Barry shrage
  • Barry Shrage

    President, CJP

EPISODE 31: Barry Shrage on 100+ Israel Trips, 31 Years at CJP, and What's Next

CJP president Barry Shrage’s incredible three decades-long career at CJP will come to an end... Show more

CJP president Barry Shrage’s incredible three decades-long career at CJP will come to an end this summer. But before he leaves, we catch up with Barry on our latest podcast to hear more about the next phase of his relentless pursuit to strengthen Jewish identity, community and learning at Brandeis University as both a professor and researcher. Show less

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Barry shrage

Barry Shrage

Barry Shrage has been president of CJP for 31 years. In July, he'll start a new role at Brandeis University as a professor.

  • Israel360 logo AMA Host

    Barry Shrage is considered one of the country's foremost Jewish leaders, building strong support for Israel, promoting inclusion of religious and non-religious Jews, interfaith families, the LGBTQAI+ community, people with disabilities, and reaching out to people of all faiths to work toward social justice. He's a tireless champion of Jewish education and bridge building. And he raises money - a lot of it. In fact, he's raised more than a billion dollars during his time here at CJP. At the end of June, Barry is going to walk through the doors one last time as president of CJP, and probably immediately head over to Brandeis University. There, he's going to serve as professor of the practice at Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program. He will also lead the Initiative for Jewish Identity at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, also at Brandeis. There, he'll work with Professor Leonard Saxe, among others, to "share cutting-edge research on studies addressing pressing issues for the Jewish community." He might also chill a little, write his book, and sleep in, possibly as late as 4:30 AM. We caught up with Barry in the midst of his transition at CJP to hear more about his three decades here, his favorite memories, and the next stage of his career.

  • Israel360 logo AMA Host

    Barry, we've heard some rumors that you're leaving CJP. Can you confirm or deny?

    • Barry shrage Barry Shrage

      I can definitely confirm that I am, because otherwise all those parties would've been a real waste of time. So right now, I gotta One of the beautiful posters near the Myra Kraft Boardroom is a quote from me, and it says, "Barry Shrage, President CJP, 1987 to 2018." That means I am gone, so...

  • Israel360 logo AMA Host

    You have to leave now. Joking aside though, this is obviously a big deal for us, the employees, and for CJP, and for you. So what's the plan going forward for you?

    • Barry shrage Barry Shrage

       I've been extremely fortunate because Ron Liebowitz, the new president of Brandeis, when he found out I was leaving CJP, asked me what I wanted to do and I said, "I'd love to work at Brandeis," and he said, "Great, let's do it." And we worked out all the details. I'll be teaching at the Hornstein Program, and I'll be doing research on Jewish identity at the Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, and I look forward to a lot of interesting times following up on ideas that I've always loved and been interested in, and teaching at Hornstein, especially on issues of leadership and identity. I've got a lot of books that I've read that I'm gonna just torture those students with and make sure they read every single one of them, and it should be fun.

  • Israel360 logo AMA Host

    We'd like to look back for a little bit at some of the things that have meant a lot to you, and obviously to Boston Jewish community: Boston-Haifa, Dnep, Me'ah, IACT, CLAFI, the list goes on. What do you think were CJP's most significant accomplishments during your time here?

    • Barry shrage Barry Shrage

       I think reinventing our relationship with the charity in Israel, making direct people-to-people relationships a priority. It's now so clear as the entire American Jewish community talks about their fear that American Jews and Israelis are being alienated from each other. How great is it that we started working over 30 years ago to create special relationships that whatever we did to be helpful to Israel also strengthened direct relationships between people. So in Boston we now have thousands and thousands and thousands of close relationships between Boston Jews and Haifa Jews to reinforce the love that we have for each other.

  • Israel360 logo AMA Host

    I've been here for seven years, and I think you go to Israel between, I don't know, five and eight times a year. Do you know how many times you've been since you've been president of CJP?

    • Barry shrage Barry Shrage

      I think it's probably, on average, maybe between three and four.

  • Israel360 logo AMA Host

    Alright. Maybe I'm just trying to reach you, and they say, "Oh, he's in Israel."

    • Barry shrage Barry Shrage

      Definitely. That's what I tell them to say to you. Yeah, that's while I've been at CJP, and then before that, of course, I was to Israel 30 or 40 times. So I like to say that I've probably been to Israel about 120 times.

