Jewish Silicon Valley: A Case Study
January 21, 2021
Like many organizations, the Mandel Institute has shifted and re-designed its programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Converting our in-person seminars to virtual convenings has opened up new opportunities and modes of learning. Our Boston seminars typically include a site visit and a case study through which fellows can examine key issues facing the North American Jewish community. No longer constrained by geography, we decided to merge these two elements into a real-time inquiry project. We collaborated with graduate Rabbi Hugh Seid-Valencia to develop a case consultation about his organization, Jewish Silicon Valley, an in-process merger between the Addison-Penzak JCC and the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley.
While the case was grounded in the merger process, it prompted fellows to look beyond tactical issues to examine communal dynamics and the broader Jewish organizational ecosystem in Silicon Valley. The case dovetailed nicely with the seminar’s theme, The North American Jewish Ecosystem, and its core areas of inquiry: the unique roles and purposes of Federations and JCCs, how organizations in an increasingly crowded nonprofit arena can cooperate toward shared goals, and the role of vision-guided leadership in galvanizing fragmented communities.
The exercise was anchored by nearly 20 stakeholder interviews to surface local perspectives, needs, and aspirations. Over two intense days, our fellows interviewed lay leaders, staff, heads of community organizations, rabbis and representatives of under-engaged groups in the community. We asked fellows to consider how the new organization was perceived by key stakeholders, which aspects of its mission and strategy were viewed with excitement or resistance, and what lessons from Jewish Silicon Valley’s adaptation could be applied to their communities. Their task was to provide the leadership of Jewish Silicon Valley with a set of “fresh eyes” and to mirror back their findings from stakeholder and group inquiry. Fellows practiced deep listening, synthesizing divergent perspectives, and reflecting on strategy through the lens of evolving community needs.
The case also provided a framework for fellows to apply concepts from other curricular strands of the program. Faculty member Deborah Ancona taught on X-Teams, an approach to teaming that pushes organizations to look externally in order to make sense of trends, challenges and opportunities that affect their work. David Stolow focused his session on “coopetition” and the opportunity for organizations to achieve success through more dynamic interaction with external organizations and stakeholders. Fellows were able to learn these concepts actively by examining how Jewish Silicon Valley’s collaborative mission could be supported through more externally oriented teams and strategy. Fellows were also able to draw on their learning in the social analysis strand, including Dan Judson’s teaching on the history of the JCC movement and Sarah Benor’s overview of trends in the Jewish organizational ecosystem, including decentralization, boutiquization, and changing funding structures.
The active nature of the case was an opportunity for fellows to look beyond their own communities and engage in sensemaking as they navigate some of the same challenges and opportunities that Jewish Silicon Valley faces. It affirmed for many the importance of cross-organizational collaboration, mutually supportive professional relationships, transparency, and responsive stakeholder engagement. The process was a rich learning experience for our fellows as well as the leadership of Jewish Silicon Valley. We invite you to explore their takeaways and goals for the future, captured in the pieces linked above.
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