Steven Scheck, chairperson of the Jewish Federations of North America's National Young Leadership Cabinet along with Alice Viroslav, says that the 200 men and women who attended the Cabinet's August retreat in Scottsdale, Ariz., represent "the very future of our Jewish community."
Judging from the participants' high level of philanthropy, and the energy and creativity they exuded in workshops and discussions, Scheck predicts that "the future appears quite bright."
He describes the leadership involvement of these men and women, who are all under the age of 45, as "extraordinary."
"When asked how many in the room served on their Federation's Board of Trustees or Board of Directors, more than half raised their hands," he states.
He also applauds the generosity of the participants, who in all contributed more than $1.6 million to their communities' 2011 Federation Annual Campaigns.
"This represents a 25 percent card-for-card increase over last year's tally," he says, adding that "they set the pace for campaign success."
Robin Zappin and Jeffrey Barrack, respective chairs of Federation's Women's and Men's Young Leadership Cabinet, express pride in the individual and collective accomplishments of the 15-member Philadelphia delegation.
"We are often asked to present to other communities campaign and programming initiatives that we have developed and successfully implemented," explains Zappin, citing the three-year Regional Young Leadership Cabinet, under the aegis of Federation's Renaissance affinity group, as a prime example.
Barrack describes the regional group — designed by the Men's Cabinet — as a "three-year development program" for individuals who are poised to ascend to the National Cabinet.
"We offer peer-to-peer mentoring, and participate together in joint projects and programs," he says, adding that he has been asked to present this program as a "best practices" initiative to Jewish communities in New York and Boston.
Zappin says that peers in the Federation Women's Philanthropy affinity group have nurtured her leadership involvement in the Jewish community. She is a Ruby Lion of Judah, as well as a recent graduate of Women's Philanthropy's intensive, two-year leadership-training program.
"These amazing, powerful women I have encountered on a local and national level have accompanied me on my Jewish journey, and have helped me grow as a person, a woman and a leader," she says.
Barrack and Zappin affirm that the Cabinet experience has taught them how to live richer and fuller Jewish lives. Throughout the six-year program, they participate in annual retreats and conferences; forge a continental network of young leaders; develop leadership skills; and learn about Israel advocacy, humanitarian endeavors, legislative issues and Jewish life in their home communities, in Israel and around the world.
"We explore the current challenges and opportunities facing the Jewish people, and develop ideas and approaches to engage the next generation of young leaders," explains Barrack.
Both consider developing successful strategies to engage future leaders as perhaps the greatest challenge to the survival of the Jewish community. This is, what they say, a frequent topic of discussion at Cabinet events.
A Cultural Shift
Zappin also perceives a cultural shift in the way young Jews perceive Jewish observance and commitment.
"Our parents and grandparents felt compelled to support the Jewish community, both financially and as volunteers," she says. "Current and future generations of Jews, with great access to social media, want to choose specific causes — both Jewish and non-Jewish — to support."
Barrack adds that young Jews today seem to be disconnected from the "compelling call to action" triggered by such pivotal events as the Holocaust, the creation of the State of Israel and the Soviet Jewish refusenik movement.
"As emerging leaders, Cabinet members are charged with the challenge of creating a new, yet equally compelling, call to action more relevant to younger Jews," he says.
Barrack does maintain that younger Jews appear to respond to critical local issues, citing the success of the Jewish Relief Agency in rallying volunteers to its monthly food-distribution drives.
Zappin, who serves as a co-vice chair for National Young Leadership Cabinet, Outreach and Engagement Portfolio, is looking forward to March 6-8, when JFNA and Cabinet will host TribeFest in Las Vegas. Zappin is national co-chair of this event, geared toward unaffiliated Jews ages 25 to 45.
"It will be a fun-filled experience for some 2,000 young Jews from across the country, who will be able to connect, explore and celebrate the richness of Jewish music, food, arts and culture," she explains. (For more information about the event, see: www.TribeFest.org.)
'A Light Among Nations'
Barrack takes great pride in being a Jewish American with roots in Philadelphia. He points to the quote from Leviticus: "Proclaim liberty throughout all the Land unto all the inhabitants thereof."
Because it is inscribed on Philadelphia's famed Liberty Bell, he says that this represents a facet of local character that can also describe the Young Leadership Cabinet.
"The Jewish community truly is a light among nations," says Barrack. "We are a people committed to making this world a better place for our generation and for generations to come."