Fifteen emerging Jewish leaders represented Federation at last month's Jewish Federation of North America's National Young Leadership Cabinet retreat in Scottsdale, Ariz. Robin Zappin and Jeffrey Barrack, who respectively chair Federation's Women's and Men's Young Leadership Cabinet, led the local delegation.
In this week's edition, four of the delegates share their experiences. Next week, Zappin and Barrack will discuss the significance of the retreat experience as a springboard to leadership involvement in the local and global Jewish communities.
Adam D. Levine, a member of Federation's Board of Trustees recently completed his term on Federation's Renaissance Group's Ben-Gurion Society Committee. He credits his experiences on retreat with "strengthening my connections and friendship with other local leaders, and helping to create a stronger cohesive core to bring us together to another level."
Levine describes the intensive four-day experience of Jewish study and leadership training as "a time when like-minded future leaders come together to empower one another and battle the negativity in this world."
He says studying Jewish text underscores "the power of a unified group like cabinet." He adds that "unity among our leaders is promoted at retreat, making the experience very special."
Andy Cherry, a new member of the board of the Jewish Publishing Group, which publishes the Jewish Exponent and Inside magazine, says that that the retreat has "emphasized the importance of being Jewish and living Jewishly."
Cherry says that the Jewish values of tzedakah and tikkun olam are the guiding principles that fuel his communal involvement. A member of Federation's Renaissance Group since 2004, he recently rotated off Federation's board of trustees after four years of service.
First-time retreat participant Shira Goodman-Woronoff says that she was impressed by the high-caliber of the speakers and presenters. She terms the training she received from scholar-in-residence Rae Ringel as particularly helpful to her as an emerging Jewish communal leader.
Ringel, president of the Ringel Group — which trains and coaches executives in the United States to become more effective managers and public speakers, as well as helps them enhance their personal and business growth — presented programs on effective fundraising and communication skills that, Goodman says, are "very helpful tools that I will use in my work with Federation."
Other speakers, like Holocaust survivor Gerda Klein, who, with her late husband Kurt created a foundation that promotes tolerance for differences, respect for others, and empowerment through education and community service, "demonstrated the powerful impact of Federation dollars."
Goodman-Woronoff, a member of Federation's Women's Philanthropy Board who also serves on the Women of Vision Cabinet, says that she was "very pleased" by the sentiments expressed by Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America.
"He emphasized the important, critical role of young leadership in his vision for the future of the Federation movement," she notes.
Perhaps the most poignant result from the retreat, for her, was the "sense that the problems we face in Philadelphia are not necessarily unique, and that other communities also are struggling with how to engage the younger generation, and how to make Federation meaning and relevant."
She emerged from the retreat "feeling energized and empowered to working to further the things I believe are important so that Federation can continue its critical work here, in Israel and abroad."
Antony Joffe, who moved to the United States from South Africa when he was 8, says that the retreat "drove home the inter-connectedness of our Jewish world."
Joffe also discovered in conversation with Women's Cabinet chair Robin Zappin that "Robin's brother was my best friend in college."
Joffe shares that he "was deeply touched" by Gerda Klein's presentation.
Yet he was personally impacted by a presentation from a speaker in England who helped raise money for Federation services to at-risk elderly residents from the former Soviet Union.
"The speaker shared the story of an elderly widow who lost her husband in World War II. The woman was grateful to Federation for the regular shipments of food and medical supplies," says Joffe, adding that it "made her feel less isolated and alone."
The woman's comments reminded Joffe of his own grandmother, who he says felt deserted by her family when they left South Africa some 30 years ago.
In tribute to his grandmother, Joffe aspires to taking a leadership role within the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, an agency that works in partnership with Jewish Federations throughout North America to provide rescue and relief services to Jews in the former Soviet Union and other communities around the world.
He expresses his gratitude to Neil Cooper and other friends who have encouraged his involvement in Men's Cabinet, and for introducing him to what he terms "a life-altering experience."
Andy Cherry summarizes, "It's up to each of us to be the change we want to see in the world: After all, we are the custodians of our Jewish community from generation to generation.