July 23, 2024
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OU’s First Executive Fellows Complete Inaugural Program

OU Executive Fellows at Wall Street Grill with members of OU Kosher’s Kashrus Education team.

(Courtesy of OU) As graduates nationwide are marking the end of their studies, eight early-career professionals are celebrating their acquisition of invaluable professional skills and employment experience as participants in the inaugural cohort of the Orthodox Union’s Executive Fellowship, a program that nurtures talented young adults committed to long-term Jewish communal activism.

In August, 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, enabling them to pursue meaningful and impactful careers of their choosing.

OU Executive Fellowship Director Ruthie Hollander (third from left) with OU Executive Fellows Adina Peck, Chagit Bender, Marnie Weingarten and Ezra Emerson at the Annual UJA Give Gala.

“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.”

This year’s fellows stem 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 spent 90% of their time working for their departments, where they were mentored by senior leadership and staff members.

OU Executive Fellowship Director Ruthie Hollander notes that the mentorship enabled participants to cultivate relationships with OU leaders, whom they otherwise may never have met personally.

“Over the course of the year, the fellows interacted with almost all of the OU leaders who do profound work in different domains and communities, and who possess different skills and passions,” she said. “These relationships are generally very hard to come by this early in one’s career.”

OU Executive Fellows greeted thousands of people on their way to the March for Israel in Washington with smiles, snacks, political resources and tehillim cards.

Hollander is also proud that the fellows expanded their horizons beyond the OU, by gaining exposure to the broad Jewish landscape of communal work and engaging with diverse communities. The cohort spent considerable time at organizations including Yeshiva University, OU JLIC at New York University and Columbia University, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters, Agudath Israel of America and Masbia soup kitchen, where they met with lay and professional leaders and learned about their organizations’ missions and services. Fellows also learned about the kashrut industry in-depth at OU Kosher, and attended a UJA gala where they interacted with a broad spectrum of Jews from other communities.

In October, for example, the fellows participated in an OU Relief Mission to Florida where they worked alongside evangelical Christians to aid Fort Myers citizens affected by Hurricane Ian. At the March for Israel in Washington, D.C. in November, they distributed water bottles and tehillim cards to 12,000 people as they stepped off buses near the National Mall.

Hollander also marvel at how the OU Executive Fellowship experience helped many fellows to crystalize their plans for the coming year.

“At the beginning of the year, many didn’t know where they would be in the future,” she said. “Now, they are so much more definitive about their plans for next year, not just professionally, but in other life spheres. They’ve been able to find the answers they were looking for, which is truly the purpose of the program—to make fellows a stronger, more confident version of themselves. Some of our fellows are going to grad school, several are moving on to meaningful new positions within the Jewish community, and one, Ezra Emerson, is making aliyah.”

Emerson hopes to work in the marketing industry in Israel before transferring into animation.

Another Fellow, Adina Peck, will be joining the OU’s Human Resources department and coordinating next year’s fellowship program beginning in July alongside OU Assistant Director of Talent Development Shai Kopitnikoff.

While Peck is still contemplating her long-term career goals, working at the OU as an Executive Fellow opened her eyes to a possible career in Human Resources.

Kopitnikoff says that although the Executive Fellowship benefits each OU department, the program’s objective is for fellows to make an impact far beyond the OU.

“While fellows contribute additional hands for projects and infuse fresh perspectives, new energy and ideas to each department, as Josh Gottesman says, ‘The OU isn’t running this program for the OU.’ We’re doing it for all Jewish nonprofits. By providing opportunities to appreciate the beauty and complexity of nonprofit work, the OU is investing in our collective future. The only way to ensure a thriving community is to systematically involve the next generation in klal work, and to foster their desire to make meaningful impacts within it.”

OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph, who initiated the OU Executive Fellowship after leading a similar program at Yeshiva University, is proud of the inaugural cohort’s achievements.

“How can we build the Jewish leadership pipeline for both the present and the future?” he asked. “Eight talented stars comprised OU’s first Executive Fellowship team, learning throughout this year about taking responsibility in today’s Jewish world, and at the organization. We thank them for launching us down this path, as we launch them on their own personal and professional trajectories.”

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