Ilana Krill

Imagine if a chance encounter could alter your experiences and professional pursuits permanently. Can you remember a singular moment that altered your path for the better?

My chance encounter occurred at a Brandeis University alumni webinar. Paul Rockower, Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix’s executive director, was sharing his experiences of conducting public diplomacy programs across the world. He has worked with the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the U.S. State Department and the JCRC. Paul’s passion for bridging communities through cross-cultural programs and dedication to fighting injustices stood out as nothing less than remarkable.

I remember thinking that I should learn more about public diplomacy. So I mustered up some courage and emailed him a note for an informational interview.

Six months later I am unable to fully verbalize my gratitude for those first serendipitous moments. Paul graciously offered me the opportunity to be JCRC’s first communications and public diplomacy fellow — a position made possible in part by a generous grant from the Molly Blank Fund. The position allowed my Jewish education and connection with the Jewish community to expand immensely.

As a local from snowy Rochester, New York — the absolute opposite side of the country — I have been fortunate enough to learn about Phoenix’s vibrant Jewish community and sociopolitical demographics, all while working thousands of miles away because of the pandemic. Never would I have imagined having a learning experience quite like this, nor building a bond with a city that I have never physically visited.

The JCRC’s initiatives within the community can be connected by the common thread of social action advocacy. Through co-hosting webinars with the Arizona Faith Network on criminal justice reform, building new partnerships with organizations and providing rapid response to hate crimes and anti-Semitic issues, the JCRC amplifies the Jewish community’s voice in vital issues affecting Arizona.

The JCRC’s dedication to community relations and democratic principles during the election season, in addition to combating anti-Semitism, has shown me that Jewish communal leadership can provide a sturdy foundation for the community at large during both joyous and trying times. And it has reminded community members that they are never alone. During the COVID-19 pandemic, when it is easier to feel detached from one’s community, the JCRC’s outreach has never been so vital.

My fellowship facilitated a fostering of my Jewish identity far beyond what I could have predicted. It allowed me to rediscover my connection with Judaism. I grew up in a Conservative household keen on keeping the Sabbath and attending synagogue for Jewish holidays. However, I have struggled to find a connection to my Jewish identity. It became more about cultural traditions during the past few years studying at Brandeis University — typically a wonderful setting to explore Jewish identity.

Only through my JCRC fellowship has my focus on global issues converged with my connection to Judaism. The JCRC’s impact has emphasized to me how Jewish values and leadership can positively intertwine with critical discussions on global diplomacy, cultural and racial identity and legislative reform. In a pandemic that has altered so many people’s sense of security and identity, my fellowship provided me with a Jewish lens through which to analyze issues I am passionate about, as well as a foundation upon which to continue exploring my place within the Jewish community.

For that, I will always be grateful to the JCRC of Greater Phoenix.

In the wake of the ongoing pandemic and sociopolitical challenges rocking the world, strong leadership can bridge communities and provide critical support systems. The JCRC’s leadership role embodies this reality and indicates how Jewish leadership plays a vital part in greater civic governance and community relations. Especially for younger generations of Jewish leaders, social justice and mitzvot are driving forces in our decisions, careers and personal lives. It takes leadership, empathy and dedication, not only to advocate for our own personal needs, but to connect with others from different backgrounds, stand beside them on issues where we cannot directly relate personally and uplift their voices.

New generations of Jewish leaders should bring spiritual values to the challenging work we are engaged in to make a positive global impact. Whether it’s the fight for climate justice, democratic reform or combating extremism, diverse and intersectional perspectives can only help us discover and implement more comprehensive solutions. It all begins with embracing our identities, the learning opportunities we take on and the mentorship we find along the way. JN

Ilana Krill recently completed a six-month stint as the first communications and public diplomacy fellow for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Phoenix. The Communications and Public Diplomacy Fellowship program was made possible in part by a generous grant from the Molly Blank Fund.