Jason Heltzer’s Comments from Rosh HaShanah

L’shana tovah.
I have the great privilege to work with entrepreneurs who have taught me a lot. As we begin a period of personal self-reflection and improvement, I wonder if we can use lessons of entrepreneurship and of the high holidays to bring about renewal in our congregation. Surely this should be possible considering that our own Reform movement was an entrepreneurial endeavor to adapt our religion to the modern world.
But you may be skeptical. After all, Judaism is working on version 5774 and Temple Sholom isn’t exactly a startup. Temple Sholom has a magnificent history. Our congregation formed two years after the civil war and will soon celebrate its 150th anniversary. It has counted only 7 senior rabbis. And this building opened its doors during prohibition.
What we have is remarkable, but consider the case of Blockbuster Video. You remember Blockbuster? Blockbuster, also remarkable in its day, was resistant to change, and perished at the hands of an innovative Netflix. Netflix later made its original product obsolete in order to survive. Inertia is dangerous. An institution cannot be content with the status quo, just as the high holidays teach us to always strive for improvement personally.
So I challenge the congregation: can an established institution like ours be innovative without abandoning our traditions? Can we experiment, take good risks, and then understand and accept it if we fail? Do we possess the imagination to innovate what a synagogue can do, in the way that great entrepreneurs have transformed their worlds?
I suggest that not only is the answer is “yes” to these questions, but the entrepreneurial approach is key to Temple Sholom’s survival and continued prominence. After all, Darwin has taught us that “it is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” If the high holidays can induce the most stubborn among us to change our lives, there is a good chance the same thing can happen in our institution.
To work, the entrepreneurial approach cannot be confined to a discrete exercise to imagine our future, but continuously applied and become part of our culture. Entrepreneurship is organic and takes patience and energy to flourish. And adopting this framework is not an easy task. Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. This will require, at times, that the congregation be comfortable with being uncomfortable. It is unnatural for entrepreneurship to coexist in a bureaucracy. This will also require that the entrepreneurs among us respect the core principles of the institution.
So I am appealing to you. If there is an unmet need, start up a new group. Fix it. Take responsibility. The easiest thing to do is nothing…and complain to your friends. That’s why we have Yiddish. But that lets the status quo persist, and I submit that inertia is more dangerous than the risk to experiment.
Take as inspiration the quote from Theodor Herzl—the father of Zionism– “eem tirtsu ain zoah gadah.”. If you will it, it is no dream. Or inspiration close to home, the new temple group Mispacha. It is a new group started by Temple Sholom congregants and rose out of a need for more programming for women
and families with young children. It has been very successful, perhaps because it was started by congregants who understood the need. What will the next group be? Someone in this sanctuary will be the one to start it.
So, is Temple Sholom the organism that responds to change? Are we Blockbuster or Netflix? That depends on you.
L’Shana tovah.