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Summit crafts 19 community initiatives: Some 300 people express hopes and dreams for Milwaukee Jewry
July 1st, 2011
Many hopes and dreams for the Milwaukee Jewish community of the future are now embodied in 19 initiatives proposed and developed by community members at the Jewish Summit, held June 26 and 27 at the Milwaukee Public Museum.
'Community Cooperative Pool' -- A "Dream Picture" from group 18 at the Jewish Community Summit, created on June 26.
The Summit was part of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s Reimagining Project, a process designed to assist MJF to better align itself with the needs of the Jewish community as it exists today.
Sheryl Primakow, MJF director of community planning, said the initiatives undertaken at the Summit represented one of two major facets of the Reimagining Project.
“The initiatives that have come out of this Summit are expressing our hopes and dreams for what the community should be and what it should be doing,” she said.
“A second process, restructuring MJF itself, will take place later; and everything produced by participants at this Summit — including the interviews, the written records of group discussions, the dream statements, and the initiatives — will contribute to shaping the restructuring,” she said.
Judy Guten, Reimagining Project chair, said the transformation of MJF will be intensively discussed by 40 to 45 community members, not yet selected, at a “strategic action session” on Aug. 2 and 3, at a still undetermined location.
“What we’ve learned in these two days [at the Summit] will be incredibly informative,” Guten said. “Cascading interviews will continue from now until the strategic session, and will be used along with the extensive pre-Summit interview data collected.”
The cascading interview process began in May, with each of the 55 members of the Reimagining Project design team interviewing four or five others in the community who, in turn, were encouraged to interview yet others.
The pre-Summit interviews gathered data on what people saw as good about the community today, and sought to ascertain their dreams for what it might look like in the future.
On the Summit’s first day, the some 300 participants focused on identifying the strengths of the community and articulating a vision for its future. The agenda on the second day called upon them to design ways to transform their dreams into realities.
'Tree of Life' -- A "Dream Picture" from group 4 at the Jewish Community Summit, created on June 26.
Each participant was challenged to come up with an initiative they felt passionate about and would like to lead. Further, any participant who agreed to lead an effort — over at least several months time — to develop their initiative was invited to present it to the entire gathering.
The response was “pretty phenomenal,” said Bryan Coffman, director of InnovationLabs LLC, Orlando, Fla., one of the firms hired by MJF to consult on the Reimagining Project.
From among the approximately 150 in attendance on the Summit’s second day, 36 initiatives were initially presented and 19 ultimately attracted sufficient interest to warrant the creation of plans to move them forward.
“I was so inspired by you,” Guten told participants as the Summit drew to a close. She recalled how she had felt earlier that day, as she watched the line of participants offering to lead initiatives grow ever longer. “It was so inspiring, the fact that so many of you were standing to give your voice to something you are passionate about,” she said.
An initiative presented by Mark Brickman “to help develop a strategy to raise $1 billion over the next 10 years as an endowment for the community,” attracted the interest of 16 other participants, forming the largest of the 19 groups working on the proposed initiatives.
An initiative offered by Rabbi Wes Kalmar of Anshe Sfard Kehillat Torah in Glendale to provide free or nearly free Jewish education, nursery school through grade 12, for all Jewish children in Milwaukee, drew a group of 13 participants, as did Elaine Nelles’ proposed initiative to create a clearinghouse for volunteers.
Laurie Herman’s initiative, calling for community adult Jewish education and culture, attracted a group of 10 participants.
All 19 groups worked to describe what their particular initiative would look like when implemented; to develop a three-month plan of action, including identifying resource requirements and sources; and to schedule their next meeting.
Coffman said all 19 initiatives, including the notes of the groups that worked on each of them, will be available on the website www.thejewishsummit.org.
Jerry Benjamin, MJF president, set the tone for the Jewish Summit when it convened on the morning of June 26.
“We’re here to engage our community in a conversation about our hopes and dreams for our future,” he said. “Together we will uncover the very things that make our community special and give us life and meaning.
“We’re here to dream about a bold future that is filled with the sweet juices of a people that honors the many ways we each find meaning. We’re also here to engage each other in bringing about that bold destiny, so our dreams can be realized.”
Using prepared guidelines, participants initially worked in groups of two, conducting Appreciative Inquiry (AI) interviews.
Appreciative Inquiry, which has been used as the guiding framework for the entire Reimagining Project, seeks to effect change in an organization by identifying and building upon what constituents see as the worthy and desirable qualities of the organization.
The AI process encourages interviewees to take a positive perspective in framing their responses to the questions. The aim is to discover the strengths both of the interviewees and of the community that need to be preserved and expanded.