  • Israel360 logo AMA Host

    Of these 100 or so trips, is there one that really stands out as the most memorable? I know you hop on a plane at a moment's notice when Israel is under fire, let's say. But are there any particular trips, either for good reasons or for difficult reasons, that stand out?

    • Barry shrage Barry Shrage

       I think that they're all challenging and they're good, it's difficult to be there when there's trouble. The first time we did that was the first Gulf War when Israel was being hit by Scud missiles from Iraq, and we were issued a gas mask when we came to the airport, because they were afraid that the Scuds would be carrying gas. It was... I felt it was important to be there, and I think that it was appreciated by the people who were there. To feel like you're a little bit more part of Israeli society and that you can share the bad times, as well as the good times with them, for me, that's very inspirational. I remember a mission where we took 300 people, and it was during one of the most terrible parts of the Intifada. People were worried. Buses were blowing up all over the place, and we, because of the inside of our board, we actually miraculously took 300 people on a national mission, and I think that all the other communities in America combined didn't do 100. I was very proud to be there with all those folks from Boston and Myra Kraft was the Chair, which was a beautiful moment also. So, those are very special moments. It was beautiful to be in Haifa, when they made me an honorary citizen, you feel a lot of love. It's not just a lot of love for me, it's a lot of love for our Boston Jewish community. So many people have worked so hard to make that a strong relationship. So, that's just a beautiful moment as well. And so many times that we went there with important people who were just beginning to become interested in CJP and in Israel, and to see them transformed by an Israel experience is just a tremendous thing. Israel has that impact and it will continue to have that impact.

  • Israel360 logo AMA Host

    Barry, we know you love books, Dan and I also love books. Let's say you had to recommend three or four books that people absolutely had to read to get a basic understanding of Jewish peoplehood and Jewish values, but only three or four, what do you recommend?

    • Barry shrage Barry Shrage

      I'd recommend "Future Tense" by Jonathan Sacks. That's really a good... That's a good kind of overview of what's happening now to world Jewry. There are other favorites that are not exactly the place where you might learn about what it means to be a Jew, but I think understanding Jewish identity, it's a very funny, edgy book called "John Lennon and the Jews," which I really think is important. You have to pour through certain parts that might be a little difficult to understand, but also very interesting philosophically about what Jewish identity means, what identity means, the debate between particularity and universalism. Interesting philosophical reflections on rationality, which he doesn't like too much and just overall, just terrific. It's very worth reading "Man's Search for Meaning," which has got insights into the Holocaust, but also, into the meaning of life by Viktor Frankl, who was an inmate in the concentration camp himself. That's one that I like to recommend as well. Or to understand the dynamics of community, I think, "Habits of the Heart" is a very important book. My poor students are gonna have to read all of them, of course, but it should be... Those are very influential, important books.

  • Israel360 logo AMA Host

    You mentioned your research that you're going to be doing, can you tell us a little bit about what you're gonna be researching exactly, and what classes you're going to teach?

    • Barry shrage Barry Shrage

      I'm going to teach one class a semester at Hornstein. My intention is to teach a class on Jewish leadership and identity, and the relationship between leadership and identity, but also to use all the experience I have and not just the successes, but the failures, to talk about what it means to be a Jewish leader and also for me to be able to convey what fun it's been, whether you can call me a leader or not. What fun, it's been to be part of the Jewish community and to be able to participate at the leading edge of Jewish history in this great important, interesting era in Jewish history was... I'd like to convey that to the students.

  • Israel360 logo AMA Host

    Do you still plan on emailing very early in the morning? I do look forward to waking up to see that someone has woken up before me, I wake up really early too, but someone has woken up before me and has written an email. Do you plan on keeping that schedule?

    • Barry shrage Barry Shrage

      You know what? It's like, my life as I know it, is over, it's over. This way of life, this is not just a job, this is a way of life, and it dictates its own. Being here at CJP dictates its own schedule. In other words, I'm meeting with people all day. If I'm gonna be writing anything, I'm gonna be writing it at 4:00 o'clock in the morning, and that's the way it is, and I love it and it's great, but my schedule is completely dictated by the reality that I face. So 7:30 in the morning, I'll have an appointment someplace and then probably another one at 8:30, then I'll come in for a meeting of some kind, and then I'll have another meeting over lunch, another meeting or usually meeting with a donor over lunch as well. So, it's taken up. It's heavily scheduled and something that I'm used to, but, thank God, I have Cookie, my assistant to make sure that everything works. And she's coming with me to Brandeis so that there will be continuity there, but fundamentally there, I'll be deciding who I wanna meet and when I wanna meet them and stuff like that, and definitely I have to get to know a lot of the faculty who are terrific and I can learn a lot from and at the same time, keep the doors open to so many other.

