Turning to Sacred Partnership in Times of Crisis

April 20, 2020Moriah Benjoseph Nassau and Lisa Lieberman Barzilai, RJE

How do we navigate unprecedented times? We don’t know what our immediate future will look like, and many in our community are feeling isolated, lonely, and afraid.

Having not only relationships, but sacred partnerships, helps us find support and comfort in difficult moments and allows us to respond as our best selves. The URJ Leadership Institute defines 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.

Sacred partnerships are critical to our congregations during the best of circumstances. During times of crisis, they become even more important. Inspired by the 10 values that are the building blocks of a sacred partnership, here are some ways you can create holy connection and strengthen your relationships. 

1. Mutual respect

In this difficult moment, as we all struggle with fears about our health, livelihoods, and concern for those we love, respect that everyone has different perspectives, worries, and ideas.

2. Trust

Trust that everyone is trying to get information out in the most accurate and efficient way. Be patient with each other and trust you are receiving information as quickly as possible.

3. Honesty

When updates can move faster than we can keep up, honesty and truthfulness are critical. Share information that is factually based and rely on experts and authorities. 

4. Listening and communication

Keep communication open and ongoing with your community members, city officials, and family. Listen to the fears and concerns of those who come to you; feeling heard is often enough. 

5. Transparency

If you’re tasked with sharing information with members of your community, be open, as best as you can, about how and when you plan to provide updates. Know the legal boundaries of what you can say at each moment in time. 

6. Confidentiality

Some people will need to receive critical information before others. If someone shares information with you in confidence, you must not share it with others. It will be difficult to regain trust from a broken confidence.  

7. Flexibility

We are overwhelmed by new information daily, requiring our normal procedures and practices to rapidly change. Be as flexible as you can and take this as an opportunity to experiment in ways you haven’t before.

8. Reflection

Be sure to care for yourself while you are also showing concern for others. Leaving time to reflect about how you are feeling is an important part of self-care.   

9. Empathy

Like you, other congregational leaders are there to support the spiritual and communal needs of your congregants, but they too have families and loved ones they are worried about. Remember that we are all juggling many priorities right now.

10. Vulnerability

Everyone is struggling in some way right now, and many people may be forced to show and share their vulnerability in ways they haven’t before. We need to keep reminding each other there is no one right way to respond or to react. Modeling vulnerability with your sacred partners can help forge a deeper relationship.

Additional tools:

We are living in a difficult moment. We want answers that don’t yet exist and feel like we’re in a collective pause. We want comfort and inspiration and solace. We also want to know how to move forward. Here are some tools to help you keep in mind the sacred.

  • Remember your values: Your mission, vision, and values are the foundation of the holy work in your congregation. Although the way we do it may be changing, we are still building community and inspiring each other to build a world of wholeness, justice, and compassion.
  • Connect with others: Join the Safety and Security group in The Tent, which includes many resources for coping with COVID-19, to learn with and gain support from other congregational leaders.
  • Upgrade your tools: As we connect virtually, the image of others seeing your face through video conferencing is powerful. Take advantage of the discount offered to URJ member congregations through the Reform Movement Marketplace, and use Zoom to check in with you community.

This is a moment of physical distancing, not social distancing. Especially in moments like these, connecting with your sacred partners to trust, to reflect, and to support one another is some of the most holy work we can do. Our sacred partnerships with each other enable us to do what we, the Jewish people, have always done: struggle and persist.

To learn more about building and maintaining sacred partnerships, access the URJ’s Sacred Partnership Resource and Discussion Guide.

Lisa Lieberman Barzilai, RJE, is the director of the URJ Leadership Institute, part of its Strengthening Congregations team. Moriah Benjoseph Nassau is an associate of the URJ Leadership Institute.​

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