tomorrow's leaders

Building the Jewish future, one Jewish young adult at a time 

In Short

What sets Jewish Changemakers apart from other leadership development programs is its ability to tap into the vast network and array of causes that federations support.

Growing up in a suburb of Toronto, Brooklyn Bujara always knew she was Jewish, because her mother was. But she knew almost nothing about her Jewish heritage; she had no experience of going to synagogue, celebrating Jewish holidays or being friends with other Jewish children. When, at age 7, she lost her mother, she knew only that she needed to place stones on her mother’s tombstone when she visited her grave. 

When she reached college, a family friend encouraged Brooklyn to go on Birthright, and it was the Birthright app that introduced her to the Jewish Changemakers Fellowship. Jewish Changemakers is a robust leadership development program for young adults ages 20 to 25 that offers a broad range of opportunities to revitalize Jewish life both across the continent and around the globe. Brooklyn’s participation in Jewish Changemakers enabled her to network with her peers from across the spectrum of Jewish religious observance, and to share her burgeoning passion for Zionism.

Brooklyn’s experience is not unique; since its founding in 2020, Jewish Changemakers is orchestrating a sea change in the way we prepare the next generation of Jewish leaders. Organized by the Jewish Federations of North America, which comprises 146 local federations across the United States and Canada, the virtual leadership development program has already become a crucial part of the Jewish communal ecosystem, transforming the lives of 1,000 Jewish Changemakers a year and those whom they are trained to serve.  

The curriculum is influenced by the theories of Harvard sociologist Marshall Ganz, who viewed storytelling as a crucial tool that both individuals and groups use to boost both their self-knowledge and their engagement in society. The program has a strong educational thrust, along with an appreciation of diversity; in three hours a week over nine weeks, it empowers Jewish Changemakers to develop their own visions for themselves as leaders of the Jewish world, and provides a stipend for their participation. 

Experts from both the federation system and from a plethora of cutting-edge Jewish nonprofits — Repair the World, Avodah, Moishe House, OneTable, Theatre Dybbuk and so many others — present workshops that not only give participants tangible skills, but also introduce them to organizations that they may want to intern or volunteer with after they conclude their training.  

For Benny Klein, a Modern Orthodox Jew who was born in Israel, the program was an awakening. The Jewish community, he discovered, is “far more diverse than I had ever imagined.” Klein went on to intern for two different Jewish organizations: MASA, which sponsors career development, study and volunteer programs in Israel for Jews from the Diaspora, and KAHAL (now part of Entwine, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s young adult division), which connects Jewish college students who are studying abroad with opportunities to get involved in Jewish life in their host countries.   

What sets Jewish Changemakers apart from other leadership development programs is its ability to tap into the vast network and array of causes that federations support.  Jewish Changemakers are educated on major issues facing Jewish life, including antisemitism, anti-Zionism, climate change, equity and inclusion, LGBTQ+ identity and the war in Ukraine. The program then gives them the tools to address those issues about which they are most passionate. 

Alumni of the program have run for elected office, taken on significant volunteer roles in the Jewish community and even started their own organizations. As the program continues to grow — there will be a projected 5.000 members in the program’s alumni network by 2025 — it will doubtless continue to have an outsized impact both on Jewish life and on society in general.  

After her own Jewish Changemakers fellowship, Brooklyn took steps to further deepen her involvement in the Jewish community. She became more involved with her local Chabad and in advocating for Israel. Every year, Brooklyn joins the Walk for Israel in her community; this year she plans to help organize the event. She plans to return to Israel through Onward Israel or MASA. 

Through Jewish Changemakers, Brooklyn, along with thousands of her peers, has taken the first major steps toward becoming a leader in the Jewish world. 

Julia Malkin Reger is managing director of Jewish Changemakers at Jewish Federations of North America, which is expanding its efforts to reach more young Jews and inspire them to tackle the challenges facing Jewish communities worldwide. The next cohort kicks off on Feb. 6. For information about applying for the next cohort, visit jewishchangemakers.org.