THE END IS NIGH – Now What Do We Do?

It’s been almost nine months since COVID 19 took the world by storm. We thought it would be over in a couple of months. And then it dragged on and on as many governments played denial and petty politics. Lockdown fatigue brought about premature re-openings in many countries, including Israel and the US. Then came the second wave in Israel and Europe and probably a third wave will hit us soon. But the good news is that there is an end in sight. Not the victory of sane and bold leadership or a compliant and responsible populace, but rather the ingenuity and persistence of our doctors and scientists. Both the preventive vaccines and some of the remedies are in sight. And while it may take many months to manufacture and widely administer enough vaccines, by the end of 2021, we should reach herd immunity through the joint actions of mass infection and mass vaccination in most countries.

That means that we have a target date and something tangible to plan around. The uncertainty drove planners crazy. Not that 2022 will be a normal year. It won’t. And indeed there will never be a normal or a return to pre Corona days. It will be more of a transition or a gradual slide to a new normal achievable in maybe 2-3 years’ time or more. Just to be clear, the end of 2021 will allow us to move freely and without masks, but the reverberations will continue for a while.

That’s mostly good news for some, though not for the impatient and not for those sectors of society that thrive on mass close gatherings. I can’t imagine going on a cruise with 4000 potential infectors for many years hence, attending a rock concert or attending a football game in a closed stadium. In the same way that I won’t fly on a Boeing 737 Max for a long time, even though the FAA certified it as safe and Boeing is now going to rename the plane.

Some things will never be the same. The traditional duality of home and work has changed forever with resounding effects on future urban planning and family behavior. Tourism will bounce back but differently. In person business travel will decline and more interaction will take place through technology. Educators are going to retain a lot of Zoom communications as will therapists and doctors.  I suspect too that just as the 1918 Spanish Flu led to a massive expansion of public health services so too will the medical industry go through transformation and growth.

The Jewish world will change too. If the destruction of the First Temple led to the evolution of synagogue life, maybe COVID 19 will transform it once again. Jewish communities will have to rid themselves of the burden of extensive real estate around synagogues and community centers and rabbis and cantors will have to adjust to the one hour span of attention for services while competing with the best educators, orators, preachers and singers from Jerusalem to Los Angeles.

We now have the liberty to plan for the post COVID era 2-3 years or more away with some certainty and that leaves a gap of the interim years — the last wave of Corona through 2021 and the possible emergence of new normality in the course of 2022. It is tempting and natural to then first plan for the coming couple of years and only later to plan for the long haul. But that’s not smart. We need to go for the endgame. We need first to think of the ultimate destination and to know the general direction. Then we can plan the intermediate phases. Now is the time, as the end is nigh, to plan for the better long term future. Tomorrow and the day after will then simply fall into place as stations on the way.


Embracing Change

I saw two fascinating posts today that should help shape the thinking of organizations (and individuals) as they try to survive in these turbulent times and to adapt to a new normal. 

The first was a quote: “Not all storms come to disrupt your life; some come to clear your path.”

The other was this fascinating article about GM.  Once the epitome of an old-school, bureaucratic, and slow-to-react care company…now they are seeking to pivot into a new, high-tech line of business leveraging their strengths.


Those leaders and organizations that emerge stronger following a storm are often those that focus on finding the path forward, moving forward in new directions, and trying new things.  In other words, they embrace the new normal.

A favorite quote which sums this up: “It irritates me to be told how things always have been done….I defy the tyranny of precedent. I cannot afford the luxury of a closed mind. I go for anything new that might improve the past.”

—Clara Barton, The Story of My Childhood, 1907

Blog Completed Project

Rabbis Roundtables on the future of synagogue/congregational life

Beginning on October 19, 2020, the New Normal Project convened 3 roundtable discussions and several interviews with more than 30 rabbis across the country about the future of synagogue and congregational life.  These conversations generated many observations, ideas, insights, and further questions. 

Key issues and discussions topics included:

  • Is the glass half empty or full for congregations and synagogues?
  • What innovations are taking place in congregational life?
  • What implications and opportunities have developed?
  • How has the competitive landscape changed?  How are synagogues and rabbis dealing with competition?
  • What happens to 3-day a year Jews?
  • Implications for the role and value proposition/s of synagogues
  • Implications for synagogue and congregational sustainability
  • What key questions/issues/challenges for the future need to be addressed?
  • How to deal with growing political/community fragmentation and other issues?
  • How are roles of synagogue leaders evolving?  How do they need to evolve?
  • How will the role of rabbis be impacted in the new normal?
  • What do we need to consider in term of the impact and strain on rabbis and clergy?
  • What novel tactics and approaches emerged?
  • What challenges and opportunities exist for supplementary Hebrew schools?

We are working on a series of more in-depth follow up articles and explorations of these issues – and will gladly share the detailed notes from these discussions with select parties. 

