Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
An Opening Thought –
Rabbi Samuel K.
This past year at the Union for Reform
Judaism Scheidt Leadership Institute
for New Temple Presidents, where I
was one of the faculty, a women ran up to greet
me. “Rabbi Joseph, remember me?” she asked
with a big grin. It took me a moment. She was one
of my first congregants, almost twenty years ago,
when I was the rabbi of the United Jewish Congre-
gation of Hong Kong. This was a congregation I
helped found in the late 1980’s. Back then, Diana
was new to congregational life, but once captured
she could not get enough of the study, worship,
and especially, community. She participated in
every facet of the congregation. “Diana, what are
you doing here?” I responded. “It is all your fault,”
she replied. “When we returned to the U.S. we
joined a congregation. As I became more involved
I found myself more and more in decision-making
positions. And as my responsibilities increased I
wound up on the Board of the temple. Now, after
all these years, I am the new temple president!”
For Diana, as many members of boards in our
Jewish world, she found commitment to the work
of her organization led to a deep sense of commu-
nity, which led to her being “called” to leadership,
which led to her wanting to carry forward the mis-
sion of her organization as its president. In this
brief conversation with some members of the
HUC-JIR Board of Governors, you will hear their
caring, their passion, their commitment, their call
to leadership, and their mission. You will get a
glimpse of the challenges facing such leaders in
the 21st century. And you will receive some insights
into why the Board is so strong. It is populated with
reflective, insightful members. Life today does not
make it any easier than in previous generations to
give of one’s time, expertise, and generosity to or-
ganizational life and leadership. The HUC-JIR
Board of Governors is very fortunate to have such
members who do give fully of themselves.
Rabbi Samuel K. Joseph: What does
HUC-JIR’s mission or vision require of
you as a Governor?
It requires getting to know the students who
are served by this institution and the programs that this
It’s very important that Governors be
knowledgeable of the broader Jewish world because
we have a big impact beyond the Reform Movement.
We have to be both engaged broadly
and advocates. We need to be engaged inward, not only
within HUC-JIR but within the Movement as a whole,
to have a sense of what the needs of the Movement are.
Our advocacy must be directed outward to make sure
that our mission and our programs are known.
We have to be able to communicate our
passion for Reform Judaism and for HUC-JIR to other
From my perspective, HUC-JIR’s mission
is to show a vibrancy and relevancy that’s crucial to the
continuation and success of what I call acculturated
Judaism. That leads us to think intergenerationally
Being a Governor of the College-Institute
has challenged me to develop my own sense of spirituality,
to continue to invest in my own intellectual development,
and to do so in the context of my interaction with the
College-Institute as well as the broader Jewish world.
We have to be what I would call ‘stu-
dents of history.’ We have to have a much deeper and
broader knowledge of Reform Judaism, the College-Insti-
tute, and the Reform Movement to fully understand
where we are and how we got here. This knowledge is
essential if we are to be able to make sound, critical de-
cisions about the future.
Rabbi Joseph: How do we do that?
Our Governance Task Force is now
looking at how to better orient and educate new Board
members, and provide all Governors “continuing educa-
tion” about the College-Institute and the significant
issues of our time. I believe that part of it is providing
certain materials and information, but mostly it is about
the connections we make with each other and the way in
which we create space for “consequential conversations”
to happen, both spontaneously and as part of our ongo-
ing agenda. Like any learning environment, one must
design the “conversational space” so that what you
want is capable of happening. Otherwise it never
moves beyond someone’s “good idea.”
I think that a Jewish study component
should be a part of every Board meeting.
Sue Neuman Hochberg:
I would like to see the Gover-
nors spend even more time on our campuses, becoming
more aware of what’s actually going on.
Rabbi Joseph: What are the challenges of
st-century board leadership?
We have many different models of gov-
ernance now, and we’ve been operating with one that’s
adapted little by little as HUC-JIR has grown and become
a more complex institution. Every leader of HUC-JIR
needs to have the interest and desire to understand the
institution at every level, across every campus. Figuring
out how to do that in an environment where we have so
many competing interests and involvements is a big
challenge imposed by our culture and our lifestyle.
One challenge is that there are a lot
of things that need discussion. So much time is spent
on budget and finance that we have limited time for
the things that all of us care so much about: Reform
Judaism, Judaism itself, how we strengthen our up-
and-coming Board leaders, and how to support them
Another challenge is finding people to
serve. There are so many opportunities for Jewish lead-
ership today, unlike the past, when choices were limited.
Today you can be involved in any form of civic leader-
ship, either in your community or nationally. We need to
deepen the pool of prospective leaders.
You have to know what HUC-JIR is
before you learn more about it. It’s a process.
We should ask our current Board members,
why are you here? What is it about this institution that
makes you want to devote time and energy to its success?
We need to cultivate a new sensibility
that board service — especially with an institution like
HUC-JIR — is not just about policy making and over-
sight, but about shaping the future of the Jewish
community and Reform Judaism’s role in that future. If
the invitation is compelling, if people really feel that they
can be part of creating the future, they will serve.
Rabbi Joseph: Is it a “calling” to serve on
the HUC-JIR Board?
I’m not sure it’s a “calling.” Certainly, for me,
when I was asked, I could not imagine a vibrant Reform
Movement without HUC-JIR. Having said that, I came to
the Board with tremendous experience and background
in profit and non-profit boards, mainly Jewish but not ex-
clusively, and with only a rather basic understanding of
what HUC-JIR does. As we recruit new Governors, we
need to strengthen their orientation.
It’s not easy to serve on boards
today. It takes time, effort, and work. To be on the HUC-
JIR Board, you’d better be really committed to liberal
Judaism and to ensuring the future for our grandchildren
and great-grandchildren so that there will be a Judaism
with which they will feel comfortable. So I actually feel
very strongly that it is a “calling.” There are many
choices we can make; we can serve on lots of different
boards that lend some distinction. But what distin-
guishes you as an HUC-JIR Governor is that you care
about an institution that’s producing leadership for the
To me, it’s not a burden, but an opportu-
nity to maintain the continuum of a Reform, liberal
Judaism, rooted in a 4,000-year-old tradition. As we
get 60-plus years and several generations away from
the Holocaust, there is the added responsibility of con-
tinuing this strain of Judaism, especially in the face of
challenges from other Jewish denominations and other
people. So for me it is a “calling” to maintain that link
and 4,000-year tradition for our prodigy. I came to this
not through an attachment to the synagogue, but
through an attachment to this greater responsibility.
There is a little voice inside me that says, “You should
be doing this.”
If we think of the term “calling,” as we
normally hear it in terms of rabbinical leadership or Jew-
ish professional careers, we think of it in terms of serving
the Jewish People and serving God through the Jewish
People. I think that’s where our commitment comes from.
I can’t imagine why anyone would want to get involved
in an institution such as HUC-JIR unless it was this
higher sense of purpose. If we accept the notion that
there is a “calling” that brings us to get engaged, part of
the discussion has to be how do we find others with that
Governance and Leadership: A
Moderated by Rabbi Samuel K. Joseph, RJE, C ’76;
Eleanor Sinsheimer Distinguished
Rabbi Sam Joseph
Sue Neuman Hochberg