Toronto Leaders Go Back to School to Hone Skills

Some lay leaders here are heading back to the classroom to hone their skills.

Ten incoming communal chairs and presidents will work with outside professionals and each other as part of The Joshua Institute for Communal Leadership, a 14-month program being touted as unique in developing lay leaders at Jewish agencies.

The institute, which was launched last month, is being held under the auspices of UJA Federation of Greater Toronto. It will partner with the renowned Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto to impart skills in finance, management, human resources, conflict resolution and other areas.

Organizers say the initiative is designed specifically for incoming chairs and presidents of synagogues, schools and communal agencies. The inaugural participants, who will be on the job while learning, are the newest leaders of Hillel of Greater Toronto, UJA Federation of Greater Toronto, four social service agencies, two Jewish day schools, one synagogue and a new Jewish community center.

The curriculum will integrate Jewish values, learning and social responsibility,” said a UJA Federation statement.

Participants will work with Rotman School faculty and other experts to cover issues such as strategic planning, board governance, financial literacy, communication and media training, fund raising and philanthropy. Conversational Hebrew will be offered, too.

The idea, says the institute’s co-chair, is to produce well-rounded, modern and multi-skilled lay leaders ready for any eventuality.

Those who come in to leadership should have as much “knowledge, experience and training as they possibly can,” said David Engel, the immediate past chair of UJA Federation and incoming chair of United Israel Appeal Federations Canada.

“To be a lay leader today, you have to have HR [human resources] skills, budgeting skills and skills at building relationships. It’s not just about money these days. For our community to prosper and grow and develop, the more knowledge you have, the more training, the more conflict-resolution skills you have, the better.”

In February, the 10 participants will travel to Israel for a five-day trip that will stress leadership and Jewish values, Engel said.

The program is also designed so that lay leaders work collaboratively, says institute director Zeeva Millman.

“It brings together participants from different agencies to develop a shared vision for the community as a whole and collaborate for the benefit of Toronto’s Jewish community,” Millman said.

The first session, on Nov. 9, was led by Marty Linsky, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and the co-author of “Leveling the Playing Field: Advancing Women in Jewish Organizational Life.”

Those heading social service organizations face a special challenge, says institute participant Sharon Shore, the incoming president of Jewish Family & Child Service of Metropolitan Toronto.

“With the current economic crisis, a lot of us are scratching our heads” because “the job we thought we had to do is now going to look very different,” she said.

One thing Shore expects the program to stress is the need for Jewish organizations to cooperate. She notes that “there’s so much overlap.”

“We’re all servicing the same Jewish community,” she said, “and we need to recognize that it’s really important to all work together.”

Engel says the initiative is modeled on the Wexner Heritage Program, a U.S.-based Jewish leadership development course he took several years ago.

But the Joshua Institute is different, he said, in that it emphasizes commonalities.

“You build a common ground to talk about community issues, so everybody comes to the table with the concerns of their agency or synagogue or school,” Engel said.

“But what happens is that you come to build a community of leaders who can talk about community issues. And as you go through your year of chairmanship, you have the ability to reach out to this community, to talk about mutual problems. You have a base of people who are going through the same situation.”

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