It is 30 days since Jonathan Woocher‘s passing. We didn’t talk regularly, but I am struck at the number of times I have thought of him — almost daily. Simply, that’s how profound the impact of his work is on the daily life of Jewish educational organizations.

One of the things to admire about Jon is that he never let any of us off the hook. This work — the strengthening of Jewish living in the face of Western cultural relativism and ethnic assimilation — is not easy. But Jon embraced the complexity. He taught how to understand the complexity.

The complexity is where the creativity is, and being simpleminded about any of it would get us nowhere. Margaret Wheatley wrote, in Leadership for Uncertain Times: “Most people I meet want to develop more harmonious and satisfying relationships … . But we may not realize that this desire can only be satisfied by partnering with new and strange allies: uncertainty and confusion. Most of us weren’t trained to like confusion or to admit when we feel hesitant and uncertain.”

In schools and organizations, value is placed on sounding assured and confident. People are rewarded for stating opinions and facts… And as life continues speeding up (adding to our confusion), we don’t have time to be uncertain. …  

We can’t continue on this path if we want to find approaches and solutions to the problems that plague us. The world is now quite perplexing. We no longer live in those lovely days when life felt predictable, when we actually knew what to do next. In this increasingly complex world, it’s impossible to see what’s going on. The only way to see more of the complexity is to ask many others for their perspectives and experiences. Yet if we open ourselves to their differing perceptions, then we will find ourselves inhabiting the uncomfortable space of not knowing. …  
We can’t be creative if we refuse to be confused. 

May we honor Jon’s memory by entering the complexity and working together, as Wheatley describes; may we strengthen the Jewish people by getting ourselves out of it, to the other side.

Dr. Beth Cousins is a Wexner Graduate Fellowship Alum (Class 14) and joined The Jewish Federations of North America to launch the office of Jewish Education and Engagement in 2016. For almost two decades, Beth has helped to lead Jewish educational organizations in program and policy development. As a consultant, her clients have included American Jewish World Service, The Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties, Kevah, Repair the World, and the Shalom Hartman Institute – North America.  Beth is the author of numerous articles and research publications about Jewish life and living. Beth holds a PhD in the sociology of Jewish education from Brandeis University; she also holds an MA with Honors in Judaic Studies from Baltimore Hebrew University and an MSW from the University of Maryland. A specialist in adult Jewish education, emerging adulthood and the Millennial generation, her dissertation research is entitled, “Shifting Social Networks: Studying the Jewish Growth of Adults in Their Twenties and Thirties.” Beth can be reached at