July 14, 2024
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OU Executive Fellowship Addresses Jewish Leadership Pipeline Shortage

Program nurtures talented early-career professionals committed to long-term Jewish community activism.

(Courtesy of OU) It’s a challenge that’s been troubling the Jewish community for years, and it’s only expected to magnify over time: From rabbis to teachers to kiruv professionals, there seems to be a shortage of talented professionals willing to fill communal leadership positions.

Recently, the OU launched the Executive Fellowship to invest in future nonprofit leadership and promote a culture of service and responsibility among emerging Jewish leaders. The 10-month program for early-career professionals exposes fellows to all aspects of the Jewish nonprofit world and hones their workplace skills, allowing them to pursue meaningful and impactful community work long-term, in whatever capacity they choose.

Marnie Weingarten

“The Executive Fellowship is part of the OU’s greater talent development strategy,” said OU’S Chief Human Resources Officer Josh Gottesman. “The OU is uniquely positioned to train future Jewish nonprofit leaders, and while we’d love for our fellows to stay at the OU long-term, our focus is on cultivating talented, quality leaders to work in the Jewish nonprofit sector in general.”

Ruthie Hollander, executive fellowship director, said the goal of Jewish nonprofits is to serve Jewish communities by supporting them with the resources necessary to thrive.

“As people begin to consider their career options, mattering—including the mission and impact of their work—should be included as a desired component,” said OU Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph. “The needs of the community should call out to us as well, and cannot be ignored. The future leaders of our schools, shuls, and service organizations are right in front of us—participating in our programs, volunteering during their nights, weekends and summers. We are so excited to launch the Executive Fellowship as we begin to tackle the issues surrounding the Jewish leadership pipeline problem.”

At Yeshiva University: Executive Fellows heard from Vice Provost for Values and Leadership and Founding Director of the Sacks-Herenstein Center Dr. Erica Brown and Senior Program Director of the Leadership Scholars at Yeshiva University Aliza Abrams Konig (center), and discussed areas these future leaders could improve upon within their own personal lives.

This year’s cohort is composed of eight fellows from a variety of educational, religious and geographic backgrounds. Based on their skills and interests, the fellows were matched with various OU departments, including NCSY, Yachad, OU Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC), IT, Human Resources, Marketing, Synagogue Initiatives, and Community Projects & Partnerships. As OU employees, they will spend 90% of their time working for their departments, where they will be mentored by senior leadership and staff members.

“Our Executive Fellows have the opportunity to experience OU programs that span various industries and sectors,” said Gottesman. “If they want to learn about politics and policies, we have our TEACH Coalition. If they wish to pursue kiruv, we have NCSY. If they’re considering a career in special ed, we have Yachad and Ivdu. Alternatively, if they’re more interested in the traditional route of finance, marketing, HR or IT, we offer fellowship opportunities in those departments as well.”

Avi Hoffman

Executive Fellow Marnie Weingarten learned about the fellowship through NCSY, where she is a year-round adviser. The 23-year-old from Queens earned a bachelor’s in psychology with a minor in biology from Yeshiva University. She is currently pursuing a PsyD at Hofstra University, and envisions a career running communal mental health initiatives and facilitating religious personal development, merging Torah and psychology. The fellowship, she said, will serve as a foundation for her professional work in the future.

“The fellowship sounded like an incredible opportunity to bring meaning and growth to the next stage of my professional journey,” said Weingarten. “I hope to learn from Jewish communal leaders, outreach professionals and Jewish educators, as well as the other fellows.”

Weingarten will work with the New York/New Jersey Day School programming team on initiatives including summer programs, expanded Yom Tov programming, national campaigns for religious growth, and increased Jewish Student Union (JSU) Day School Interaction.

Pictured, from left, at Masbia Soup Kitchen: Executive Fellowship Director Ruthie Hollander; Fellows Rena Rush, Chagit Bender and Yael Lovett; Masbia soup kitchen employees Carmina Cajilima and Lourdes Bueno; Fellows Adina Peck, Avi Hoffman, Ezra Emerson and Jesse Felder; Masbia soup kitchen founder Alexander Rapaport and a patron. The Executive Fellows learned about the organization’s powerful impact on their communities and the world.

