The Power of Ecosystems


I recently read a powerful novel by Richard Powers called The Overstory. In it, the author describes the fascinating evolution of trees. Over time, it seems that trees have developed an invisible network that shares resources, forewarns about dangers and even transfers nutrients when dying. Powers bases his story on scientific studies that insist that rather than evolving for individual survival, trees have developed a collective ecosystem.

It’s one week into my new role as lead professional for USCJ and the Rabbinical Assembly, and in that same spirit I can already see why the new partnership we are forging will be so powerful. Just one example: seeing the growing number of resources on shows the power of collaboration. Rabbis, cantors, executive directors, educators, and synagogue lay leaders are all contributing best practices, suggestions, and guidance to help us make these unprecedented upcoming High Holidays meaningful and connecting.

It is a reminder of what I believe is the distinctive nature of twenty-first century work — the power of partnership. Jewish life can no longer afford organizations that “go it alone” competing for resources, influence, and attention. Instead, we need to think about the strengths of each institution and how those assets can combine to create more impact than they could individually.

The RA and USCJ are engaged in a great deal of parallel work. Although this will continue, we will also make a transition to working more hand in hand, enhancing our collective ability to help others. We are both organizations with a set mission for our stream of Judaism, to train and empower leaders, manage professional and volunteer talent, and seek to have impact on children, teens, and adults as individuals and communities. We are both membership-based organizations committed to connecting and supporting our constituents — rabbis throughout the world in many professional tracks, and synagogues across North America. We have strong professionals and lay leaders whom we will bring together to meet the challenges of this unique period of pandemic, and beyond.

Our network of rabbis and communities, along with other institutions associated with Conservative Judaism, shares the same qualities as the underground network among the trees in Powers’ novel — an ecosystem of cooperation and partnership, in which we can each find our niche while enhancing our collective ability to help others.

It’s no wonder that the Book of Proverbs, in speaking of the Torah, says, “It is the tree of life (etz hayyim hee) to those who hold firmly to it, and all who support it are happy.” Our institutions are the roots of that tree, and together we will help it grow and bear fruit.

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