by Ezra Kopelowitz

I participated in a research project in late 2008 on Jewish leadership programs in Israel.

The research found 22 organizations which run 43 programs. 69% of the programs were founded within the last 10 years. In total they claim 7239 alumni as of 2009. All the programs covered by the research are pluralistic in orientation and almost all include intensive Jewish study as part of the curriculum.

Since completing the leadership research project I’ve come to realize that many of the best organizations who are working to build a connection to Jewish community and the global Jewish People have a focus on leadership development. I’d like to share some of these insights here.

The concept of “leadership development” denotes an expectation that an organization has a strategy to impact the Jewish world. There is an expectation that participants in the leadership development program are motivated to continue their personal Jewish journey, with the knowledge and skills which will allow them to serve as change agents for the betterment of their Jewish organizations, communities and the Jewish People.

In the most sophisticated versions of leadership development:

Volunteer becomes agent

Welfare (social care), leisure, educational or other services provided by an organization are utilized to empower individuals to participate in and contribute to Jewish community. For example, instead of finding volunteers for particular programs, the organization views volunteers as a core resource and stake holders in the broader Jewish community. The particular program for which the person volunteers, is a gateway into broader communal involvement. Each volunteer is a potential Jewish leader. Volunteers participate in leadership development, Jewish learning and enrichment. The result is that volunteering becomes a point from which an individual pursuing their personal Jewish journey through volunteering is transformed into a conscious agent working on behalf the greater good of the local and global Jewish communities.

Community development

Particular services and programs are run by volunteers or interns who themselves sit in key networks in the community. Professionals support the volunteers, providing organizational support, leadership training and Jewish enrichment. The services and programs become a means for reaching into existing social networks or creating new networks and activating them as Jewish communities.

There are at least two forms of leadership development programs which build Jewish Peoplehood consciousness:

1. Organizations which include leadership development as part of their broader educational or community development strategy

In recent research, I’ve found organizations, which are as different from one another as Chovevei Torah Yeshiva in New York, Chicagoland Jewish High School in Chicago and Hillel’s nation wide Campus Entrepeneur initiative, offering opportunities for leadership development with Peoplehood goals. Leadership training is one element of the students’ larger multi-year relationship with the organization. The programs combine 1) formal study of classic rabbinical or modern Jewish texts, with 2) learning about the Jewish community and 3) hands-on experience in the Jewish community through service learning. The combination of all three areas informs a holistic pedagogy which encourages participants to form a sharp sense of their personal location in the Jewish world and the areas in which they want to contribute to the Jewish People.

2. Dedicated leadership development programs

In addition there are dedicated leadership development programs. Examples include, Wexner Heritage, Panim: The Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values and the Center for Leadership Initiatives in the United States, JDC’s Metzudah year-long leadership program for young adults in the eastern Ukraine or the San Francisco Federation’s Gvanim Leadership program in Israel.While the dedicated leadership program does not integrate into a larger organization, the most sophisticated programs encourage interaction of participants and Jewish communities of which they are a part. In Israel in particular, there has been a strong growth of these dedicated Jewish leadership programs.

The report:
Ezra Kopelowitz and Vered Sakal. 2009. “Building Jewish Leadership in Israel: A Preliminary Survey of the Field,” Research commissioned by the UJA Federation of New York, Gesher and Panim for Jewish Renaissance in Israel.

Dr. Ezra Kopelowitz is the CEO of Research Success Technologies in Jerusalem.

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