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Sometimes Competing Strategies are Symbiotic

Vol. 3, No. 1, David Wolkenfeld, The Response
‘Deeply personal and ingrained components of our identity lead us to one change strategy or another.’


Dr. Elana Stein Hain’s “Call” is an elegant presentation of the advantages and disadvantages of various strategies and stances that can be adopted in the effort to bring changes. Her presentation maps out the landscape of change strategies, methods, and paces, and briefly describes what might be gained and what might be lost by choosing to adopt one effort or another.

David Wolkenfeld is rabbi of Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation,
Chicago, Illinois

Her presentation, however, ignores the ways in which deeply personal and ingrained components of our identity lead us toward one change strategy or another, and also ignores a common dynamic, in which different change efforts, adopting different strategies can exist in a single ecosystem in a symbiotic, rather than a competitive environment.

Each of us exists as insiders or outsiders in relation to numerous communities and sub-communities. These communal affiliations form our identities and our self-image and will necessarily impact the change strategies that feel available to us at any given time. For example, as an insider to Jewish Orthodoxy, I am drawn to adopt an “inside game,” when seeking to change the Orthodox community. I will promote modest and consensus-building changes within my community, seeking out allies in positions of leadership and using my own influence and leadership roles to advance goals in a way that preserves my ability to continue to play that “inside game” in a sustainable way into the future.

In contrast, as a politically engaged American citizen with no other political power beyond citizen, I have no constituency and am accountable to no one. The political actions that I take part in, the public policy organizations I choose to fund, and the elected officials I vote for, might at times be those who seek more fundamental, dramatic, and rapid changes. I support dramatic and fundamental changes in some spheres, and I engage in more measured and cautious leadership in promotion of other changes in other spheres. I suspect this is quite common.

The other aspect of change strategies that is absent from Dr. Stein Hain’s brief presentation is the common dynamic in which different people, promoting different strategies, all in support of a constellation of similar goals, can operate in a symbiotic way. This was true when radical abolitionists battled slavery alongside moderate foes of the unimpeded expansion of slavery into the West.

This is true today in my own slice of Orthodoxy where, for example, some organizations advance female religious and scholarly leadership through a cautious “inside game” and a slow attempt to build consensus, while other organizations and individuals place controversial facts on the ground in support of what they see as a more coherent vision for a transformed community.

Despite occasional acrimony, I see these organizations existing in symbiosis. Each one can point to the other as a helpful and clarifying contrast. Each one occupies a unique niche in our communal landscape that enables a larger percentage of our community to find a way to support the distinct yet similar goals of these organizations. Openly different change strategies compete, sometimes with bitter acrimony; yet beneath the surface, each strategy is more effective, because of the presence of others utilizing an alternative strategy for change.

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