The work of any Jewish communal organization has long been accomplished through the dynamic of volunteer-professional relationships. The better the relationship, the stronger and more effective the organization.
The relationship is a complex one: professionals, for the most part, are a constant; while volunteer leadership typically changes every two to four years. Lay leaders have to have faith in their professionals and professionals have to have faith in the lay leadership.
In the last few years, as our Jewish organizations have had to respond to economic and pandemic crises, with drastic measures, increased stress has been put on both lay and professionals. Expectations have changed and tensions have risen.
What has been constant, is the ever-changing change.
For our communal organizations there is another unique challenge. Not only do we have two organizations, but two boards and two sets of leadership which typically change every two years. We have had a series of excellent members of the community who have stepped up to lead the Alliance and Federation through “choppy waters.” Each leader has their own style, their own priorities, their own knowledge base and unique challenges of balancing family time with volunteerism. (Usually it is the busiest person who steps in to leadership).
A number of people have had the unique commitment of leading both the Federation and the JEA. You’d think that there were a lot of similarities, but nothing could be further from the truth. As Joel Greenberg once quipped, “As Federation President, I never got a call about the pool temperature, as JEA President, it is a weekly occurrence.” And while the boards and presidents work hand in hand, they are very different animals and take very different skill sets.
One of those people who have been president of both organizations is Steve Greenberg who will receive the Jack Malitz Levy Award, the highest award the Savannah Jewish Federation gives for service to the community. When people speak of Steve the typical descriptors include insightful, thoughtful, philosophical, caring, rational, sincere, unassuming, generous, nonjudgmental, among others. Always with a well ironed suit (I don’t know how he walks through the sultry squares downtown during the summer and still looks crisp) and a gentle look on his face. If I had to cast a country lawyer, Steve would certainly fit the bill.
It was such a pleasure to work hand in hand with Steve when he was President of the Federation. When I acted emotionally, Steve brought me back down. When I made a quick decision, Steve put on the brakes and envisioned the challenge differently. He brings a unique gravitas to everything he does.
It was one day, not so long ago, when I complained to Steve about a particularly challenging issue in the community. He sat back in the chair listening—Steve is legendary about waiting until he hears everything until he speaks- and after I ran out of steam, after my passion waned a bit, Steve looked at me and simply said, “Adam, you are never wrong for doing the right thing.”
I think about Steve’s advice every day on (and off) the job…”You are never wrong for doing the right thing.” Words to live by, and I try to do just that.
Just one of the many reasons why we are honoring our friend Steve Greenberg on Sunday.
Kol HaKavod, Steve.