Dr. Lesley Litman and Dr. Michael Zeldin Reveal Findings of Research on Enduring Dilemmas - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Dr. Lesley Litman and Dr. Michael Zeldin Reveal Findings of Research on Enduring Dilemmas

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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Dr. Lesley Litman and Dr. Michael Zeldin presented to a group of 50 educators from Jewish day schools across North America at the Prizmah Conference in Atlanta in March, 2019.  They unveiled the findings and implications of a research study funded by the Consortium of Applied Studies in Jewish Education (CASJE). The research focused on “enduring dilemmas,” the core of the capstone project of students in the Executive M.A. Program in Jewish Education (EMA) at HUC-JIR.

Graduates leave the EMA equipped with a powerful leadership practice that allows them to distinguish between problems that call for solutions and dilemmas that can only be managed for the near term.  Drs. Litman and Zeldin, with assistance from clinical faculty mentors in the EMA, interviewed graduates five years after they learned about this leadership practice. The goal was to discover the impact of the learning on how these Jewish educational leaders understand their role, their decision making process and their engagement of others.

Jewish educational leaders who learn about this practice find that they are able to identify enduring dilemmas (situations where two values are in tension with each other, and where both cannot be upheld simultaneously) in their continued work in congregations, youth movements, day schools, camps and other Jewish educational settings.  They learned to slow down and see some situations they face as enduring dilemmas and not feel the urgency to provide immediate answers to “fix” the situations. They also learned to engage others in their new mode of “yes and” thinking and to see situations in terms of the values that are at stake. They found that this way of thinking helped them act with greater equanimity rather than rushing to solve every problem presented to them.  In the words of Lisa Langer, one of the clinical faculty mentors, “Managers solve problems; leaders live with ambiguity and lead with clarity.”

In a reflection exercise at the conclusion of the session at the Prizmah conference, participants shared some of the insights they gleaned which influenced their understanding of their own leadership.  These included:

  1. Communicate that my role is not simply to solve problems
  2. Start tackling a difficult situation/problem by asking: What values are in tension?
  3. It’s okay to NOT fix all the problems!
  4. Leaders live with ambiguity.
  5. A solution can be right for now, not forever.

In the coming months Drs. Litman and Zeldin will continue to share their findings with you and others in our field through presentations and in writing. We hope that, through this sharing, we will gain further insight into this practice.  We would love to hear your feedback. Please contact us at llitman@huc.edu or mzeldin@huc.edu.


Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates leaders to serve North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, museums, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding. www.huc.edu