Lessons on Jewish Leadership

Thanks to Masa, a Jewish organization funded by The Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel, this past week was full of learning and collaborating. Although I’m not sure it was the kind of learning and collaborating these Jewish institutions had planned for the 80 of us who were selected to take part in the 5-day Global Leadership Summit.

Regardless, here are a few of my takeaways from the week:

1. I don’t want to be a “leader”.

As I continue to grow into myself, I am realizing that I don’t want and am not best fit to be a leader in the authoritative sense. I would much rather take a seat next to the driver and aid in direction. It’s been helpful to understand that I get much more of a thrill when I take a step back and look at the bigger picture rather than steer a team fearlessly into the future.

At this summit I was able to formulate the kind of “leader” I want to be.  Leadership is something that doesn’t just come from a position of authority. In fact, it can come from the opposite spectrum in the form of someone who may have no traditional authority whatsoever and can instead be defined by the ability to influence and inspire. It’s not about the act of getting elected into a position where you are automatically labeled a leader. It’s the constant struggle of pushing others in a direction that is helpful for a community. The community you choose to influence is based on where you find a passion, that spark that everyone talks about. After a conference like this, I got a bit closer to figuring out where that spark will end up flickering.

2. I hate conferences.

I learned that I have a huge aversion to mass conferences with scheduled days of eating, then sitting, then eating, then talking about our feelings, then eating again. The ones with hour and a half blocks of time where speakers and activities are perfectly slotted into a schedule of planned learning where I grab only a few useful nuggets. My assumption is that’s how most conferences are. However, a company attending this conference, ROI, introduced a tool called Open Space which flips the idea of dry, out-of-touch presentations on their heads. Instead, the attendees of the conference become the content providers and create conversations based on what they feel is imperative and relevant. Now this is something I can get behind. Watch below to learn a bit more.

3. Young Jews are connected, but not because they are religious.

My time at the Jerusalem summit was filled with diversity. I ate lunch with people from Ukraine, Russia, New Zealand, France and Brazil. I discussed the importance of Jewish community work in the Diaspora in a circle of Argentinians, Dutch, French and Indians. This was truly a global conference and better yet, the 5-day platform allowed me to take the twenty-something Jewish pulse around the world. We all had different perspectives and experiences but we all had one commonality, our Jewishness. Yet the interesting thing about it was none of us were extremely religious. Most of us were not kosher or interested in keeping Shabbat. Some of us had gone to Jewish summer camp and a lot of us had our Bar or Bat Mitzvahs, but I didn’t get the overwhelming urgency to breed more Jewish babies or look deeper into the Torah’s text to find the answer to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

What I did find was a feeling of understanding among a new group which I’m referring to as “Jews of no religion”. I always used to call myself a “cultural Jew” but as I’ve learned, there is a trend emerging where many young Jews check the “Just Jewish” box as opposed to Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, or Ultra-Orthodox (the different denominations of Judaism). It’s the idea that you can affiliate yourself with Judaism, but not necessarily study the laws of Torah and practice daily or even occasional praying. In congruence with the shifting state of religion around the world, Judaism is following a trend of less practice and more association.

A Pew report from a few years ago parallels much of what I learned about the group this week. “Jews of no religion” qualify the remembrance of our past and leading an ethical, moral and intellectual life as essential to being Jewish. Observance of Jewish law and being part of a Jewish community come as less essential. Jews today follow a different guideline of what it means to be Jewish in the modern world and that’s OK. As I’ve learned and experienced, it doesn’t make the cultural and religious connection to each other any less powerful or important.

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4. Young Jews invest in Israel for reasons other than their Jewish identity.

Another pattern emerged among the smart, talented individuals who attended the conference. Yes, we all decided to invest time in Israel whether it was 5 or 10 months of our lives. But most of us did this because we realized that our previous investments (degrees, relationships, first jobs) plummeted in the crisis we (reluctantly) call the Twenty-Something Crash. Investing in Israel became a natural choice in response to the questions of our future. We came to the summit carrying stories of failures, doubt and confusion about our next steps in the world.

What stood out the most in this mass confusion? To me, it was the exciting realization that young people around the world are aware and alive enough to doubt themselves and their futures as much as me. Oddly comforting, I must admit. To talk to these confident intellectuals with a spark to do something different, whether it be for the Jewish community or the world, became the highlight of my week. One conversation after another left me feeling energized, with new ideas and new opportunities that I could take part in. Why not work for FoodCorps or join a Moishe House in a new city? Why couldn’t I move to Jerusalem and work for a startup or venture across the world in a transcontinental adventure for a year? My mind is still spinning from the possibilities.

5. It’s OK we make Israel our fallback.

This investment of time we’ve made in Israel creates a win-win situation, even if the intentions of Masa participants are not exactly what Masa had planned for the “Jewish leaders of our time”. Yes, some of us are using this as a gap year, a time before we apply to grad school or move into another industry of work. And no, most of us did not go through college biting our nails at the chance to work for free for 10 months. But the truth is, many of us are here because Israel is our fallback and the best part is, we like it. Most of us love Israel and understand our importance to the Israeli people. Whether we are interning in tech industries, teaching English or volunteering at day camps, we are making a difference even if its just with our presence.

Speaking for myself, this insanely different, challenging and adventurous time will be forever tied to Israel and to discovering my Jewish identity. I may not decide to make Aliyah and I may not devote my life to solving the Jewish issues of our time, but I do know Israel will become a part of my identity. Better yet, my connection to family, friends and outlook on the world will forever be changed. So whether this program and this summit “works” in the way it should, in my eyes we all win. We get to learn and grow while the country benefits, no matter if the intentions stem from a Twenty Something Crash or not.