“I’m excited to deepen my sense of responsibility to the Jewish community, gain an appreciation for the immense work done by the OU, and to simultaneously hone my own leadership, educator and interpersonal skills,” said Weingarten. “I couldn’t think of a better way to start off my professional journey than by cultivating and reinforcing a dedication to giving back to klal Yisrael.”

The program has numerous objectives. Primarily, fellows gain exposure to the broad Jewish landscape of communal work and engage with diverse communities. At their orientation in August, the cohort spent the day touring New York-based organizations, including Yeshiva University, OU JLIC at New York University and Columbia University, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters and Masbia soup kitchen, where they met with lay and professional leaders and learned about their organizations’ missions and services.

The Executive Fellowship also provides an opportunity for early career professionals to explore a range of potential careers and volunteer positions, while offering first-hand experience and insights into the day-to-day workings of the OU, one of the largest Jewish nonprofits in the world. Additionally, fellows benefit from mentorship, collaborative opportunities and education that they can apply in their future careers.

“Ultimately, a program like this gives fellows direction,” said Hollander. “It asks them to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses, and to determine areas of communal work that they are passionate about and where they feel they could be most impactful.”

Chagit Bender

Twenty-eight-year-old Avi Hoffman of Brooklyn is an OU-JLIC fellow. Working largely at Columbia University, Hoffman’s roles include finding and connecting with students and NCSY/JSU alumni on campus, and helping to develop meaningful and inspirational Jewish programs and experiences that foster students’ Jewish growth and engagement.

Having graduated from Touro University with a bachelor’s in political science, Hoffman is in his final year at Yeshiva University, in the RIETS (Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary)-Ferkauf Joint Graduate Program in Pastoral Counseling, while also pursuing a master’s in medieval Jewish history at YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies.

“I hope to pursue a career in an area of rabbinics,” he said. “I’ve been using my four years of semicha to explore as many domains as possible, including school, communal and synagogue work, and even chaplaincy. I’m excited to be able to work at the OU and specifically JLIC; while I’ve worked with students from pre-K to high school, the fellowship presents me with an opportunity to work with college students for the first time.”

When the fellows are not working in their departments, they will benefit from professional development. National conferences, trips and shabbatons throughout the year will present opportunities to engage with different communities and their leaders. A bimonthly seminar led by professionals both from within and outside the OU, and engaging skill-building workshops on topics like customer service, conflict management and organizational leadership will help fellows to sharpen both hard skills—abilities that employees need to perform their duties effectively, and soft skills—personal qualities that help employees thrive in the workplace.

Montreal native Chagit Bender is thrilled to serve as the OU’s Executive Fellow in Community Projects & Partnerships (CPP). Among other responsibilities, she will assist the department’s social media team and work with a portfolio of programs, with a particular focus on CPP’s parenting initiative, GenAleph.

The 21-year-old holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Touro University and felt the yearlong fellowship would help her to determine whether a life devoted to community outreach could be her calling. Alternatively, she pictures working long-term at a nonprofit or becoming a clinical psychologist.

“It’s really wherever Hashem guides me, and for now, that’s here,” she said. “I work with such great colleagues, who are driven by genuine motivations and have so much wisdom that I can learn from. I look forward to developing skills which will help me in any career path.”

Ultimately, said Hollander, the Executive Fellowship’s main objective is to fill more Jewish communal leadership positions across the country, so that communities will continue to benefit from the support and resources provided by nonprofit organizations.

“If one of our fellows becomes a doctor but serves on a shul board, that’s a win for us—the Jewish community has another board member,” she said. “If a fellow decides to pursue a career in the nonprofit world, that’s a really big win. And if a fellow decides to pursue the nonprofit world and work at the OU, that’s a slam dunk.”

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