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  • Rabbi Marc Kraus

Building Holy Community

Updated: Nov 20, 2017


Bob Chapman runs a large manufacturing company in the Midwest called Barry-Wehmiller. In 2008 it was hit very hard by the recession, and lost 40 percent of its orders overnight. [Suddenly] they could no longer afford their labor pool. They needed to save 10 million dollars, so the board got together and discussed layoffs, [but] Bob refused. [Instead he] came up with a furlough program. Every employee, from secretary to CEO, was required to take four weeks of non-consecutive unpaid vacation. [When Bob announced the program] he said, “it's better that we should all suffer a little than any of us should have to suffer a lot,” and morale went up. They saved 20 million dollars, and most importantly, when people feel safe and protected by the leadership in the organization, the natural reaction is to trust. Quite spontaneously people started trading with each other. Those who could afford it more would trade with those who could afford it less. People would take five weeks so that somebody else only had to take three.

I find this story astounding. When most companies were hit by the downturn, they decided to down-size. Why did this company decide that the burden should be shared? Why was their strategy so successful? Simon Sinek, a leadership consultant for the RAND corporation argues that corporations should run more like families. For some of us that might mean “unconditional love.” For others that might trigger a few alarm bells. Indeed, by the time we come to the end of the book of Genesis we’ve seen a lot of difficult family stories. We’ve seen fratricide, murder, slavery, human sacrifice, favoritism, lies, prostitution, massacres… the list goes on and on.

So where does that leave us? I think the final story of Genesis, the story of Joseph, is in some sense an answer to all of those awful events. The story is about forgiveness, the opportunity for repentance and change. It is about the unconditional love that allows Joseph to bring his entire family down to Egypt where they will weather the famine together.


Of this kind of organizational strategy, Sinek says:

[When we] sacrifice so that [other] people may be safe and protected and…gain… the natural response is that [they] will sacrifice for us. They will give us their blood and sweat and tears to see that [our] vision comes to life, and when we ask them, "Why would you do that? Why would you give your blood and sweat and tears for that person?" they all say the same thing: "Because they would have done it for me."[2]

Building community is holy work, and the substance of that holy work is looking around and making every person around us feel like part of the family. Building community is about reaching to help others, looking out for their best interests and sometimes giving people second chances. What we give to others, they give back to us and to our wider community. Those who are welcomed will welcome others. Those who are supported will support others. Those who are remembered will think of others.


Families are not always easy. Genesis attests to that very clearly. But it is communities that feel like families that do extraordinary things.


[1] Simon Sinek, "Why Good Leaders Make You Feel Safe."

[2] Edited for relevance.

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Rabbi Marc Kraus is a member of the Rabbinical Assembly.

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