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Cultures Can Be Changed

by Michael Mills

During my professional career, I was part of a major culture change in corporate America. When I graduated from college, corporations primarily employed and were governed by white Protestant men. By the time I retired, there had been a major shift. Corporations reflected a diversity of gender, race, and religion at all levels. This process began when management established a clear vision indicating where it wished to be in the future. The challenge, however, was in adhering to that vision. Who and how people were hired and promoted reflected management’s new goals and vision. It wasn’t always a smooth process, and those people who could not live with these changes gradually vanished from the scene.

In order to effect this transformation, people had to confront and wrestle with their basic assumptions about those who appeared to be different. In most instances this meant challenging the stereotypes we learned and accepted as children. With self-awareness came an understanding of our biases and an appreciation of the true capability of others. We learned to accept people’s differences, and in fact to view these differences as strengths.

It is important for a person seeking community or to become a leader of a community to understand the basis of his or her own institution’s culture. A few years ago, FJMC’s leadership was interested in learning how our club, regional, and international leaders viewed our culture. When we polled a large cross section of the organization we found a fairly consistent response. Whether at a convention, retreat, regional meeting, club meeting, special event, or informal get-together, our members enjoyed themselves and were stimulated by the ruach (spirit) and energy created when Jewish men come together to perform good deeds.

These items reflect just a part of the larger culture we have created. Like your synagogue, FJMC is volunteer based and has a diverse membership. The cultivation of volunteers is a key element and value of the FJMC culture. It is successful because we work collaboratively in both formal and informal settings. We discourage our volunteers from working by themselves and our culture stresses the accessibility of anyone in the organization. Not only does our culture strive to identify, train, and grow our future leaders, it challenges them – us – to try to be better human beings.

As a result of the implementation of these core values the culture of our organization continues to evolve and men continue to step up to the plate and volunteer. I think that is why I have seen the FJMC continue to develop and mature in the 20 years since I became a men’s club member.

Have you examined the culture of your synagogue? Is it warm, welcoming, and inviting? Is it filled with many enjoyable opportunities? Is it easy to find volunteers and fill leadership positions? Does the synagogue culture continue to learn from its successes and failures and as a result to grow? Or is it a toxic culture that is unfriendly, indifferent, and lacks a sense of community? Are the meetings submerged by political infighting and insensitive to the needs of its members?

It takes a strong and lasting commitment to change a culture, but believe me, it’s worth it.

Michael Mills is president of FJMC.

 
 
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