My Final Column: Full Circle
By Jay Rubin
To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven…
Thirty-six years ago this month, my wife and I loaded our two under three-year old native Austin children and our large white collie into our Chevy Malibu station wagon and left Austin forever. Or so we thought.
We were en route to Augusta, Georgia where I had just landed a job as executive director of the Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Center. It was 1981 and I was 29 years old.
Although my actual Jewish journey began in utero in pre-chic Brooklyn, New York, my Jewish professional journey began right here as a young history instructor at Texas State University living in pre-cool South Austin. I managed to find my way to the Jewish Community Council located in an office building on Balcones Drive where a new executive director had recently relocated from Augusta. We hit it off as fellow New Yorkers and I volunteered to help out with a few community projects. Months later he suggested I consider applying for his old job in the Peach State.
I had an enormous amount to learn and thankfully had the opportunity to do so from dedicated volunteers, national partner organizations (with long gone acronyms such as CJF, JWB, UJA and NJCRAC) and seasoned professional colleagues over the years. The senior ranks of the field at the time were populated largely by men from the Greatest Generation. Many had been GIs during World War II liberating concentration camps and staffing DP(displaced persons) camps. Some were Holocaust survivors themselves. Others had served in Israel’s pre-state underground militias. Nearly all had gone to university on the GI Bill and earned advanced degrees in social work.
I know they wondered a lot about this new cohort of young Baby Boomers coming into Jewish professional leadership. We came off university campuses during the late 1960s and early 1970s having had some less than noble experiences (sex, drugs and rock and roll), some noble ones (civil rights and free speech) and a few with mixed outcomes (anti-war movement). Academically and professionally, we were all over the place and had limited to no Israel experience. How would Jewish communities in the U.S. fare in this leadership transition? What would happen to the relationship with Israel? Would fundraising continue at past levels to care for the poor, elderly and infirm at home and overseas?
With patience, persistence and passion, the new cohort by and large rose to the occasion and on the shoulders of their predecessors confronted and addressed late 20th and early 21st century communal challenges.
Today the challenges are both similar and different and no less great as a new generation of Jewish men and woman assume the mantle of professional leadership across the country. In key ways, much like my friend and colleague Rabbi Daniel Septimus, our new CEO, they are better prepared Jewishly, technologically and culturally to succeed certainly than many of my contemporaries and I were in the 1980s and perhaps even now.
Over the years, my Jewish professional journey also took me to Canton, Ohio; New Haven, Connecticut and Washington, D.C. and from there across the globe for Hillel International.
Ten years ago, things came full circle when Carol and I returned to Austin where, barring the unforeseen, we plan to stay put for a long, long time.
In my final column as Shalom Austin CEO, I offer a collective thank you to my past and present colleagues and volunteer leaders for the opportunities, challenges, critiques and support. Individual ones will soon follow.
May our individual and collective Jewish journeys endure forever.