Conference Keynote Presenters

KEYNOTE 1 - SUNDAY, November 14


Key Note: Making Constraints Beautiful - How Synagogues Can Find Abundance in a Time of Scarcity

Speaker Bio 

Jim Kales, CEO of Aspire, one of the nation’s most innovative and dynamic disability non-profits, will share powerful insights and practical tools you can use to innovate in your synagogue. When you see your constraints not as obstacles but as a path to abundance, you’ll unleash creative thinking and uncover the full potential of your community.
Kales will share his personal journey since becoming the CEO of Aspire more than a decade ago. When he stepped into the CEO role, Aspire was nearly bankrupt and struggled to meet payroll. Even worse, Aspire received 95% of its funding from the State of Illinois—which has one of the nation’s lowest funding levels for disability services. But against these odds, Kales worked with his Board, staff team and volunteers to find new sources of incredible abundance.

Kales will also share insights from one of his guiding books, A Beautiful Constraint. This book uncovers a new methodology for helping organizations to unleash innovation, by seeing constraints as beautiful sources of opportunity.

In this session you will learn:

  • The difference between “victim mentality” and a “transformer mentality”
  • How to craft a propelling vision for your team and synagogue
  • How to break down resistance to innovation
  • How to move your team from a “scarcity mindset” to an “abundance mindset”

We will wrap the session with a powerful case study of a fictional, financially troubled, synagogue. We’ll break into groups and help this synagogue create a bold path forward.

KEYNOTE 2 MONDAY, November 15


Keynote: Resilience

    Speaker Bio


    Part I - Building Personal and Professional Resilience: Boosting How You Recharge and Reset

    Resilience is about far more than “bouncing back”. Resilience is about strengthening your ability to navigate future challenges, identify unexpected opportunities, and adapt in the face of change— arguably some of the most essential skills for synagogue leaders managing the daily operations and ever-changing needs of a congregation. Fortunately, resilience isn’t a static personality trait, but rather something you can develop with awareness and practice. In this session, you will learn:

    • Best practices for strengthening resilience and staying energized
    • Why mindset matters and how to adjust your thinking when navigating challenging situations
    • Strategies for approaching future challenges with realistic optimism
    • How to ensure you have the right support for both personal and professional wellbeing

    Part II - Roadmap to Resilient Leadership: Bringing Resilience into How You Lead Others

    The most effective leaders both model resilience and foster it in others. This is particularly critical for synagogue leaders who must manage competing demands in a constantly changing environment while also ensuring that their staff and congregation are positioned to adapt, evolve, and thrive.  In this session, designed specifically for those who lead others, you will learn:

    • The critical components of resilient leadership
    • The key resilience-bolstering questions to consistently ask yourself and your team
    • Best practices for empowering your team to be nimble and creative problem-solvers when facing change and challenges
    • Strategies for proactively building resilience into day-to-day interactions, and coaching these skills to those you lead
    • Approaches for supporting and ensuring the long-term well-being of your lay partners and professional colleagues

    KEYNOTE 3 - TUESDAY, November 16


    Keynote: From Belonging to Becoming

    While much of Jewish life was initially designed to build character and community among its followers, the last 75 years of American Jewish life have strayed from these aspirational roots, with greater emphasis on programs and services than on formation and connection. And with the volatility presented by the ongoing pandemic, many of the trends in American Jewish life (disaffiliation, startup communities, and shifting observance patterns) have accelerated - posing what seems like a threat to the business model of our synagogue communities.
    What if we imagined these shifts as our ancestors once did - not as threats to our existence, but opportunities to reimagine Jewish life for ourselves and our descendants? In this interactive workshop, we'll learn why this moment is one of unprecedented opportunity, and offers ample reason for unbridled optimism. Believe it or not, Jewish life has been here before, and we emerged stronger, more connected, and more vibrant than ever.
    Together, we'll explore:

    • How a close study of today's sociology of American Judaism and an historical precedent from the late 1800's help point to a reshaping landscape of American Jewish life, and a unique moment of opportunity for its many institutions
    • How to build strategic collaborations with local Jewish organizations (yes - even other synagogues!)
    • Why shifting from performative programs to formative experiences is the most important thing synagogue administrators can do, and why waiting isn't an option
    • The five things every synagogue can do to become more efficient and impactful today, all while better serving their communities for the future

    Speaker Bio