The Greater Phoenix Jewish community is growing and changing at a rapid pace. Synagogues and community organizations have been working hard to recruit leadership to meet their needs for today. Unfortunately, only a small number of these groups have made it part of their mission to recruit and train the leaders of the future. Two Valley Beit Midrash programs have sought to change that. Start Me Up! focuses on giving innovators the tools to build their own projects. But this was only one piece of the puzzle. There was still a gap that needed to be filled. So it was, through the help of the Jewish Community Foundation, that the Jewish Leadership Corps (JLC) was established.
As the first cohort of JLC, we knew we were a part of something never before tried in a local Jewish community: a program designed exclusively for young people with the purpose of supporting and building leadership skills to take back to other organizations and initiatives. Over the course of eight months, we heard lectures from and workshopped with innovators of our time: leaders like Dr. Max Klau of City Year, Naomi Korb Weiss of PresenTense and Rabbis Ari Hart, Irwin Kula and Noah Farkas, and, of course Rabbi Dr. Shmuly Yanklowitz, the creator of and guiding force behind JLC.
Though we all came from different backgrounds, we left with important messages. As each of us was only several years out of college (or deep into a graduate program), we came together knowing that we wanted to be a part of something greater, part of something deeper. We knew we all wanted to be a part of the change-making needed in our community. To meet this need, the fellowship taught us introspection about our goals and about leadership itself. What does it mean to be an effective leader? When is it important to follow? These lofty questions were balanced with a focus on implementation. In our sessions, we worked to unravel the best practices of leadership, how to excel on corporate or nonprofit boards and, ultimately, to look inside ourselves to find that latent spark that would push us to take the reins in the community if given the opportunity.
We were honored to have been a part of something special here in the Valley. From this experience, we saw a possibility for growth in the future iterations of the JLC. The process of learning the skills to become a leader simply can’t be fully accomplished over the few short months of the program. Indeed, it takes time and dedication to cultivate meaningful leadership in the Valley.
As the first graduates of JLC, we know that this is not the end of our journey; it has only just begun. We are now positioned to go out into the community and face the difficult issues before us. Some may be more challenging than others, but it is in knowing that there will be challenges that we will be able to persevere. Certainly, it is our hope that we continue to be partners in a community program that will have lasting impact for years to come. For when there is dedication and support from all corners of the Phoenix Jewish community, young leadership will thrive.
The authors – Joelle Fox, AJ Frost, Allison Gusdorff, Chelsey Keller, Blaine Light, Gabrielle Rozio, Shauna Stein and Joel Taubman – were part of the first cohort of Valley Beit Midrash’s Jewish Leadership Corps.