We’re loyal members of the local JCC (Jewish Community Center, a combo YMCA and cultural center) and were taken aback to receive an email a few weeks ago on plans by a Kansas group to picket the Center.
CEO Alan Feldman first contacted us on October 21st to alert us that members of Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) — an anti-gay, anti-Semitic extremist group from Topeka, Kansas — were planning to picket on Tuesday, October 27th. Feldman delivered this news with concern, but also with reason and calm. This warm yet professional tone reinforced my faith in him, which was particularly important as he’s been in the role just a few months.
In his initial email, Feldman matter-of-factly described the picketing plan and the security strategies in place for that day. He acknowledged that the threat was upsetting but reassured us that there was no real danger.
In his follow-up email the next day, Feldman acknowledged the passion of members’ responses but spoke firmly against acting on the many suggestions for a counter-protest. Instead, he invited members to a more productive response; joining area clergy and educators in a community dialogue while the protest was in action. “While we agree that we must speak out against intolerance, we believe that any counter-demonstrations outside will only further their agenda for publicity and dilute our message of tolerance and equality,” Feldman said.
The dialogue was attended by more than 150 members and others in the area, whereas the protest didn’t interfere with JCC operations. Feldman closed this chapter with a thank you email on October 29th, commending the community for joining together to combat intolerance and bigotry, and thanking those from the police to JCC staff for their hard work in mastering a difficult time. “By not altering our daily routine, we were able to demonstrate our commitment to the Jewish community in a peaceful and powerful way. Thank you for joining us in promoting tikkun olam (repairing the world). Our mission is to build an inclusive Jewish community that celebrates the strength of its diversity,” he said
In taking control of a real threat to motivate community-building, Feldman succeeded in turning a negative into a success story. Here are the keys to his success:
- He acted quickly, but calmly, on hearing of the planned protest. In addition to ensuring that members weren’t surprised or heard it elsewhere, this early response gave Feldman the opportunity to show how the JCC was on top of the situation.
- He didn’t get his hands dirty by slamming the WBC.
- Instead, he (and the JCC overall) took the higher road, using the protest as an opportunity to schedule a community dialogue.
- He provided members with enough, but not too much, information. Feldman kept us updated but didn’t feed our frenzy with daily or hourly updates. He filtered through only what was useful for us to know.
- Feldman took control of the crisis, ending the story on an up note, thanking all who helped the JCC through this difficult time (it was a great opportunity to strengthen bonds with those in the area) and encouraging all members to perpetuate their tikkun olam.
Take a close look at Feldman’s examples so you’ll be poised to make your next crisis into magic. There will be one, so why not work it to your organization’s advantage?
Flickr photo: k763
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