24 Nuggets of Wisdom from 24 Jewish Community Leaders

By Michelle W. Malkin*

When I started the podcast It’s Who You Know! over a year ago, I could not have imagined the types of conversations with Jewish professionals I would be having, the caliber of leaders I would be having them with, and the number of people those conversations would reach. Each person brought a unique perspective as we discussed their career journey, the impact of their work, the advice they have for other professionals, and how they keep it all together.

It is now very apparent to me that what makes these organizations Jewish are the amazing leaders who make the work possible and whose leadership is inspired by Jewish values. Below are snippets of my reflections on those conversations; some nuggets of wisdom that I gleaned from our 2017 guests. You can go deeper on any of these insights by listening to the episode, available anywhere you get other podcasts!

Be mindful in the way you invest in your people. Help them see their career beyond their current positions and you’ll be proud to watch them walk away.
Episode 1: Ilana Aisen, Executive Director at JPRO Network

Humans are not merely resources; they are people who believe in the values your organization promotes. How you treat your employees’ standard of living, demonstrates how true you are to these values.
Episode 2: Mark S. Young, Managing Director of the Davidson School’s Leadership Commons at The Jewish Theological Seminary

Innovation and preservation are not always opposites. Many times, the path towards success and growth requires taking the best parts of what you do and finding a new way to do it.
Episode 3: Aliza Mazor, Chief Field Building Officer at Upstart

Figure out who you are and be laser focused on that mission, those values, and that vision for a better world. Brand that identity and people will be attracted to your conviction.
Episode 4: Rabbi Joshua Rabin, Director of Innovation at United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

Learn how to advocate for yourself, your work, your opinions, and the values you hold true. Stand by those convictions and your entire organization will be better for it.
Episode 5: Rabbi Cherie Koller-Fox, Founder and Executive Director at NewCAJE

Think about your career lattice. Discover what are you the best in the world at, what type of experiences would you like to have along your way, and what purpose motivates your work. When you focus on these questions, it matters less what may be waiting at the top.
Episode 6: Dara Klarfeld, Managing Director at DRG Executive Search Consultants

Face your conflicts! Make a plan; think about what to say, and what you want to get out of the conversation. Then have those difficult conversations focusing on understanding the other person’s perspective. Your sanity will thank you.
Episode 7: Drew Kugler, Communication & Leadership Counselor

Why isn’t your organization a great place to work? If it is, how do you know this and how do you bolster what makes it great? Celebrate those bright spots and help other organizations learn from your success so that in the future, everyone who looks at Jewish communal institutions sees organizations for which they would like to work.
Episode 8: Gali Cooks, Executive Director at Leading Edge

Generation to Generation
Think about your successor, not only for your current position, but also in the way you go about your work, the philosophy that guides you, and the things you see that no one else does. Finding a mentee, or a few, to whom you can impart your wisdom, helps the next generation carry on and grow from your successes and failures.
Episode 9: Rabbi Sid Schwarz, Founder and Director at Kenissa: Communities of Meaning Network

How do you talk about your work to others? Using the word “busy” as a default answer to how your work is going only serves to fill a space. What positive things are you filling your time with other than busy-ness? Being a bit more intentional with our words can have an impact on us and others.
Episode 10: Abby Saloma, Program Director at The Schusterman Family Foundation

When you find an organization you love working for: hold on to that as long as you can. It is only with time and deep commitment that your understanding of yourself and the organization grows. This allows for your impact to be exponentially greater than any title you might hold or paycheck you might bring home.
Episode 11: Mark Gurvis, Executive Vice President at The Jewish Federations of North America

We are the people of the book, who regularly gather to listen to our best storytellers impart their wisdom. What are the stories you tell about the impact of your work? Seek those stories out and put them in your back pocket because sometimes they are the best way to communicate your message.
Episode 12: Miriam Chilton, Vice President for Youth at Union for Reform Judaism

When the times change, figure out how your organization can fill the new need and continue to promote the values of your original founding. Make room in your budget for funding innovation and entrepreneurship; you never know what will take shape.
Episode 13: Bob Goldfarb, President and CEO at Jewish Creativity International

