Young Jewish Leaders Expand Their Network


How can the Jewish community engage unaffiliated millennials? What are ways organizations with decidedly different platforms can collaborate to affect change? And, in a key thread that came up repeatedly: What is the best way for American, Jewish leadership organizations to position their platform on Israel in the current tenuous political climate?

These were some of the topics discussed at a daylong event on Sunday, organized by the Council of Young Jewish Presidents (CYJP) and attended by more than 100 lay leaders from a cross-section of the New York Jewish community at the Manny Cantor Center on the Lower East Side.

The inaugural conference, “ACRONYM15: Leading The Jewish Alphabet” — lovingly poking fun at the innumerable acronym titles in the Jewish organizational world — convened young, Jewish lay leaders for a day of leadership training and development.

Founded in 2005, CYJP provides peer-network support, training and practical skill development to board members from about 30 Jewish, young leadership organizations in New York. The organization is an affiliate of the Jewish Community Council of New York (JCRC-NY).

Andy Ashwal, 37, formerly sat on the council as the chairman of the Jewish National Fund. Now, as CYJP’s chairman, he hopes to empower other young leaders who may feel isolated.

“We want more people doing Jewish,” he told The Jewish Week. “There are so many organizations out there, we want to help Jewish lay leaders feel that they have a support system and a network of peers to help them.”

At a recent CYJP event, Councilman David Greenfield discussed the challenges and opportunities he faces in his role. A few years ago, participants held a roundtable discussion with Bill de Blasio, back when he was the city’s public advocate.

ACRONYM15’s debut conference was a way to bring in a group of the council’s peers — specially nominated by board chairs and presidents — to extend the network of connection and collaboration beyond the group of regular members.

Robyn Polansky, 37, a member of CYJP’s executive board, said the nomination process was intended to create a dynamic, active dialogue among attendees. “We could have opened the event up to more people, but the main point was that we wanted everyone around the table to be active and engaged,” she told The Jewish Week.

Tamar Remz, director of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, urged the young leaders to get involved. “Don’t wait till you think you fit this measuring stick at which you feel valuable… People have value in so many other ways than just providing money,” she said.

In the afternoon, participants honed specific skills, meeting with marketing, solicitation or fundraising experts, to discuss such issues as how to engage volunteers, or how to bring Jewish values into their organization’s mandate.

At the event, a giving circle raised $4,500 — $3,000 more than promised — for Moishe House, an organization that provides Jewish experiences to young Jews in 17 countries.

It was this presiding spirit of generosity that led Sandy Cardin, president of the Schusterman Family Foundation, to acknowledge these young leaders as the inspiration that keeps him motivated. “When we look around the room today, we see engaged, concerned, creative, innovative, thoughtful, passionate and dedicated young adults, who care about the Jewish future,” he said. “That’s what I see as hope, and what I think will benefit the Jewish future for years to come.”

Hindy Poupko, 31, managing director of JCRC and CYJP’s director, said the organizers were blown away by the success of the conference. “People thought we were crazy to even think we could get people to spend a beautiful Sunday in May with us. But they did, because they made a conscious decision that they want to get involved,” she said.

They hope to make it an annual event. “There’s nothing like it in the community yet,” Polansky said of the conference. “This is the first of its kind.”