By Bradley Caro Cook, Ed.D.
It’s written in Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, “[Rabbi] Hillel said: Do not separate yourself from the community.” No more has that adage resonated with me more deeply than at my recent experience with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. I aimed to collaborate with them as the co-founder and director of Career Up, which designs career advancement retreats for Jewish emerging professionals (18-26 year olds). My work focuses on engaging Jewish adults through professional interests, travel, and social good, and we’ve successfully launched programs in Israel, New York and San Francisco. Upon my move to L.A. eight months ago, creating a Career Up branch in the Greater Los Angeles area was the next, highly anticipated step. As I approached the stately Beverly Hills adjacent Federation building, I knew that as a social entrepreneur joining the LA community would not be easy. I had few contacts in the Los Angeles philanthropic community, and butterflies in my stomach. I did not know much about how this particular Federation operated and to my surprise, I was met with open arms. I was warmly welcomed by leaders of the organization who walked me through the Federation and were eager to learn more about my program and me.
What impressed me most, however, was not the warm welcome, rather the support, professional development, and networking opportunities they offered. Although my organization was not a grantee of the federation, the professionals made me feel as though I already was in their portfolio
Soon after my first visit I was invited to a training breakfast with NextGen Engagement Initiative, a community of Jewish communal professionals that meet regularly for personal and organizational development. The breakfast included an impressively wide breadth of participants, from JNF to Hillel International to JQ International to Builders of Jewish Education, and more. For me, who thrives in networking environments, it was a thrill to connect with so many accomplished Jewish professionals, and have the environment to plan collaborative efforts. It also illustrated just how integrated The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles is with the larger community, and how invested they are in building it.
I became even more inspired by their model during the development of LA Career UP, through which the Federation helped us pilot our West Coast program with the help of its Jewish campus life initiative. This initiative supports a variety of organizations serving undergraduate and graduate students throughout Greater Los Angeles by creating partnerships to ensure the creation and availability of diverse, innovative and student-centered campus programming. I discovered, as I recruited industry leaders in entertainment, that many had gone through the Federation’s Community Leadership Institute (CLI), a program with the mission of empowering the next generation of Jewish leaders in Los Angeles. CLI focuses not on how one can benefit from the community, but how leaders can strengthen it and enrich it with their personal talents and resources. They are trained in effective board membership and stewardship, and taught how to govern and assist in fundraising goals. They are also encouraged to join boards of the organizations that interest them, not just beneficiary organizations. To build the community, “l’dor v’ dor style.” Each cohort gains a mentor that is also a leader of a specific industry and of Los Angeles Jewish philanthropy, and later, they become a mentor themselves. And so they continue paying it forward. As a result of this training with CLI, many of the entertainment power players whose help I sought were more than eager to help me advance the mission of my organization. Their training in fundraising and organization expansion was invaluable to me, and it demonstrated the power of having dozens of inspired lay leaders to integrate the Federation into the larger community.
My interaction with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has proven that they follow the advice in Pirkei Avot to a tee. From the ground up, they work to empower the entire Jewish ecosystem, from programming to organization to leadership. I believe, if Rabbi Hillel could see how The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has integrated into the community, he would be proud.