When we allow our professionals to take advantage of the emerging professional development opportunities, not only are they gaining skills to do their job better, they are connecting with other professionals who will continue to help them along the way.
Episode 14: Stefani Rhodes, Executive Director at The Slingshot Fund

Membership should not be about money. It is a sense of belonging, shared values, support, identity, a sense of home, and opportunities for reflection. When you have all that, the money will follow.
Episode 15: Rabbi Dan Judson, Associate Dean at Hebrew College

How diverse is your board of directors? Do you have people of varying ages, social class, annual giving levels, skills, and experiences? The population of your board says a lot about whose voice you value and who you allow to make decisions for your organization. Make sure you have the right mix of people!
Episode 16: Ruthie Warshenbrot, Program Director at The Wexner Foundation

As professionals, it is our responsibility to understand our personal and organizational relation to Israel, to be able to articulate that relationship, and to understand the consequences of our beliefs.
Episode 17: Rabbi Josh Weinberg, President at American Reform Zionist Association

Align and galvanize your organization around one central concept or value that truly encompasses what your organization is and does. This is key in bringing innovation, change, impact, and growth into the culture of your organization. Change is never easy, but when it aligns with that one focus, those positive changes will quickly become the new normal.
Episode 18: Laura Fish, Chief Strategy and Planning Officer at Federation CJA in Montreal, Quebec

What would it look like if the organization you worked for was created today? How would you build it differently? Do this activity with your leadership and see what ideas and bright spots emerge and think about ways to bolster your work in those areas.
Episode 19: Andres Spokoiny, President and CEO at The Jewish Funders Network

Consultants play a vital role in our work. They bring your organization insights and knowledge from a variety of sources and experiences to see our issues with fresh eyes. Their “outsider” status gives them the power to ask probing questions, speak unspoken truths and help guide you to a place of greater understanding and growth.
Episode 20: Nanette Fridman, Founder and Principal of Fridman Strategies

Big Picture
If working in the Jewish community is more than just a job for you, if it is a passion, take the time to understand the community’s structure in your area. What organizations are operating in which areas? How does their work impact each other? How do they support or compete with one another? Where you fit into that picture?
Episode 21: Mark Rosen, Associate Professor in the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University

Find a way to get to your people and be sure that you are listening to them. Don’t let your staff, leaders, or donors tell your audience what they want. Ask them. Engage your target audiences in the decision making process and mold your work around that feedback.
Episode 22: Rachel Gildiner, Executive Director at GatherDC

Some positions in our community are tougher than others. The full-time camp professional is one of them. Feeling supported by your colleagues who truly understand the ups and downs of your work, is priceless!
Episode 23: Rabbi Avi Orlow, Vice President of Program and Innovation at Foundation for Jewish Camp

Evaluation of your work is vital to our organization’s continued success. Without the data, you have little way of knowing how your work is being perceived by those you serve and you have no way of communicating our impact to our donors and leaders. Knowing the best ways to get feedback and being connected to others who do evaluation can only help to further the excellence of our work.
Episode 24: Jen Simbol, Program Director for the Jewish Evaluation Network at the UJA-Federation of New York

Podcasts are their own community. Most people who listen to my podcast, also engage with many different programs. In any given week, I listen to up to 30 podcast episodes on my commute. One of my favorite programs is Make Me Smart, a podcast by Kai Ryssdal and Molly Wood. Their tagline is “None of us is as smart as all of us” by Kenneth H. Blanchard. There is no truer statement to describe the goal of my project – to bring the knowledge of some of us – to all of us!

You can subscribe and listen to full episodes on iTunes, Stitcher, and Google Play. To see the 2018 upcoming schedule, read guest bios, support podcast partners, donate to the podcast, suggest future guests, or learn more about It’s Who You Know! please visit us at www.itswhoyouknowthepodcast.com.

*Thank you to Nanette Fridman, Mark S. Young, Rabbi Avi Orlow, and Rabbi Dan Judson for their contributions to this article.

Michelle W. Malkin, MPA, MJNM, has worked with many Jewish organizations and served on community boards in the Los Angeles area since 2008. She currently serves as the Operations Manager for Women of Reform Judaism in NYC and is the creator, producer, and host of It’s Who You Know! The Podcast.