Clergy Leadership Incubator (CLI)

“Leadership is a function of knowing yourself, having a vision that is well communicated, building trust among colleagues, and taking effective action to realize your own leadership potential.” – Warren Bennis

CLI fellows having a discussion while seated in a circleThe Clergy Leadership Incubator (CLI) is a two-year program to support and encourage rabbis in organizational leadership, change management and institutional transformation. The program is open to rabbis serving congregations or rabbis who have created or are in the process of creating new models of spiritual community. For Cohort 3, which will commence in June 2017, the program will be open to rabbis who have been serving in the field between 5 to 15 years.

The program focus of CLI is on visionary leadership and innovative practice. The acronym CLI reminds us that clergy are intended to be human vessels that create sacred communities in which Jews can find meaning and purpose (klei kadosh). CLI’s curriculum was developed in partnership with Marty Linsky, one of the architects of the discipline of “adaptive leadership” developed at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and now used all around the world. The CLI program integrates the best thinking and practice in the field of synagogue transformation with the organizational tool kit developed by adaptive leadership.

Two people standing, looking out at the room while writing with a marker on a large piece of white paper on an easelCLI Fellows are supported by both a member of the CLI national mentor team and by a peer cohort that will form an interdenominational community of practice (COP). A strong premium is put on fostering an entrepreneurial spirit in order to establish spiritual communities that can be compelling to 21st century Jews. The CLI program is directed by Rabbi Sid Schwarz.

Key elements of the program include: Two-year syllabus with monthly readings; monthly participation in a Community of Practice of rabbinic peers; monthly consultation with a rabbinic mentor with significant experience and success in the field; three retreats of three nights each in different venues around the country; coaching and training from nationally prominent practitioners in field of leadership, organizational change and synagogue transformation.

CLI Cohort 3 has already commenced. Click here to apply for Cohort 4.

Program Goals:

CLI fellows sitting on benches around a fire

  1. Voice– To help rabbis engage in the work of personal discovery, better identifying their particular gifts, their rabbinic calling and finding their rabbinic voice.
  2. Vision– To advance the rabbi’s vision of what a vibrant, engaged spiritual community looks like so that they can help move their congregations in healthy, new directions, transforming the paradigm of their synagogues in ways that engage ever more Jews.
  3. Spiritual Leadership– To provide the tools, strategy and support so that participating rabbis can evolve into visionary spiritual leaders who have the ability to be effective change agents in their communities. Each participant will work towards implementing an innovation in their respective institution that has the ability to transform the organizational culture in accordance with the vision developed in goal #2.

The CLI support system methodology

There are four ways that CLI participants will progress through the program. First are the in-person retreats. There are three retreats over the course of the two years—at the start of year 1, the start of year 2 and then to conclude the program at the end of year 2. The retreats are led by Rabbi Sid Schwarz and nationally prominent trainers in the fields of organizational leadership, social psychology, program evaluation and community building.

The second support is a syllabus designed specifically for the CLI Fellowship. With assigned readings for each month, the syllabus includes critical ideas and practical suggestions that become part and parcel of the tool kit for visionary rabbis.


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  • Three people talking, sitting around a picnic table, surrounded by trees
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The third support for CLI participants are the peer cohorts. The twenty participants in the program are divided into five, cross-denominational groups. Each forms a community of practice (COP) that convenes once per month for 60-90 minutes (via phone, webinar or alternate platform). Participants have the chance to present regularly to their COP and benefit from the feedback and input of their peers.

The fourth support for CLI participants is an assigned rabbinic mentor. The CLI national mentor team consists of some of the most innovative and successful rabbis in the country. The mentors meet with CLI Fellows monthly and serve as advisors, spiritual guides and role models. Even as the goal of CLI is for each participant to find their own, authentic voice, the career path, accomplishments and orientation of the mentor provides a compelling ideal for the CLI Fellow, inspiring them with the belief that they too can mold a career that can make a difference in the lives of Jews and in the nature of the Jewish community.


