Meet Bill Robinson

Bill Robinson admits that he may not be in Baltimore today, as the first executive director of The Associated’s new Center for Leadership, if it were not for a conversation he had with his sociology professor his sophomore year at college.

At the time, he was pursuing a degree in computer science. Yet, he was fascinated by society’s challenges.

“I started college thinking I would be addressing difficult problems that would ultimately yield solutions,” he recalls. “But my professor made me realize that the challenges we face in the social world are not easy to solve. In fact, sometimes we don’t know where to begin, as we can’t quite figure out what the problem is. To tackle that was thrilling – and set me on a path I never expected to be on.”

So, this young Rutgers University student soon switched majors, eventually completing an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in the Social Sciences. His dissertation was based on field research conducted among congregational Reform Rabbis in Israel.

“I wanted to understand how Rabbis crafted their authority as they sought to empower congregants to build vibrant communities through having them take on shared responsibility for the leadership of the community,” he says.

While working on his Ph.D., Bill landed a job as staff researcher for the Council for Initiatives in Jewish Education, which was funding a national initiative in Jewish education. Based in Atlanta, the project would take him to two other pilot cities –Milwaukee and Baltimore.

“Growing up in Monmouth County, New Jersey, Judaism was centered around the synagogue. There was no real Jewish community beyond that. Yet, here, in each of these three cities I suddenly was part of active and vibrant Jewish communities. It was unlike anything I had experienced before, and I loved it.”

From there, he would go on to work at a number of jobs in the Jewish communal world, serving as chief strategy officer at The Jewish Education Project in New York and as dean of the William Davison Graduate School of Jewish Education of the Jewish Theological Seminary. As dean, he oversaw national programs that trained professional leadership.

Yet when he had an opportunity to head back to Baltimore, he jumped, excited about being part of a thriving Jewish community with a chance to shape its future.

As the Center for Leadership’s new executive director, Bill has begun speaking with lay and professionals to develop the vision and direction of the new Center. He also is working to bring the three leadership development programs – ACHARAI, The Darrell D. Friedman Institute and The Associated’s Center for Community Engagement and Leadership – under one roof.

Growing up, Bill says, Judaism played a major role in his development, shaping his identity. From attending congregational school, then pursuing Jewish education through high school, Bill encountered strong Jewish educator and Rabbi role models. He even won an essay competition to go on a NFTY (The Reform Jewish Youth Movement) trip to Israel led by his Rabbi.

Yet his parents — and their commitment to social action  would also prove to be a major influence in his life. He would watch them as they were involved in the Soviet Jewish movement and local activities, and they taught him that being part of the Jewish people means having an impact on the world.

It’s a lesson that he brings to his new role.

“Judaism provides us with this rich tradition we can draw upon if we want to make a difference in this world. Through practices such as tzedekah, we become responsible for those around us and recognize them as human beings. If we are going to build a strong Jewish community, we need leaders filled with gratitude, curiosity, courage and humility. By working together, we will be successful and improve our broader world.”

“Leadership,” he goes on to add, “is an action. It’s inspiring and guiding peers to make a difference in the world. It’s vital to everything we do.”

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