Making Change in a Changing World
We began the Wexner Graduate Alumni Institute with a Talmudic text from Masechet Ta’anit. The passage offered us a framework for thinking about change through the lens of teshuva: One who has sinned and confessed, but has not done teshuva is like a person who holds a sheretz, an impure creature, while in the mikveh. All of the waters of the world cannot wash away your impurity so long as you continue to hold onto that sheretz. But the moment you let go of the sheretz, you can become pure in the simplest mikveh. Change, we learned, is as easy as discarding the sheretz that is holding you back, but identifying the sheretz and parting with it can seem impossibly hard.
We carried this image with us throughout the week. As we looked at our personal lives, at our careers, and at the changes we want in our organizations, we asked ourselves: What is the sheretz that I am grasping, that is holding me back, and how can I begin to let go so that the change I seek can become possible?
Ron Heifetz taught us that resistance to change is rooted in fear of loss. He stressed in particular a pervasive fear of disloyalty. We worry that changes that we make will be seen as disloyal to that which came before us. A desire for something new necessitates a letting go of the old, and that letting go can feel like abandonment.
This idea rings true for me. I am afraid of appearing disloyal. Despite strong ties to the Conservative Movement, I chose to attend the Rabbinical School of Hebrew College, a 10-year-old pluralistic rabbinical school in Boston. I have been profoundly happy with my education and know that I made the right choice, but when I talk to those in my synagogue and movement I sometimes encounter resistance. Why did you feel the need to go elsewhere? Why did you “abandon” the movement? The lessons from this conference helped me see that as a young leader (Class 22 are already alumni?!) I need to remind myself that my desire for change did not come from a place of disloyalty. Hebrew College has helped me live by and teach the values of my Conservative upbringing.
This was my first institute as an alumna of the graduate fellowship. The programming was thought-provoking. Equally exciting and meaningful was meeting the alumni community in person. An integral part of each session was the personal introductions. Discovering who was in the room made each conversation more nuanced and more productive. It is easy to surround ourselves with like-minded people who rarely challenge our big assumptions. The personal relationships in the alumni network allow — even demand — Wexner leaders to move past our fear of loss by engaging seriously with different opinions, and to push through our fear of disloyalty in order to collaborate with people from different organizations and movements. As we learned from both Ron Heifetz and Animal House’s Jon Belushi, making change is a group project.
The institutes was simultaneously inspiring and humbling. Change is necessary and exciting, but also demanding, complicated and full of loss. In the final program on Wednesday morning Cindy Chazan reminded us that there is change that we seek to create, and change that happens around us, forcing us to adapt. I will be ordained in June. I am poised to leave behind my identity as a full-time student and enter the Jewish professional world. I hope to embrace this change with the courage and thoughtfulness modeled by the alumni I met this past week. Thank you for sharing your stories and your wisdom. I am eager to work with you to “create change in a changing world.”
Avi Killip, (WGFA, Class 22), is in her final year at Hebrew College Rabbinical School in Boston. Avi holds a Bachelors and Masters from Brandeis University in Jewish Studies and Women & Gender Studies. Avi is the alumni coordinator and Rabbinic Intern at Yeshivat Hadar. Avi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.