Culmination Remarks from Student Jessica Lebovits - Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion
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Culmination Remarks from Student Jessica Lebovits

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Friday, September 2, 2011

I have always loved sports. When I was a younger I wanted to play soccer all the time. I wasn’t the best player on the team, but every time I went onto the field I tried my hardest. At practice I worked hard on the drills, then I would go home and practice more. One day I woke up feeling really sick, but my dad was the coach and I insisted on playing in the game. I went out and played as hard as I could, and yes in case you were wondering, I threw up on the field, which put our team at a real advantage by grossing out our opponents goalie. I was never going to be the best player, I did not have enough natural ability, but I had heart.

We have chosen careers that are all about heart. We will forgo large salaries, I know that’s a shock; to do what we think is valuable, significant work. However, we still need to do our best, be our best, because after all, not to sound dramatic, we hold the future of Jewish communal life in our hands. Or as our professor, Jodi Berman said, “We are the now Jewish professionals,” I promised my classmates I would include that quote. We heard a lot this summer about mediocrity. How mediocrity is rampant in the Jewish world, How most Jewish organizations are good with decent leaders, but it’s hard to identify great leaders; the Jewish organizations are good, not great.

So how can we fix this problem of mediocrity in Jewish organizations? Asked about this very problem, one lay leader said, “when it comes to staff in these organizations, they have to have passion because if you don’t have passion you’re just another employee working for low wages.” He is right. We chose this profession because we have passion; we want to inspire others, help them understand why we care so deeply about this work, make them see our vision for the future. Sometimes it may seem as if the work is never ending and thankless, financial or other distractions arise and it is possible to lose sight of this passion. No matter how tired we get, we can never allow ourselves to get disheartened, we always need to remind ourselves of why we are here, why we chose this profession.

While passion can carry us a long way, it is not enough, if it were we wouldn’t be in school, we’d be working in the field, inspiring. Why are we in school? To learn, shape our vision, grow our passion, and make ourselves better, then go out into the Jewish world and make the organizations and therefore Jewish communal life better, basically to obliterate mediocrity. This summer most of us read Jim Collins’ Good to Great and the Social Sector, which mapped out for us how to set the wheels in motion. We took classes about how to become leaders, innovators, and change-agents. We identified our strengths so that we can harness them, but also noted our weaknesses in order to compensate for them. Through team projects and communication classes we learned to be effective members of a team. We did a great deal of self-exploration, of reflection, my favorite word. We spent the summer getting to know each other, the Jewish organizations around Los Angeles and the country, but most importantly ourselves.

In our professional lives, we will be members of teams. We will need to work together, communicate effectively, inspire others, and lead. Being the best at any given task is inconsequential, but being the best team member, colleague, leader, and person you can be matters a great deal more. So how can we transform ourselves and our organizations from good to great? Each and every one of us needs to become the best person he or she can be. If we learn to work together with colleagues and lay volunteers we will make our organizations great. We need to make certain that we ensure our vision and maintain our passion. We need to recognize that learning never stops, that we can always improve ourselves. We can never stop working towards making ourselves better. Good, is never good enough. We all have the capacity to be better, to be the best we can be, to harness our strengths, and conquer our weaknesses. I challenge you to be the best person, friend, coworker, family member, teammate, Jewish professional you can be; in simple terms, do your best.

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.