As I write these words I have to confront the reality that we are losing the president I have come to rely on, depend on and deeply appreciate, even as we face the unknowns of what awaits us in our future.
After 6 years of sterling leadership, our wonderful Fred Zola has decided to follow the Torah’s path and “stop”, i.e. Shabbat as what could have been a 7th year will become his Sabbatical.
In many cases when a nonprofit community has the same leader in place for many years, it can be an indication of a problem inherent in that organization. What begins as a calling to responsibility (my preferred translation for “mitzvah”) can easily transform into an addiction to power, especially as one year rolls into the next. Sometimes a leader stays in place because she/he does not want to relinquish the authority. As a result the organization can become mired in elitism and individually-driven activity to the exclusion of the broader community.
From the start, Fred took on his position with no interest in power, only in serving. To his credit, and no doubt due to his serious commitment to Jewish values as he learned and taught them (what a wonderful gift he has given and hopefully will continue to do so, in preparing drashot/teachings of weekly Torah portions on Shabbat, in my absence), he has maintained a strong connection to the lessons of our sages and ancestors, with Moses setting the standard of modesty in leadership. As a reflection of his priorities, from the start, he has always sought to involve people in as many ways as possible to share the responsibility for the governance of B’nai Israel. Whenever possible he has encouraged and demanded that people step forward to take ownership of our community and, in turn, invite others to join them in involvement, as well.
His love and passion for people, especially the children, coupled with his hopes and dreams for a continuing and growing Jewish presence in Solano County, has no doubt contributed to his willingness to continue his leadership for more years than I know he had ever expected or anticipated. Yet, he continued to guide us with grace, dignity and joy.
How appropriate that he takes yet another lesson from Torah as his motivation for stepping aside to enable the leadership to be renewed with someone else at the helm. He appreciated that 6 is the special number for a segment of activity, whether days or years, leading to Shabbat, i.e. for individuals and families on a weekly basis or for the land and community on a yearly basis.
Now, we await the “election” of new leadership, and as we prepare for a new administration, it may well be that more than one person will be needed to fill his position. However that turns out, my prayer is that our next leader(s) will study his approach and find similar motivation from our Judaic value system whereby he/she/they understand that it is not about power; it is about responsibility and commitment to share the power, in empowering others. What makes CBI special is that those who choose to be part of this community understand that this is a unique context for learning, sharing and teaching that the difference between illness and wellness, in the words themselves is “I” and “WE”.
We need that kind of leadership and broad based involvement in which we all understand and appreciate that the One we work for is the Creator of the universe. The Almighty holds us accountable to use our talents and wisdom to bring out the best in others and, in so doing, create a community that is a place for learning, inspiration, socialization, safety and sanctuary. Fred understood all of that, and for that I am grateful beyond words for his modeling what leadership is intended to be in the Jewish community.
And, as our country faces its own change in leadership, many are fearful that the new leader in no way reflects the kinds of values that Fred and, by extension, CBI, strives to live. Should the nation’s new leader prove such fears to be accurate, we will need more than ever the kind of involved caring community that Fred has overseen and worked diligently to generate: a safe haven and place for reflection, renewal, and when necessary, call to action.
Thank you, Fred, and thank you to those stepping forward to continue with his light and his energy and commitment for all that is good and healthy in this unique community. We may need each other more than ever to sustain light and wellbeing in response to what may await us in the unknowns in the broader national and international arenas.