4 Ways to Cultivate Sacred Partnerships

Inside Leadership

4 Ways to Cultivate Sacred Partnerships

Two hands, each holding a puzzle piece, coming together

Successful Jewish leaders know the importance of working as a team: A congregation can truly thrive only when there are deep relationships among its lay and professional leaders. In congregations, these relationships – between two lay leaders, two professionals, or a lay leader and a professional – carry a unique element of holiness. They are sacred partnerships.

We define sacred partnership this way:

When two people sit together and there are words of Torah between them, the
Shechinah (Divine Presence) dwells among them. (Pirkei Avot 3:2)

A sacred partnership is a commitment to building and nurturing relationships that
elevate the work of leadership to a level of holiness. Sacred partnerships recognize
each of us as individuals and our desire to inspire sacred action in our communities.

Sacred partnerships are built and nurtured through the Jewish values of mutual
respect, trust, honesty, listening and communication, transparency, confidentiality,
flexibility, reflection, empathy, and vulnerability.

On the surface this definition may appear as a series of simple words, but sacred partnerships don’t just happen. These critical relationships with other leaders in your congregation must be built – with intentionality, attention, and constant care. Realizing them requires a true commitment to the Jewish values in the definition, as well as continual nurturing. Although cultivating sacred partnerships may not be easy, doing so is critical to the health of your congregation and is one of the eight principles that drive strong congregations.

You may wonder: How can I create the foundation for such relationships and continue developing them?

To answer this complex question, the URJ created the Sacred Partnership Resource and Discussion Guide to help you develop, explore, and deepen sacred partnerships within your congregation. Although it is an ongoing process, here are four tips to get you started:

1. Schedule regular meetings.

Fostering and cultivating a sacred partnership requires frequent conversations. Be intentional about setting weekly, biweekly, or monthly meetings to ensure the time, place, and space to connect. Consider following the example of Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA, which calls them “sacred partnership meetings.” This language can remind you what needs to be at the core of every conversation.

2. Get to know one another.

Jewish tradition teaches that all of us are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. With that idea in mind, each leader in your congregation brings unique skills and talents to the work at hand. Matching people’s passions, skills, and talents with congregational needs or goals promotes success. To understand your sacred partners and leverage the unique gifts they bring to the table, you should spend time getting to know one another. Take time to ask important questions such as:

  • What keeps you up at night?
  • What gets you up in the morning?
  • What are your life goals?
  • How can I help you succeed?

3. Use sacred texts to connect.

Judaism is blessed with rich sacred texts from the Bible to modern commentaries. Studying these texts with your sacred partners will bring you closer to one another and to the Divine.

Discussing sacred words and sharing how texts resonate – or don’t – can help promote understanding and build deeper relationships between sacred partners. It also can offer insights into your world view that might not otherwise come up in conversation.

4. Engage with the URJ Sacred Partnership Resource.

There are many ways to explore, build, and nurture sacred partnerships. We encourage you to look at the various exercises found within the URJ Sacred Partnership Resource and Discussion Guide. From text study to self-evaluation, this resource can provide individuals and groups within your congregation with a clear framework to study both the concept and nature of sacred partnerships.

Sacred partnerships require a willingness to embrace your strengths and admit where you, individually and collectively, need to grow and improve. It is only by continually nurturing and deepening these connections that your congregation can develop resilient leaders – who will help your community stay strong and vibrant.

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Lisa Lieberman Barzilai, RJE, is the director of the URJ Leadership Institute, part of the Strengthening Congregations team. She previously held positions as an educator in Reform synagogue congregational schools in New York and New Jersey. She is a board member and past president of the Association of Reform Jewish Educators and holds a master’s degree in Jewish education from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

Lisa Lieberman Barzilai, RJE

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