Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion
in a Hasidic Tale
David Spinrad, C ‘12;
Schusterman Rabbinical Fellow; Rabbinical
Intern, Temple Israel, Dayton, Ohio
In a well-known Hasidic tale, a disciple of a
prepared to travel on a long and
potentially dangerous pilgrimage of many miles
to see his master. As he took his leave from his
village, a companion of the disciple stopped
him and asked, “Why are you going to visit
Surely, the wise teachers of our
own village can teach you the ways of our
Indeed, but I wish to bring something more
personal to my observance of
the disciple. “I am going to be in the presence
to see how he ties his shoes.”
moral lesson) following
this tale teaches that, for one as holy and
pious as a
no act is so mundane that
it cannot be elevated and connected to God –
even the tying of shoes.
But perhaps this Hasidic tale warrants an
one that offers us insight
into the essence of leadership: The disciple
traveled to see the
because he yearned
to be in the presence of one who had truly
learned to be himself, a lesson requiring a
steady fine-tuning between the person we
are and the person we are becoming. As the
disciple was drawn to the
to be in the
presence of one who demonstrates the lesson
of personal authenticity is to receive permis-
sion to discover who we really are.
To be who we really are is the essence
of leadership, and this is available to all.
David Spinrad helps coordinate Temple Israel of
Dayton’s participation in LIFT Greater Dayton, a broad-
based, interfaith community organizing coalition.
Leadership for the
Dr. Madelyn Mishkin Katz, RJE, RHSOE ’84;
Director of Student Life, HUC-JIR/Jack H. Skirball Campus/Los Angeles
n my doctoral studies in Educational Leadership at UCLA I chose “Defining Leadership for the Reform Rab-
binate” as the focus of my dissertation. I invited rabbis who had been ordained on the Los Angeles campus
between 2002 and 2007 to participate in my research. While I knew what we were
I wanted to
know what the rabbis had actually
about leadership and what impact it was having on their rabbinate.
I had three questions in mind: 1) What had they learned about leadership from their rabbinical education? 2)
What were their leadership experiences in their rabbinate? 3) What was the relationship between what they
learned about leadership at HUC-JIR and what they were experiencing in their rabbinate – had they learned what was
essential to prepare them for effective rabbinic leadership? Their responses have set us on a very exciting and invig-
orating path toward reshaping our leadership curriculum.
What did I learn from my research? While they could describe their roles as leaders in specific settings and
scenarios, many expressed concern with the fact that they had no language with which to shape their personal
definition of leadership – and that, in fact, it would have added to their rabbinical school education to have grap-
pled with this question.
Why is it important to have a definition of leadership? While it is helpful to teach the skills for leading and to
provide models of leaders – ancient and contemporary – whose styles they might emulate, it is not enough. A per-
sonal definition of leadership becomes the foundation upon which all the leadership skills we teach can be based.
It is the guiding principle by which one determines how to lead in any particular circumstance, setting, or relation-
ship. The kind of leadership that is required of rabbis differs depending upon many variables – relationships, the
culture of the institution, the “climate” of the setting, and more. Having a strong personal understanding of what
leadership means allows one to know what aspect of your “leadership personality” is required at each moment.
Within organizational life in the 21
century there is great emphasis placed on relationship building and sys-
tems thinking. Therefore rabbinical leadership requires an understanding of those complex dynamics: how systems
work, the power of lay leaders with professional expertise that is critical to the well-being of the organization, and
the need for
stepping away and making room for the leadership to be developed from within. It also re-
quires that the rabbi acknowledge the need to be an institutional leader
a religious authority – all within the
course of a day’s work.
I translated my findings into changes we could make in our curriculum. We have incorporated two compo-
nents into our rabbinical students’ leadership education on the Los Angeles campus.
My course on “Leadership for the Reform Rabbinate” encourages self-reflection as a critical aspect of suc-
cessful leadership, introduces the thinking of secular leadership theorists who provide a spectrum of definitions of
leadership, and addresses the realities of leadership faced in the Reform rabbinate.
We are “connecting the dots” between the in-class experience and the clinical education (internships/student
pulpits) and giving students the “language of leadership” to discuss leadership and the unique nature of it within
the rabbinate. This process also allows the rabbinical alumni mentors to consider their own understanding of lead-
ership and to engage their students in ongoing reflection together.
Experiential learning is clearly one of the most powerful ways to develop leadership and there is no substitute
for learning “by the seat of your pants.” However, our goal is to create more opportunities – through in-class learn-
ing as well as mentoring and supervised field-work experiences – to prepare our rabbinical students for the
leadership challenges they will undoubtedly face in their rabbinates.
Dr. Madelyn Mishkin Katz
teaching “Leadership for the Reform Rabbinate.”