The New Normal Project is also happy to provide a comprehensive presentation of our findings on trends, insights, and implications to interested funders and community partners.  Please contact us to learn more and to discuss further.  (LINK)

Participants included Rabbis: Phil Bazeley, Andrew Bentley, Ori Bergman, Steve Engel, Lyle Fishman, Joe Forman, Bill Gershon, Avi Heller, Marc Israel, Michael Jay, Ari Kaiman, Shalom Kantor, David Seth Kirshner, Marc Kline, Michael Latz, Alex Lazarus Klein, Sara Metz, Jordan Millstein, Loren Monosov, Rachel Nussbaum, Melinda Pankin, Michelle Pearlman, Dana Saroken, Aaron Schonbrun, Dan Selsberg, Hyim Shafner, Jonathan Siger, Gil Steinlauf, Uri Topolosky, David Vaisberg, Heath Watenmaker, Aaron Weininger, Eric Yanoff

We greatly appreciate their participation, feedback, and insights!

Blog Completed Project

Funders Roundtable – What are implications for the New Normal?

On October 29, 2020, the New Normal Project convened a roundtable of foundation, community foundation, and Jewish Federation funders to explore how the pandemic has impacted the work of funders – and what possible implications are for both funders and grantees in the future.   

Discussion questions included:

  • What have you and/or other funders done right and wrong so far in responding to Covid 19?
  • How are you developing your picture of what the new normal will be like?  What do you think the biggest issues will be for the Jewish community and for funders?
  • What approaches are Jewish funders considering/should be considering to help non-profits address the next phase of the pandemic’s impact? How are you prioritizing the use of your Foundation’s resources and adjusting spending policies or grant approaches?
  • What are you planning to do differently from your normal practices over the short and longer-term horizons? Are you engaging in any new collaborations to enhance impact on the field?
  • Going forward, what do you see as the biggest challenges and opportunities facing Jewish funders? What emerging lessons can be applied?
  • What types of innovations and eco-system change you would like to see (e.g. collaborations, mergers, consolidations, sunsetting, etc.)? What is the role of funders in promoting and driving innovation and/or putting pressure for change? 
  • What advice would you give to grantees in how they should be dealing with funders?

Key themes that emerged included:

Communication is key – from funders to grantees, from Federations to communities, and from grantees to funders and supporters.  This needs to be honest and transparent.

Response to a crisis is a long distance race, not a sprint. 

Funders stepped up in significant ways in response to Covid, in terms of increasing spending policies, relaxing grant restrictions and reporting requirements, and providing additional support and renewal grants.  It is unclear how sustainable this is, given that needs will likely be even greater next year, and we won’t know how donors “replenish” their funds until the end of the year.

Great opportunities to connect and do business remotely via zoom, but while technology has catalyzed some change, there are also costs and limitations.    

This crisis provides a tremendous opportunity to innovate, but many funders have not focused or coalesced around how to have conversations about change or different ways of doing business, including mergers and alternative/deeper collaborations.  And funders have a crucial role to play in catalyzing and incentivizing these conversations.     

Among more local funders, there seems to be an increasing shift and prioritization of local funding needs vs. national or international needs.

It was also clear in this discussion that there isn’t a lot of clarity about what the new normal will look like – or should look like – and that this uncertainty will continue for a while.  Also, many funders don’t have the bandwidth or expertise to figure all this out.  A key question is how to facilitate discussions about needed change among grantees, and how funders can leverage their leadership role in catalyzing change.


What is the New Normal?

Whether you call it new normal, next normal…or just plain not normal, Covid has disrupted everyone’s plans and activities.  In many cases, this pandemic has served as an accelerant for trends, challenges, and changes that were playing out before – and while in the “beforetimes” inertia could often carry organizations through, allowing them to kick the can down the road, now there is no choice but to confront harsh realities and stark questions.

A good metaphor I recently heard is that of a forest fire, which sweeps through in a sudden rush and causes a lot of disruption.  Dead wood, debris, and untended conditions can make a situation ripe for this kind of disaster.  But afterwards, while the ground may be less cluttered or sparse – with surviving trees scarred or charred – those that do survive may be stronger and new shoots can emerge healthier than they were before. 

(Credit for this metaphor to the first podcast episode of “Post Corona” by Dan Senor – check it out!)

There is probably more to this metaphor which can be played out in terms of how to fight fires, that these increasingly tend not to be over-and-done incidents but longer-term efforts, and the need for more active management of our natural settings…but I think you get the idea. 

One can say similar things of our non-profit organizations, and those that fund them.  Now is the time to be proactive, to address long-standing issues head-on, and to start moving from response mode to recovery or even transformation.  It’s not going to be easy – but this is what coming to terms with the new normal is about. 

Happy to have a conversation to discuss your situation, what you are seeing on the ground, or how we can help.  Contact us!

Blog Blog Pinned

Welcome to the New Normal Project

Welcome to the New Normal Project. On this site, we will gather some of the best resources and experts to help organizations pivot to address the challenges they face today. Whether it is Covid 19 or a changed market environment or a new challenge or crisis that has come up – there is always a “new normal” and organizations, to be successful, must adapt.

Effective leaders are those who recognize when what had defined a previous reality or business model or approach no longer works the same way. At the same time, change is hard…and inertia is one of the most powerful organizational forces at play. We want to encourage organizational leaders look at challenges and issues in new ways, and to help them come to terms with the new normal…and then be prepared for the next new normal.

Read on and let us know what you think…