The questions posed sought to discover the motivations of participants for attending the Summit; the personal strengths that have, in other contexts, allowed them to successfully contribute to change; and the changes they would most like to see in the Milwaukee Jewish community of the future.
“We don’t view these interviews as a data collecting process,” said Leslie Marquard of Marble Leadership Partners Inc., Chicago, a consultant to the Reimagining Project. She said that in the context of the Summit, the interviews were intended to provide participants the opportunity to “experience community.”
As the process proceeded from the interviews to expanded group discussion, participants had multiple opportunities to express how they viewed the community, how they personally experienced it, and how they would wish to see it change.
Shirley Frank-Behr, a participant, said that while she was initially hesitant to express her views, especially to other group members whom she did not know, her comfort level and ability to interact with her group grew rapidly.
Benjamin said he had witnessed scenes such as Frank-Behr described.
“I was looking at some of the tables and taking in the diversity — seeing that different members were represented in different conversations,” he said. “But, once they learned to talk to each other, they really talked. There was depth to their statements, and they spoke from the heart. People were functioning at their highest levels; they were putting forward their best selves.”
Although official figures were not yet available as the Chronicle went to press, it appeared that most of major groups that comprise the Milwaukee Jewish community were represented at the Summit.
Moreover, Richard H. Meyer, MJF executive vice president, said he felt “very pleased about how we had a very good and strong young adult participation” in the Summit.
Thus, the groundwork was laid for participants to carry out the work of the Summit’s first day, to proceed beyond discovery of what is best in the community as they experience it today, to envisioning how much better it might yet become.
“Dream as many possible futures as you can,” Marquard instructed the participants. “Imagine we’re 10 years in the future. Describe a day in the life of the Jewish community at that time. What does the community look like? How are the people interacting?”
“It’s heavy lifting; it’s exciting lifting,” she continued. “Create it. Make it exciting. Be specific — what do we want to see in the future? Rethink the interviews and the strengths you discovered. Create a picture, an image of the future, an icon — to help us understand your dream.”
A public reading of the resulting “dream statements,” each of which was accompanied by a poster-size diagram or illustration of the statement’s major points, revealed that participants had many dreams for the community in common.
As Benjamin observed at the end of the first day: “When people think about community, they’re thinking about inclusiveness — no barriers — and they’re placing a big emphasis on education. The ‘common ground’ was buried much less deeply than I thought it would be.”
Also common across the dream statements was hope that the Jewish community of the future would foster open and effective communication, not only among Jews of different social and cultural backgrounds, but also between Jews and non-Jews, and among institutions of the community, such as schools and synagogues.
“One suggestion I’d make to Federation is that I’d love to see a closer connection with the temples and synagogues,” said octogenarian Joseph Hirschberg, adding that he has been involved with MJF for more than 60 years.
Many dreamed of a community that would provide volunteer and mentoring opportunities to members who sought them; support for all aspects of family life; legal and financial services for those unable to afford them; recognition of and respect for the talents of individual members; while shunning the lack of financial resources as a barrier to participation.
A call for support of Israel was equally a common thread through the dream statements, including the wish that the community provide educational, camping, and travel experiences there for its young people.
Said Meyer: “Within the tremendous diversity of perspectives and approaches suggested throughout the Summit, it was very encouraging to hear consistent support and concern expressed for Israel and our worldwide Jewish community.”
On both days of the Summit, motivational speakers addressed participants, exhorting them not to fear change, but rather to embrace it.
Robert Calabrese, the principal of Business Visions Group, New Hope, Pa., sought to make participants more comfortable with the process of change. He assured them that it is “normal,” and that they “can get through it.”
He noted that change, such as in circumstances of people’s lives and the new roles they consequently play, is an experience common to almost everyone.
A video presentation, featuring Seth Godin of the online company TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), argued that leadership today has moved away from the mass marketing approach of “selling” ideas, to an approach in which the leader rejects the status quo, and builds a movement by gathering like-minded individuals.
Participants, using Godin’s model, created “possibilities maps.” These identified all the elements — including people and institutions — they thought would need to be in place for the highest and strongest dreams of the community to succeed. Groups shared their maps with each other, again finding overlap among them.
The map exercise process prepared the way for the culminating work of developing the 19 initiatives.
“I learned a long time ago that the first step is the hardest step,” Benjamin said in his closing remarks. He said he felt that the Reimagining Project was now beyond that initial phase.
“I want to end with a hope — that the process of change will be ever with us,” he said. “Always change, always keep moving forward. And I also hope, as we go forward, we’ll continue to enjoy the blessings of each other.”
Lynne Kleinman, Ph.D., a retired teacher and journalist, is currently working with a group developing “Jewish Neighbors in Wisconsin: A Web-based Curriculim, a project of the Wisconsin Society for Jewish Learning, Inc.