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A New Generation of Leaders: Organizations Offer Subsidies to Get Younger Jews Involved

Being a leader in the Jewish community can be time- consuming and expensive.

Most national organizations hold board meetings at least twice a year, which may necessitate plane rides and hotel stays. Trips to Israel, not to mention visits to overseas projects, are often essential to a comprehensive understanding of an organization’s mission.

Committing the time and resources necessary for such involvement can be a hardship for many people in their 30s and 40s, who are often preoccupied with fledgling careers and young families.

Young people considering getting involved in Jewish organizations “don’t have a lot of time,” and so they “need to feel that their participation matters,” said Nancy Reichman of Denver, a professor of sociology at the University of Denver and a member of the American Jewish Committee’s younger generation of leaders.

Some organizations fear that if the current generation of younger Jews does not participate now, the pool of future leaders and potential donors will evaporate one day.

As a remedy, some organizations are offering an incentive for involvement in the form of generously subsidized leadership programs.

Last year the American Society for Technion-Israel Institute of Technology inaugurated the Sosewitz-Jackier Leadership Development Institute, which sponsors three programs for prospective national leaders, including the two- year 21st Century Leadership.

During that time, the 15 participants are paired with seasoned leaders as mentors. They attend weekend seminars that coincide with national board meetings and see the scientific university firsthand on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel.

American Jewish Committee members chosen for their demonstrated leadership abilities in local chapters qualify for Sholom D. Comay Fellowships, a program established in 1992.

AJCommittee pays three-quarters of what organizers estimate is the cost of travel and participation in three national meetings and a seminar in Israel for a handful of fellows each year.

Hadassah — the Women’s Zionist Organization of America launched a Leadership Academy for Jewish women in 10 American cities last November. Fifteen women from each city were chosen for the three-year program, which includes retreats; visits to Israel and Capitol Hill; and extensive courses in Jewish history, Jewish thought, Zionism, philanthropy and community service, management, and leadership skills.

One of the ideas behind the subsidy, which covers study materials as well as travel expenses, is to promote inclusiveness, Hadassah President Marlene Post explained.

“Rich or poor,” she said, participants should feel “you’re part of a Jewish communal group process.”

Lori Sussman, who was accepted into Hadassah Leadership Academy’s Seattle group after going on a fully subsidized young women’s mission last February, sees the organization’s investment as a symbol of real support, “not just lip service.”

Hadassah, like other groups, is banking on the hope that such support will increase participants’ commitment to the organization and prompt them to join committees and take on leadership positions locally.

And most participants see the opportunity to take on major leadership responsibilities as an additional benefit of these incentive programs.

“Everyone is vying for leaders,” said Reichman of Denver, an alumna of AJCommittee’s Comay fellowships. “If you want the best and the brightest, you have to do something, and you have to have something for them to do.”

Before going on a Hadassah mission, participants must sign a contract vowing to contribute $500 to a Hadassah project in Israel and develop a Hadassah program in their home communities, such as starting a young women’s chapter or a study group.

After a year of participating in national board meetings, several alumni of the Comay program felt the need “to continue the discussion among ourselves, to create a community of future leaders,” said Reichman. So they established a group to do so, called the Emerging Leadership Council.

Mentor relationships, a significant component of the Sosewitz-Jackier institute, give young leaders, “access to the highest echelons of the Technion,” said Bill Litwak of Los Angeles, a co-chair of several of the institute’s leadership programs.

This sends the young leaders a message that “you’re not just something we have to do. We think you’re important, not just an afterthought.”

“We’re full participants in the senior management” of the Technion society, he said.

Lawrence Jackier, the Detroit-based national president of the society and one of the funders of its $1 million leadership institute, sees the enhanced outreach to young leaders as a wise investment.

The younger generation of Jews, made up largely of professionals — doctors, lawyers and money managers, rather than the business owners of generations past — are “not at a point in their lives where they are giving a tremendous amount of money,” said Jackier.

But it is a generation that will be in a position to do so in the future, he pointed out.

Even at current giving levels, however, participants in the incentive programs often forgo the subsidies offered or more than compensate for the investment by making larger contributions right away.

Comay alumnus Mark Levenson pointed out that one Comay fellow had come to a recent board of governors meeting at his own expense.

“It’s a significant investment, and it’s clearly paying off,” said Levenson of Portland.

“The proof is in the pudding,” he said. “People are spending their own nickel.”

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