Lisa Glass replaces Judy Beck as head of Synagogue Leadership Initiative
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Lisa Glass replaces Judy Beck as head of Synagogue Leadership Initiative

New director to highlight 'next practices' in meeting synagogue needs

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Judy Beck, who led SLI for 12 years, will continue to help with strategic planning.
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New SLI director Lisa Harris Glass called SLI ‘transformational.”

Judy Beck, senior community strategist for the Synagogue Leadership Initiative and the group’s director for 12 years, is proud of her role in growing the program.

“Nothing existed when I came,” said Beck, who on July 1 handed the reins of the organization over to Lisa Harris Glass, former director of the United Synagogue’s mid-Atlantic region.

Beck credits the Henry and Marilyn Taub Foundation – which has supported the venture in collaboration with UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey – for the success of the initiative.

“Most funders don’t stay with a program for more than three years,” she said, reeling off SLI’s achievements. “The foundation has supported us all this time.”

According to Beck, the idea for SLI was conceived during the 1990s after Henry Taub attended “a really unbelievable conference focusing on visionary congregations.” On his return, she said, “he realized that the fatal flaw was that these congregations were doing innovative work independent of one another.”

The SLI, created some 13 years ago, sought to avoid that pitfall by encouraging synagogues to work collaboratively.

Beck said the group has met many of its goals.

“When I came, congregations were reluctant to work together, share, strategize, and brainstorm,” she said. “Today there’s very little in the way of ‘turf issues,'” even across denominational streams.

When she first started, she said, the group had secured the involvement of some 81 congregations.

Now, she said, almost every congregation in the area has participated in some way.

Beck said that one-on-one contacts have proved most effective, “getting to know people, schmoozing at meetings.” She has done strategic planning with dozens of congregations, touching on all aspects of synagogue life.

SLI also sponsors seminars and institutes, “bringing in the leading figures of Jewish life.”

“We developed Bonim, Shalom Baby, the Pomegranate Guild of Northern New Jersey, and Supplies for Success,” said Beck, as well as rabbinic retreats and workshops for synagogue executive directors and other congregational staff members.

“We’ve been able to create a department that provides all kinds of services to congregations,” she said, noting that she will continue her association with SLI, helping congregations that began merger and collaboration work during the past year. She will also continue to do strategic planning.

Glass, who worked for 14 years as a synagogue executive director, said, “I tried to be a generalist in that work, [learning] the ‘tachlis,'” the nuts and bolts, “of running these synagogues.”

“Working as an agent of synagogue change,” said Glass, she admired SLI from afar, calling it “a transformational program in Bergen and Passaic counties.”

Glass said in addition to strengthening and connecting local Jewish institutions, the job of SLI is ultimately to “make opportunities for people to fulfill themselves Jewishly.”

While, under her leadership, the program will maintain its signature programs, there will also be a focus on “sharing sacred space” and expanding the group’s consultancy work. In addition, while strategic planning was formerly offered at no cost, it will now become a fee-for-service activity.

Glass said she is excited about incorporating the use of advanced technology into her work, for example, using the online communications program Constant Contact in place of e-mail, allowing participants to share information. There will also be more emphasis on teleconferencing, she said, noting that SLI’s Aug. 4 meeting – targeted to synagogue professionals who will deliver a High Holy Day address – will be conducted in that manner.

“We have great credibility in this community,” said Beck. “We’re a go-to resource for congregations, the first call when people have an issue.”

Being local helps, said Glass, pointing out the value of “having someone with local knowledge who can share with you and who knows your story in an intimate way. We understand the culture of the community.”

Things have changed dramatically over the past 10 years, said Beck, and synagogues can no longer use “the same old techniques and strategies. They’re not moving to where they need to move to attract a new generation. They need us to help them develop a strategy to move into the 21st century.”

“In a changing world, we’ll figure it out together,” said Glass, noting that SLI is less concerned with “best practices, which is retroactive,” than with “next practices.”

“You can’t parachute in what worked in one place and expect the same result somewhere else,” she said. “We’re not inside their walls. We can take a view from afar and help them identify their unmet needs.”

Contact information
For further information, call Lisa Harris Glass at (201) 820-3941 or e-mail LisaG@ujannj.org. Beck may be reached at (201) 820-3901, JudyB@ujannj.org.
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