For four days last week, Orlando, FL, was the epicenter of a series of nationwide conversations in Orthodox communities across North America. The Seventh Annual ChampionsGate National Leadership Conference convened more than 450 rabbinic, educational and lay leaders from 92 locales across North America to address their most pressing communal challenges. The theme of the conference was “Shmitta: Reflection, Celebration, Renewal.”
Presented by YU’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), ChampionsGate has grown from a gathering of 40 lay leaders in 2005 into a major event involving dozens of prominent leaders from the Orthodox world. Its creation and growth were made possible by the vision and support of Mindy and Ira Mitzner ’81YC, University Trustee and chair of the CJF advisory council who offered his Hilton Orlando resort as the venue for this year’s conference.
“At ChampionsGate, we convene as a community of community leaders,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, David Mitzner Dean of the CJF. “Our intention is to inspire and provoke substantive dialogue, collaborate on the issues that we can really do something about and create working plans that will enable lay leaders and professionals to enrich Jewish life and accomplish great things for the wellbeing and future of our people.”
The ChampionsGate Conference marked the beginning of the program year for the University’s leadership incubator, the Presidential Fellowship in University and Community Leadership, led by Rabbi Josh Joseph, YU vice president and chief of staff to the president. New Fellows also had the opportunity for the first time to meet their new mentors – lay leaders from across North America participating in a program conceived and underwritten by Rick Guttman, a Houston businessman and member of the CJF advisory board.
“I feel a sense of community [at ChampionsGate],” said Elly Lasson, an organizational psychologist who coaches YU undergraduates and RIETS semicha students with their interview skills, and is now a Presidential Fellowship mentor. “Where I live, in Baltimore, the centrist community does not have large numbers. Coming here I get the sense that there are other communities struggling with the same challenges and it’s an opportunity to learn best practices from the ChampionsGate community.”