I am not a Jewish scholar, but I have been working in the Jewish community now for almost 25 years. As is the case with any industry, you pick up things along the way. New information, new expertise, new phrases and expressions.
During my ten year career as a synagogue executive director, I have had the great fortune to work in partnership with three amazing rabbis. Technically speaking, a rabbi is a teacher, and each rabbi I have worked with has taught me so much.
I had the wonderful opportunity to work with Rabbi Stephen Hart, now Rabbi Emeritus at Temple Chai in Long Grove, IL for almost seven years. I learned a lot of Torah from Rabbi Hart. I learned how to work through difficult situations, how to connect with people in thoughtful meaningful ways, and I learned how to get a lot done with not a lot of money or time.
We learned to rely on partnerships with our lay leaders. In addition to paying membership dues to belong to our congregation, some members cared so much for the work we did and impact we had, they also volunteered their time and their expertise. Money is always great, but nothing is quite as valuable as the gift of time and knowledge.
Especially meaningful to us were the lay leaders who not only volunteered their time, but found the work to be so meaningful they became passionate advocates, strong supporters, and deeply effective in their work. Rabbi Hart would refer to these people using the old Yiddish phrase “Meshuggah L’Dvar,” roughly translated as “crazy for the word.”
Though nobody likes to use the word “crazy” (meshuggah) much now, this phrase from our tradition is used to refer to a scholar who loves and is passionate about Torah, or “the word” (dvar). They study Torah, They teach Torah. They quote Torah. Torah is part of their life and their character. They share it whenever they can, they use it whenever they can, they learn whenever they can.
Launching a Yammer network, or other kind of technology platform at work? You might want to consider being a little Meshuggah L’Dvar.
We launched Yammer, our enterprise social network at the URJ in 2014, and we now have almost 13,000 users with robust activity and engagement rates. We have had success with Yammer, a method of technology and communication that was new and strange for many of our users, and yet we have had success.
But Yammer was not going to succeed on its own. Yammer needed an advocate. A vocal supporter. In the wise words of Rabbi Hart, Yammer needed someone who was Meshuggah L’dvar.
I advocated for the platform, and I also advocated for communicating and sharing in new ways using new techniques and strategies. Not only did I talk about Yammer a lot (A LOT!), but I also tried to show how effective the platform could be through my own usage.
Rather than telling someone to use the Yammer platform for group communication and collaboration, I used it myself. Yes, I was vocal in my enthusiasm for the technology, but I also tried to use all the features so my colleagues could see, through my actions how well it worked.
• Rather than setting up permanent email groups, instead I created Yammer groups where colleagues could communicate easily and effectively.
• Rather than keeping work private to just myself and one or two other colleagues, I took advantage of the transparency and openness provided by Yammer to invite more people into my work, and to show how positive and effective more transparency could be.
• Rather than attaching important files and resources to emails, I posted them in our Yammer network where my colleagues could read the documents, edit the documents and share the documents themselves.
And yes, in addition to showing how well the platform worked, I also talked about the benefits of the platform too. I talked and talked. And I talked some more. I fear it got to the point that every time I opened my mouth, people would think I was going to encourage them to think and work differently by using Yammer. They were usually right. I was Meshuggah L’Dvar. I was advocating. I was encouraging change. I was encouraging a better way to work.
Passion goes a long way. When launching new technology, or a new project, or encouraging colleagues to work and act in new ways that may feel foreign and strange, sometimes it helps to be passionate. It helps share your enthusiasm and expertise. Why would someone else care at all if you are not going to care a lot?
So thank you Rabbi Hart for being such a great teacher, and for reminding me that sometimes it helps to be a little Meshuggah L’Dvar.