What does it mean to take on the mantle of Jewish leadership in polarizing times, with war and displacement on a massive scale, with the resurgence of antisemitism and anti-Zionism worldwide, and with deep fissures that divide us and threaten our sense of collective community?
As the incoming co-chairs of the National Young Leadership Cabinet, Jewish Federations of North America’s premier leadership training program for philanthropists ages 30 to 45, we are acutely aware of these enormous challenges. Yet, we are tremendously optimistic about the future. We represent 450 talented, enthusiastic and grounded young leaders from 65 Jewish communities across North America, who are collectively creating a powerful platform for change that is aligned with our core Jewish values.
Leadership, for us, is all about bringing together people from across the Jewish community and giving them the knowledge, skills, networks and wisdom to tackle the issues facing our people and our world.
Our strength lies in our diversity. We represent a wide spectrum of Jewish observance and non-observance. Included among us are LGBTQ+ Jews, Jews from urban centers and small towns, and Jews of varying political and ideological persuasions. We are CEOs and stay-at-home parents. Some of us come from families very active in the Jewish community. Others are new to Jewish communal leadership.
Our strength lies in our ability to build bridges that close the gap between the kind of leaders we are and the kind of leaders we aspire to be. In the process, we are learning from each other how different perspectives on Jewish life and visions for the Jewish community are embodied in practice and action, and learning how values-based leadership inspires connection and action. Our bridges are stronger because the connections across our network are so deep and so wide.
Our strength lies in our commitment to acquiring the depth of Jewish knowledge and wisdom needed to make a difference in the world on the issues of the day, and then to bring back home what we’ve learned, along with our passion and profound commitment to Jewish Federations’ vision of flourishing Jewish communities. Our tradition informs new avenues to Jewish community-building through engaging in spirited discussion and debate.
A wide range of issues, some more controversial than others, are paramount for us: Israel’s safety and security, building communities of belonging, the resettlement of refugees and many others. We are preparing not just to tackle them all but to make a difference in each area.
The Jewish JEDI
AS A collective of nearly 300 young leaders at our Annual Retreat this past week, we announced three major initiatives: a global Jewish fellowship program, a campaign to boost the values of JEDI (Jewish Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) in Jewish communities across the continent and a political advocacy training to deepen relationships with elected officials on a wide range of humanitarian issues that are relevant both to the Jewish community and to the health of our democracy.
If the past is any guide, a disproportionate number of us will end up in major positions of influence on a local, national and even international level. We are following in the footsteps of members of Congress, ambassadors, heads of major Jewish organizations and so on, all of whom began their leadership journeys as members of the National Young Leadership Cabinet. The seeds are being planted now to shape the future leaders and conveners of the Jewish community and other global networks.
The world has changed dramatically in just the past year. When Russia invaded Ukraine, the National Young Leadership Cabinet’s response was not to cheer on the beleaguered nation from the sidelines, but we raised $375,000 for humanitarian relief and to enable Ukrainian Jews to make aliyah. Our cabinet leaders traveled to Poland to meet refugees, hear their heartbreaking stories and make the case back home to get them the aid they needed.
As an integral part of the Federation network, the National Young Leadership Cabinet drew on the resources and expertise of the entire organized Jewish community, which had spent decades developing vital partnerships between the Israeli aid agencies and the Diaspora Jewish organizations so that they would be prepared for any eventuality, including even a crisis of this magnitude.
Our founder, Rabbi Herb Friedman, delivered a stirring Rosh Hashanah sermon in 1942, when the world also appeared to be coming apart at the seams. He insisted that despite violence and degradation, “human beings have the power to make over the world in accordance with the principles of peace and justice,” and he identified a zestful “new spirit abroad in the world today... the spirit of group cooperation and united willingness to assume the responsibilities for world improvement.”
It is the same dynamism that motivates and inspires us today, and we are eager to embark upon our sacred work. We see no gulf that is too wide and no problem that cannot be solved through careful collaboration among ourselves and our allies. We see a world not in the process of falling apart but of being remade, revitalized and reborn.
The writers are co-chairs of the National Young Leadership Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America.