Controlling the Whether
Rabbi Howard Stecker is a member of Class I of the Wexner Graduate Fellowship program and the senior rabbi at Temple Israel of Great Neck, NY. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We had an amazing concert planned for Israel’s 60th Anniversary. Three outstanding performers, local politicians and complimentary falafel balls were in the offing. For a variety of reasons, I thought it would be a great idea to hold the concert in a local park. I and not an angel had this idea, and on the cool, dry autumn day when it occurred to me, it seemed like a perfect idea.
Alas, Israel’s anniversary isn’t celebrated in the crispness of autumn; it’s celebrated in the full blossom of spring, when weather in Exile can be unpredictable. It rained for three days straight leading up to the day of the concert. I visited the park each day, hoping to coax the raindrops to reverse direction. I tracked the weather on nervousrabbis.com. I fielded the relentless prodding of the performers and the committee: Nu? What are we going to do?
The choices were to risk doing the concert in the park or to move the concert to the synagogue sanctuary. I knew that the impact would be significantly diminished if we did the concert in the sanctuary. I told everyone we had to wait until the actual day to make a decision.
I woke up on Yom Ha’Atzma’ut 5768 and it was drizzling. The relevant websites said it would clear up for a few hours that evening. A cosmic window of opportunity, perhaps? As the day wore on, the pressure increased. What are we doing to do?
By 3:30 in the afternoon, the performers and tech crew absolutely needed to know. I was standing outside the park, talking to the head of the crew. “I’d do it in the park,” he said, and right after he told me his name was Elijah, he walked away.
Nu? Asked the vice president of my synagogue who had spearheaded all the arrangements and I said, “Let’s go for it.” “Really?” “Yeah. We planned for an outdoor concert, and it’s going to be great.”
The whole incident helped me better understand a few things about leadership, including the following: No matter how much the leader emphasizes collaboration (and I try to), sometimes he or she ultimately has to take responsibility for a decision and be prepared to take flak, if necessary. Much leadership is exercised against a backdrop of fundamental uncertainty. Will it rain? Will people join or quit? Will it lead to peace? You get the idea. Achieving an awesome experience (as distinct from a merely good one) generally requires risk. The kishkes are easily overlooked as a source of insight.
In case you’re wondering, the rain did subside for the few hours of the concert. The clouds parted and a cool breeze blew, straight from Jerusalem to Great Neck, I like to think. People from my congregation and the community overall came out in larger numbers than expected. The performers were phenomenal. Teens kicked around a soccer ball as music filled the (admittedly moist) air. By the time we sang, “Shab’chi Yerushalayim,” I was relaxed and in heaven.
What would it have been like had it rained? Bad question. The question reminds me of something my bubbie often said, in Yiddish, and why not let it serve for now as a final comment about leadership? “When it works, you’re a genius.”