Jeffrey Savit delivers annual meeting speech


Alliance CEO issues call for change

PROVIDENCE – Two-and-one-half years ago, our Rhode Island Jewish community made a bold and unprecedented move: the creation of our new Alliance. It was a needed seismic shift, in order to do business in the 21st century in a more nimble, cost-effective and collaborative manner.

Like all big change, our first act was to declare a new name. And while that was a terrific strategic start, that was the easy part. As they say, change is easy; transition is hard.

And today, we are experiencing the challenge of transitioning from three, proud, disparate agencies to one proud, central unified organization.  While we have already made some good progress, we also feel the growing pains and experience – the same symptoms that most every other national Jewish community does – limited financial resources, an aging demographic, extreme competition and an inability to achieve traction with our next generation.

History has proven time and time again that we Jews are proud, resilient, smart and strong. We have always tackled challenges head-first and devised strategies to ensure our survival in the face of very long odds and hostile enemies.

There is a reason why we did not literally fold up our tents after the Second Temple was destroyed more than 2,000 years ago.  Moving from Jerusalem to Tiberias on foot with no more than a Torah in hand, our ancestors created perhaps the most prosperous and innovative chapter of Jewish history up to the present time.  Our forebears reinvented themselves and created a future based on their then-present realities that honored the past but in no way duplicated it.

Today, the situation is not as dire as in the year 66 BCE, but the bricks of our formerly impenetrable Jewish institutions are starting to crumble. There are many reasons why this is true, but chief among them is our rootedness to mid-20th-century founding precepts and our corresponding inability to adjust to the changing 21st century mores, trends and preferences.

We are trapped in old ways of thinking, reacting and behaving.  But in order for us to stem the tide and indeed build new foundations, the current times dictate that the Alliance must continue to be bold, refocus our mission, challenge the wisdom of conventional institutionalized Judaism and anchor transformative change.

Everything is possible, my friends. So moving forward, the Alliance shall operate as an organization that is strategic and multi-dimensional; one that is characterized by excellence, transparency and sterling customer service.

We shall create philanthropic opportunities and programmatic choices directly based on constituent wants and community priorities. The Alliance shall partner with, listen to and respond to the needs of our community members with immediacy, great empathy and outstanding, value-added programming. We shall be guided by the principles of kavod, hesed, flexibility and above all, positivity.  Personal, not transactional, relationships shall be pre-eminent.  I shall work to ensure that the Alliance be the community catalyst to cultivate, create and support Jewish identities and trajectories across the lifespan, as well as the community think tank, convener and partner to provide compelling reasons to be Jewish.

We shall continue to be the donors and strategic planners who financially support our local and worldwide communities, and meet the constantly changing basic needs for our vulnerable, including the emerging class of the new needy. But we at the Alliance also will reposition ourselves as the thriving 21st-century hub of and "voice" for philanthropy; promoting education, arts, culture and recreation for our entire Jewish community.

We are an Alliance both with and without walls, whose compelling brand, ethos and programs shall extend across greater Rhode Island and shall attract previously disengaged and heretofore unengaged community members. We are uniquely positioned to champion, impact and convert philanthropy for the members of such newly repurposed Jewish neighborhoods. And we shall link our fundraising and our planning/allocations to meet our strategic priorities. The Alliance shall also serve as the community product center, successfully working in conjunction with our historic agency partners and our synagogues to affirmatively respond to, communicate with and champion our revitalized Jewish community.  Our recent statewide Israel@65 celebration, which culminated with the phenomenal Noa concert, demonstrates the powerful impact of successful partnerships and community-based programming.

We shall continue to plant the new 21st-century seeds of sustainability, and embolden our emerging generation of leaders, to perpetuate our RI Jewish community for decades to come.  Indeed, the Alliance shall be the architect of a vital 21st century greater Rhode Island Jewish renaissance.

My friends, I am not Michelangelo, but I nonetheless refuse to be deterred, and I m similarly unafraid to make changes.  Perpetuating the same old, same old, is now foolhardy. To the contrary, I am prepared to mobilize the financial, human and tactical resources to turn my dreams into a new current reality of meaningful philanthropy, streamlined programming, communal relevancy and respectful inclusion for our Community.  I shall do so by:

• Redeploying Alliance staff members and indeed promoting department heads from within to create an innovative Center for Jewish Life and Learning;

• Reorganizing our Alliance physical space to create a new Parenting Resource Center, a new pre-school classroom, and a new Creativity Center;

• Scrubbing our financials in order both to eradicate financial waste and operational inefficiencies;

• And most importantly, refocusing and clarifying our Alliance strategic mission.  And in so doing, the Alliance shall prioritize that which constitutes the important heart and soul cores of our agency and our Jewish community, consolidate where necessary and then align such essential, reorganized initiatives and programs around our strategic mission. The Alliance soon will be positioned to provide excellent, non-duplicative and appealing programming statewide, eliminate that which other community institutions actually do better and pass such programs onto them to best serve our community members.

It is our responsibility to create something new and extraordinary, which is worthy of dedicating our collective time and talents. So three cheers for the formulation of a clear mission, essential prioritization, sterling efficiency and excellent execution.