Here are comments from some alumni of the CLI program:

An active moment at a CLI retreat

  • (As a result of participating in CLI) I feel that I made significant progress toward becoming a “visionary spiritual leader.” In many ways, I feel like a newborn, just starting out, now that I can see what the path is. But there is excitement in that, because I sense that I’ll be applying what I’ve learned here for years to come. Because our cohort has set up ways to continue to be in touch, I feel we are well-disposed to continue learning and growing in our leadership, and that this tree will continue to bear fruit for years to come.
  • CLI has been a wonderful opportunity to get some high-level training (eg. adaptive leadership theory; evaluation design, etc.); meet some phenomenal peers, mentors and teachers – across and beyond the denominational spectrum; and engage in rigorous self-evaluation, self-definition, and visioning. This last piece has been probably the most productive for me. … The lay leaders’ evaluation of me was slightly painful, particularly in reflecting that I had not clearly enough articulated my personal vision for the community – or at least not to everyone. This feedback actually prompted me to start articulating it for myself and begin sharing it with certain key organizational leaders… This was invaluable.
  • CLI was truly transformational. It forced me to challenge my previously held assumptions about effective leadership, the role of the rabbi, and organizational change. It pushed me to recognize the roles I had played in creating the very messes I was desperately but unsuccessfully trying to solve. It challenged me to work more slowly, carefully, and methodically – to enlist partners, build consensus, and get on the balcony to see what was really going on. It reminded me that Torah and meaning-making is at the core of my work, and my leadership is meaningless unless I infuse my leadership with the very Torah I hope to instill as a product of the changes I want to make. I have no doubt that I will be a more effective change agent now and/or in the future because of CLI.
  • CLI helped to get me out of the bubble – the bubble of my own synagogue, the bubble of my own city, the bubble of my own Movement, and the bubble of my previous definitions of rabbinic success. It has helped me to appreciate myself as well as helped to bring an even greater level of humility to the work I do. Being surrounded by such brilliant, talented, and diverse rabbinic leaders through this program has been inspiring and I have learned so much from them. I have gained a new level of self-confidence to vision, develop, articulate, and then execute on ideas and know how to strategically bring about change. A great deal of the success of this program was Sid’s leadership and ability to harness the potential within each one of us as well as our collective power. He gave us the space to own this group for ourselves and future cohorts will have to figure out their own flow. Therefore, as long as Sid continues to lead as he does now (sometimes from the front and other times from the rear), future cohorts will be able to figure out their own definition of success. This has been a transformational part of my rabbinate.

Feel the Magic

CLI Fellows are already implementing new ideas in their respective communities, serving to engage Jews in new and different ways. Many of those ideas are featured on the Synagogue Innovation Blog that appears on this website. Here is a short video that shows a project introduced by CLI Cohort 2 Fellow, Rabbi Dan Horwitz at The Well in Detroit. It was then adopted by fellow CLI Fellow, Rabbi Michael Knopf at Temple Beth El in Richmond, VA.


Another blossoming community led by a CLI alumnus is The Open Temple in Venice, CA. Rabbi Lori Shapiro was part of CLI-Cohort 1. She was one of a handful of rabbinic entrepreneurs that CLI brings in to each cohort, seeking to build brand new models of spiritual community. CLI provided Lori with key skills that allowed her to channel her creativity and create a vibrant, sustainable new Jewish spiritual community. The clip below provides a taste of the magic that Rabbi Lori has created.


Sarah Bassin is a Fellow in CLI-Cohort 3. She serves as the assistant rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, CA but prior to that post, Sarah was the founding executive director of New Ground: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change based in Los Angeles. For her CLI innovation project, she used her extensive network of contacts in both the interfaith community of LA as well as in the Jewish community to collect clothing, food and medical supplies for the children of war-torn Syria. The “BigFill” (filling a full-sized shipping container to be sent to Syria) resulted in 2.5 tons worth of supplies going to Syria. This short video clip tells the story.


Rabbi Jen Lader is a Cohort 3 CLI Fellow and on the rabbinic team at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield, MI. Her portfolio is youth but she wanted to develop a project that might galvanize adult members of the congregation to higher levels of engagement. Jen regularly plans and leads trips to Israel and to Europe for her teens. In conversation with several women members whose teens have participated on these trips, Jen was asked if she might consider doing such a trip for adult women. Their kids had just returned from a trip and were so excited, engaged, and inspired by the experience. The moms began questioning if perhaps there was a way for Jen to bring that level of enthusiasm to their generation through similar programming. Instead of adult education in their living rooms to build community and inspire Jewish engagement, they wanted a meaningful ‘youth group-style’ trip – something that wasn’t currently being offered for adults. They also felt strongly about a women-only space, where they could feel safe with each other, and really focus on connecting, learning, and growing. Thus the Women’s Mission to Eastern Europe planned for women in their 30s-50s. The itinerary included Krakow, Warsaw, Budapest and Vienna. Not only did the trip prove to be a highly emotional and bonding experience for the 25 women participants but Jen is now using that experience to get both the women and their husbands more engaged in the life and program of Temple Israel. You can read a stirring account of the Mission here.

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