  • Israel360 logo AMA Host

    Might you free up some time to finish that book you've been working on for about a decade, right?

    • Barry shrage Barry Shrage

      A little more maybe than a decade, yeah, definitely, definitely. My attempt at writing a book has already outlived my publisher. He's alive, thank God, but he sold the company [chuckle], so I'll have to find a new publisher or just sell it as a blog or give it away 'cause that's all it'll be worth, but I've been working on it for a long time, and some of the ideas are good and some of them have to be completely rewritten, but that will be fun too. I have to get over my writer's block, that's for sure.

  • Israel360 logo AMA Host

    What do you want us to remember about your style of leadership and your approach to solving complex problems in our community?

    • Barry shrage Barry Shrage

      First thing to do, I think, is to be curious about what's happening and what's happening next. I'd like to be remembered as a person who took on problems and tried to think them through even if we didn't find solutions, at least we tried to find solutions, and we were worried about what the problems were, we tried not to avoid them or ignore them. Well, mostly, I just like to be remembered as a person who deeply loved the Jewish people and the Jewish community and who deeply appreciates the opportunity to have been here and to have done this work. I'd like to be remembered as a person who cared about the staff and deeply appreciates how much honor and respect the staff deserves for everything that they've done, and I'd like to continue to know that the volunteers and the leaders of the community appreciate our staff, which I think they do. I think there's status attached to being part of a staff that most people think are doing great things.

  • Israel360 logo AMA Host

    What advice do you have for Marc Baker, who will become CJP's CEO in July? What kind of questions is he asking you? Have you told Johnnies about him?

    • Barry shrage Barry Shrage

      Well, number one, I don't think that Marc's gonna need a lot of advice. He's brilliant, and he knows the community as well as I do in many ways. He's deeply committed to all the things that I'm committed to, but he'll be able to take them further or think of them in brand new ways. So, I think that he's gotta trust his instinct, but also trust the staff, because the staff knows a lot about how this place works and they make it work. I've never hesitated to talk to our board leadership and get their ideas and they've always been brilliant and terrific, so stay close to them, and we've got great resources in place, we've got a great leader coming in. I've got no doubt that he'll work his way through it as the brilliant person he's always been in this community.

  • Israel360 logo AMA Host

    As your last day here approaches, it's an emotional time for us, the staff, and we know you're an emotional guy too. When you walk through that door as President of CJP for the last time, what are you feeling?

    • Barry shrage Barry Shrage

       Nauseous.

    • Barry shrage Barry Shrage

      As I said, I'm very excited about the future, but it's also the end of life as I know it in this particular way. And to not be walking down the halls and saying hi to all the people who I love and who are great and all that. Excited as I am about the future and as happy as I am that I made the choice that I made, because the future needs to be different and exciting and all that, you can't be in a place for 31 years and have relationships and friends and a certain way of doing business and then leave it without being ambivalent. If I'm not crying on the outside, I'll be crying on the inside. It's weird, to be so happy about having the opportunity to leave at a high point in history of our federation and feel good about it and feel good about having a great job to go to and doing new and exciting things and continuing to go to Israel and on and on and on and on, but there's something... Something breaks inside of you when you leave something like this.

  • Israel360 logo AMA Host

    On a lighter note, we know you love music and you like to help other people understand ideas through lyrics. Do you have a song stuck in your head right now? And if so, what is it?

    • Barry shrage Barry Shrage

      Well, there are a couple of songs that I like to use or think about or... I love Dylan's song "The Times They Are A Changing" and the times they always are a changing so that's... I love that song. I always use as a teaching moment a song from the show "South Pacific", which is, "You've Got to Have a Dream" so you gotta have a dream, if you don't have a dream, how are you gonna make a dream come true? So part of my advice to Marc, is to have a great dream and to make that dream come true. So that's another song that I really, love, it's kind of going through my mind now.

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