With the High Holidays just around the corner, now is a natural time for reflecting on the mitzvot performed throughout the year and to pause and consider what more can be done in the coming year.

For the teens selected as the first cohort of the East Valley Jewish Community Center’s Ilene Blau Teen Leadership Institute, the spirit of tikkun olam isn’t just something they dust off with their shofars; it’s something they strive to live up to every day, whether it’s in their wider high school community or within their synagogue.

The institute selected 10 East Valley high school students with proven leadership and service records to participate in monthly workshops, team-building excursions and community service projects.

“Each session will focus on different leadership and Jewish skills/values and we will combine it with team-building exercises and experiences,” said Rabbi Michael Beyo, CEO of EVJCC. “In addition, we are partnering with Arizona Sate University to provide an additional layer to the skills they will learn.”

Upon completion of the program, the teens will be eligible for a stipend award.

“The program is intended for Jewish teens in the East Valley from different backgrounds to learn valuable leadership skills and connect them to their Judaism,” explained Beyo. “The teens will then ‘graduate’ and be more prepared to continue their journey as productive members and eventually leaders of our community.”

One member of the first cohort is Jacob Posniack, a junior at Hamilton High School in Chandler who attends Temple Beth Sholom of the East Valley.

Posniack, like the other participants, is already modeling leadership behavior in his community. He is active in his school’s Air Force Junior ROTC and is currently in the ground school course, the prerequisite for flying a plane. He is slated to complete the program and actually get in the air by the end of the semester.

Posniack is also president of the on-campus blood drive committee for United Blood Services and volunteers with an Adopt-a-Highway program, for which he helps clean the area around his high school. He also volunteers with his synagogue’s fundraiser breakfast and helps set up for bar and bat mitzvahs.

And if that’s not enough, Posniack currently works two jobs.

“All my weekends are gone,” Posniack said with a laugh.

Posniack first learned about the Leadership Institute while working for the EVJCC’s Counselor-in-Training program.

“I really look forward to learning to be a leader from a different point of view than just the military aspect, but more of a community aspect as well,” Posniack said.

Long term, he hopes to attend the United States Air Force Academy and would like to someday be an A-10 fighter pilot.

Despite such a staggering array of extracurricular activities, Posniack always makes time for his Jewish faith and community.

“Honestly, I don’t let anything interfere with my Jewish life,” Posniack said. “Rosh Hashanah is a time that I take to reflect on what I have done and maybe can do differently each year in my community.”

Initially called the Jewish Teen Leadership Institute when it was announced in June, the program’s name was changed to honor Blau’s EVJCC tenure.

“IIene Blau was the executive director of the EVJCC for 20 years,” Beyo said. “Under her leadership, many generations of students received the best education available. She was the force and the exemplary leader behind the EVJCC, which inspired countless people to become involved in Jewish community life because of her example.”

Blau is now a board member of the Greater Phoenix Jewish Film Festival and remains active in many EVJCC programs.

The institute received financial support through a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation, and is supported in other ways by BBYO, Temple Emmanuel, Temple Beth Sholom of the East Valley and the Hillel Jewish Student Center at ASU.

“If we are successful this year — and I am confident we will — then the program will have an additional evolution next year, as well,” Beyo said. JN

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