all, they must reach out to broad strata of the Jewish people and draw into the Jewish people the fully assimilated and the spouses and children of out-marriages. This includes making conversion easy and recognising the legitimacy of all streams of Judaism, even when disagreeing with them.
Community and organisation leaders in the diaspora must think globally while acting locally, regarding themselves as part of the leadership of the Jewish people as a whole. Good understanding of the drivers shaping the future is essential, together with creativity in crafting new policies to meet new challenges, while recognising the inadequacy of “more of the same”. They must be technology-friendly and understand the potentials of second- and third-generation internet for restructuring Jewish communities. Educating the public and close cooperation with spiritual leaders is essential. And top-level leadership as a whole should be selected less on the basis of money, be significantly younger with an average age of about 45, and include a large number of women.
Israeli Jewish leadership is the most problematic of all, as it must function well both at the head of a state facing critical choices and as Jewish people leaders. To concentrate on the latter, they must understand the Jewish people as a whole and accept shared responsibility for its future also in the diaspora; have good knowledge of Jewish tradition and a deep commitment to strengthening the pluralistic Jewish nature of Israel; and facilitate the emergence of a new type of spiritual and religious leadership while weakening the religious establishment. Also, their personal behaviour must meet high ethical standards.
Comparison of this partial list of requirements with the reality clearly demonstrates that accelerated retirement of a large part of today’s Jewish leadership is a must. At the same time, leadership selection processes need revision in the direction of democratisation; and strenuous efforts to develop and facilitate a young generation of “new types Jewish people leaders” are required.
This is the urgent lesson of the successes of Senator Barack Obama. However, the Jewish people needs more, namely “radical change” leaders.