Renée Rockford reflects on one year as President & CEO

Jun 26, 2024 | Article, Newsletter

On July 1, I will mark one year in the role of President & CEO of JEWISHcolorado, and the anniversary, against the backdrop of October 7, calls for thought about what it means to lead in these fraught and uncertain times.

By what measure do we assess our work during the past months? What will history say about the collective Jewish leadership here at home and in Israel? How have we convened and held diverse people and voices in our community? When we look back on this year, what will we wish we had seen, or known, or done differently? For guidance, I turned to the wisdom of Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z’l.

More than a decade ago, he wrote, “Jewish leadership is ambiguous. It means leadership by Jews, but it also means leadership in a Jewish way, according to Judaic principles and values. “The first is common,” he said. “The second, rare.”

Sacks set forth seven axioms for that rare kind of Jewish leadership:

1. Leadership begins with taking responsibility. Sacks wrote about these guideposts for leadership in Judaism: “We are free. We are responsible. And together we can change the world.” Together, with all of you, JEWISHcolorado has invested the full force of our efforts into responsibility and change, raising more than $9 million in emergency funds for Israel, thousands of dollars for the Jews of Ukraine, and nearly $8 million in programming and support for our community. We gathered thousands of people on multiple occasions for conversation and camaraderie, and we connected our community to Jews around the world.

2. No one can lead alone. Rabbi Sacks underscored that as humans, we cannot live alone, and we cannot lead alone. We know that in Judaism, there are many styles of leadership. I am grateful for the commitment to collaboration on the part of Colorado’s Jewish organizations—recognizing that leadership means teamsmanship. I am grateful for the partnership with lay leaders on JEWISHcolorado’s board and committees and those venerable and long-time leaders of our community who have taken their time to mentor me.

3. Leadership must be about the future. Leadership is strongest when it is mission-driven; Sacks said it also must be vision-driven. This year, even with the additional demands driven by the war in Israel, JEWISHcolorado completed a revised articulation of our mission and vision statements, updated the organization’s bylaws, and refined processes and financial reporting, creating a strong foundation for future success. We do not yet know what the community will call upon us to do in the future, but we do know it will be significant and important. With this clear vision, we will be ready.

4. Leaders learn. Sacks said, “Study makes the difference between the statesman and the politician, between the transformative leader and the manager.” We are fortunate at JEWISHcolorado to offer every staff member the opportunity to study with a rabbi or Jewish educator through The Jewish Learning Collaborative. My one-on-one study with Rabbi Rachel Rosenbluth provides insights into the weekly parsha or brings a Jewish lens to the challenges of leadership. Judaism teaches that people learn not only from the books they study but also—and perhaps more so—from the people they meet. I am grateful for the living role models who continue to support and guide our organization and community and for all those in the community who have taken time to share their thoughts on the work and the role of JEWISHcolorado.

5. Leadership means believing in the people you lead. Rabbi Sacks wrote about one of the greatest insights into leadership: Judaism prefers the leadership of influence to the leadership of power. Influence respects people; power controls people. I admire the hard work of our JEWISHcolorado staff and our many lay leaders. They believe in the work we do, and I believe in them.

6. Leadership involves a sense of timing and pace. Leadership involves a delicate balance between impatience and patience. (My husband says I have too much of the former and not enough of the latter). Move too fast, and you may regret decisions you made. Move too slowly, and you may miss key opportunities. This past year, international events dictated that we act quickly in some cases. But at the same time, we moved deliberately and intentionally in our efforts to make appropriate changes within the organization.

7. Leadership is demanding. Sacks put it simply: “Leaders lead because there is work to do, there are people in need, there is injustice to be fought, there is wrong to be righted, there are problems to be solved and challenges ahead.” This is a community of doers. Whether professional or lay leaders, they lead because they know that to stand idly by and expect others to do the work is the easy way out. Judaism teaches us to hear this as a call to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.

For all you have done to support me personally and professionally in this past year, I extend my heartfelt thanks. In these trying times, may we be judged by our aspirations, efforts, and our willingness to fulfill JEWISHcolorado’s ongoing mission.

Your support helps us continue to convene, connect, invest, and protect Jewish life in Colorado, Israel, and around the world.