This article was written for the 2009 Why Be Jewish Gathering: Renaissance in a Time of Ration, a project of The Samuel Bronfman Foundationâ€™s Bronfman Vision Forum
The title of the Why Be Jewish Gathering “Renaissance in a Time of Ration” challenges us to think about four different yet inter-related concepts: renaissance, ration and crisis, adaptation and leadership. When the Jewish people are the subject of this conversation, our unique makeup becomes highly relevant as well. It is with these ideas that this article will grapple.
All communities â€“ businesses, nonprofits, cities, regions, nations or peoples â€“ are subject to the predicament of success and to the everlasting challenge of change and adaptation. Initially there is experimentation that is designed to address the needs of the time. Then, successful innovations become ‘best practices’ that are consolidated into institutions, habits and patterns of conduct. A few generations later, there is often rigidity and stagnation that lead to ineffectiveness and even irrelevancy. Hence, paradoxically, as the only constant is change, the seeds of decline are always sown in the moment success is attained.
This is a theoretical framework with very practical implications. While some communities are evidently rising and their future is brighter, more prosperous and affluent than their present, others are declining and their future is grimmer. The underlying cause for this is the extent to which they are relevant to the challenges they face. Relevancy propels growth.
Irrelevancy leads to growing insecurity and fewer resources.
A crisis occurs when an event or a set of developments suddenly expose a community as ineffectual and in dire need to change. It is often tied to a significant decline in resources and security. The drama stems from the need to urgently ration and transition from ‘old ways’ that are no longer effective to new paths for progress that are governed by the unknown.
The ability of communities to respond effectively varies. Some successfully adapt to ensure renewed security and prosperity, which may sometimes even qualify as ‘renaissance’. Most muddle through. Few stagnate, prove unable to change altogether and suffer harsh consequences that may even amount to collapse and decimation.