On My Mind: Arnie Eisen

Response to “Community” from Shifra Bronznick

Like Arnie Eisen, I have been blessed to be part of many concentric communities. I am deeply connected to these circles—from social justice organizers to women leaders, from the Heschel day school school to a participatory prayer community called Minyan Ma’at. One of the primary benefits of being involved in these close-knit communities is that I have had the opportunity to experience the duality of roles that community lets us play—to be both leader and member, activist and thinker, doer and dreamer, comforter and comforted.

Yet, we also know that there other less benevolent aspects of duality—insider and outsider, “normal” and different, high-status and still-struggling.

Recently, a friend whose child has special needs stood next to me in the back of the shul after yet another boisterous bat mitzvah. The members of my minyan were singing the praises of the bat mitzvah celebrant and her parents. “The apple does not fall far from the tree” they said over and over again, while the parents beamed and my friend winced. “To me,” she said, “being in community sometimes feels like a band-aid being ripped off a raw wound.”

When you are situated in a different position in the hierarchy, you have a different point of view. That is why we need to cultivate leaders and leadership that help us expand our perspective, push us outside our comfort zone, to hold ourselves accountable for stretching out more generously and reaching out more thoughtfully.

We need to be especially committed to the kind of dramatically diverse leadership that is transformative—women and men, young and old, GLBTQ and straight, partnered and single, with children or on your own. We need everyone’s mind and heart—not just to give everyone a chance for access, but because in doing so we actually transform our capacity to create new solutions for seemingly intractable problems.

And, we need to cultivate the kind of leadership that makes sure that our conversations and our minds remain open—not just to one another, but to brave new thinking about Israel, about God, about justice, about GLBTQ rights, about gender, about economic disparities, and most of all about our priorities—the personal ones and the public ones and the political ones that will make our communities a blessing for everyone.