This interview is part of the Network-Weaver Series. More info & interviews here!
Adina Frydman is the Director of Regions for SYNERGY at UJA-Federation of New York and Synagogues Together, which builds a network of synagogues as vital centers of caring, learning, and spiritual renewal. Prior to three and a half years at Federation in New York, she worked at the St. Louis Jewish Federation.
Tell me a little about the SYNERGY network.
SYNERGY is a department at UJA-Federation of New York with the aim of strengthening the tapestry of NY synagogues and making them vibrant institutions. We connect them to resources ranging from board development and synagogue fundraising to social media help. While UJA-Federation has always woven community networks, the work of SYNERGY is evidence of some of the new ways in which networks are being animated at a local level. We have a regional structure, operating in Westchester and on Long Island, allowing best practices for addressing common challenges to be spread across the network. In Westchester, I meet individually with synagogue leaders and in small groups, bringing people together across denominational and size spectrums. We talk about the pressing issues the synagogues are facing, what success stories there are, and how we can spread success.
How do you measure success in your network?
We track to what extent synagogue leaders take advantage of resources and opportunities we offer for growth, such as workshops, consultations, and webinars. Each program is evaluated in our tracking of participation as well as through feedback loops, such as online surveys, which we develop in order to tailor our resources. The ultimate network need not run exclusively through a hub. Therefore, we also measure the extent to which synagogue leaders participate in different aspects of the network and how they are networking with each other through in-person gatherings and on online platforms, such as LinkedIn and Google groups.
What are the challenges in working in a networked way?
For synagogues, there’s both a fear and a lack of familiarity with operating in a network mindset. What does it really mean to open something up to a general discussion and input? What do we do with the feedback once we have it? In our work, we try to demonstrate the actual value of the network so that people want to open up. Once they benefit from the network, they realize they have a lot to gain and to bring, as well as experiencing the value of being part of something bigger, broader, and more open.
Also, there’s a general misunderstanding of what it means to operate as a network: people sometimes narrow their understanding to a purely social media context. They think that, if they don’t have social media knowledge, the network is closed to them. In reality, social media is a tool, but we have functioned as a network since the beginning of time – now we’re just using these tools to build social capital and strengthen network ties faster and beyond our immediate networks.
What vision for the future do you believe network-weaving can accomplish?
Part of what UJA-Federation is facilitating is working across silos. It’s not just about synagogues – it’s about strengthening synagogues as key network hubs in the community as a whole. I dream of a networked community that is open while cultivating a sense of belonging, porous but with integrity and value, relevant, purpose-driven, and dynamic with multiple gates of entry so people can access and connect wherever they are in their lifecycle and Jewish journey. Rather than a model where you’re in (a member) or out (not a member), how can we broaden our concept of community so that we create an open tent where everyone can simultaneously participate (be a consumer) and co-create (be a prosumer) of the community?
Federations, synagogues, JCC’s, camps, day schools, social service agencies and other organizations within our community each have a critical place and role. We will individually and collectively benefit by shifting our mindset to being shaped by what the community wants, through considering our niche and unique value propositions. This shift will also allow for new entities to emerge as needed. This networked community would be vibrant, caring, inspired and interconnected – and wouldn’t we all want to be part of that community?
Do you have some pointers as to how to engage in a network of purpose?
One of the keys is to simultaneously feel value in the assets you’re going to bring to the table and to be open about what you’re going to receive. There should be real honesty in the discussions, including about the overarching value of what we’re trying to accomplish as a collective. There’s this collective vision out there that’s bigger than the missions of each organization. When you’re sitting in a virtual or in-person conversation, you feel this door of possibility open when people realize that together we’re something more than the sum of our individual parts. Then, of course, you have to work out the individual roles and what each entity brings to raising up the whole. But until you understand that it’s about a bigger value proposition, it’s hard to move into the networked mindset.
Working in a networked way is also iterative – something that’s worked on all the time. It’s about constantly coming together for a purpose. At the same time as having a clear agenda and purpose, within the context of each gathering there has to be room for something not on the agenda, whether you call it an open space session or a brainstorm, as this will allow for innovation to take place. It takes time, repetition, familiarity, and trust to build relationships – yet relationships are the fabric of the weave. Humility is also very important. Lack of humility is our biggest barrier to trying new things and taking risks, because when we lack humility, we fear personal failure. Working in a network, you have to understand: I’m part of a vast web and I’m the center of my own universe, all at once. To paraphrase Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peschischa, everyone must have two pockets. When feeling lowly, one should reach into the right pocket, and, there, find the words: "For my sake was the world created." But when feeling high and mighty one should reach into the left pocket, and find the words: "I am but dust and ashes."