Mordecai (Mordy) Walfish, 35


What you do:

In my day job I’m the COO of Leading Edge, a nonprofit that works to transform the Jewish nonprofit sector into a network of great places to work. We help organizations invest in their people, build stronger organizational cultures and advocate for the importance of talent and leadership across the Jewish community.

My primary volunteer activity is serving as the board chair of JQY (Jewish Queer Youth). I joined in 2016 to help build and recruit the first board of the organization. I’ve helped guide the organization from start-up mode to a more longer-term sustainable model.

Unexpected fun fact:

I’ve walked all five boroughs of New York (though not on the same day). 

Formative childhood moment:

When I was 5, my parents woke me up early one morning to watch Nelson Mandela being released from prison. As I grew up, I studied his story and learned more about apartheid-era South Africa. It was one of the key drivers I experienced in becoming outraged at the injustices of the world and to try to do my part to fix them. I volunteered all throughout my teenage years, and I won a volunteer service award that got me a VIP ticket to the launch of Nelson Mandela’s children’s fund. As a 14-year-old, I got to be in the same room as this giant and vowed to try to do at least a little bit to make Mandela proud. 

What do you consider unique or innovative about what you do?

Often in the Jewish nonprofit sector, you have “program” professionals and “operation” professionals who are at odds with one another. I love being able to bring both mindsets and focus on what is truly needed to execute a mission. 

Setbacks, errors and lessons learned:

Straight out of college I started a Ph.D. in comparative literature at Northwestern University. In my mind, I thought that academia would allow me to be both a thinker and a doer. After joining the Ph.D. program, I realized that in order to succeed I would probably need to spend all of my waking hours in the library and that this was not for me. I had never quit anything, let alone something I had worked so hard to do — I also didn’t have much of a plan, but I learned so much by following my gut about something that wasn’t right for me.