By Ben Tinsley
Nearing the end of a special 18-month period of education and skills building, 33 people — including 15 couples — traveled to a retreat in Washington, D.C. last month to learn as much as they could about leadership.
And there definitely was a lot of knowledge to be had at the nation’s capitol.
“We learned about our past as a nation and toured and learned things about our leaders,” said Laura Weinstein, a co-chair of the Leadership Development Group, who attended the retreat with husband Benjamin. “It was interesting because we saw what our past leaders had predicted for our future. Some of these predictions actually came to life.”
Those on the trip were part of the Leadership Development Group, a program specifically for young adults run through the Young Adults Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas.
Federation staffers Laura Silvis Feinberg and Marcy Kahn attended the trip on behalf of the JFGD.
In addition to Laura Weinstein, other co-chairs included David Goldfarb, Katrina and Geoff Gross, and Shauna and Ryan Milstein.
Also on the trip were Lindsay and Corey Freedman, Kimberly and Ryan Kahn, Julia and Aaron Kaufman, Jennifer and Evan Lipp, Danielle and Josh Mann, Natalie and Scott Mellman, Nicole and Jay Post, Andree and Philip Postel, Jenny and Michael Walters, Marilyn and Jason Werner, Rachel and David Alexander, and Mollye and Brian Finkelstein.
Three members of the Leadership Development Group, Shiva and Jarrod Beck and Kerri Goldfarb — David Goldfarb’s wife — were unable to attend the retreat, Laura Weinstein said.
The Leadership Development Group exists as a forum for experiences that offer group opportunities to learn about the work the Federation does for the community and Israel. Participants commit to a year and a half of Federation activities and involvement.
The D.C. retreat kicked off with a presentation by Dr. Erica Brown, a writer and educator who was scholar-in-residence for the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and a consultant to other Jewish organizations. She lectures on various subjects of Jewish interest.
Weinstein said Dr. Brown is an inspiring, engaging leader whose presentation helped the group shape their whole weekend in D.C.
“We learned about our past as a nation as we toured and collected quotes from presidential leaders,” she said. “It was interesting because our past leaders made forecasts for the future — which is now. So we compared some of the predictions they had. Some of the issues from the past are still relevant now.”
Marcy Kahn was quick to offer her own high praise for Dr. Erica Brown’s contributions.
“She led us on a most meaningful and inspiring tour of the monuments and historic sites, viewed through a Jewish lens, and focused on leadership,” Kahn said. “In addition, we had the opportunity to participate in a briefing from White House staff at the Eisenhower Executive Offices, and hear from a Holocaust survivor at the Holocaust Museum. The weekend was a fantastic culmination of this 18-month program for our emerging community leaders.”
While in Washington, the group met with David Litt, special assistant to the president of the United States and senior presidential speechwriter; and Matt Nosanchuk, associate director in the Office of Public Engagement and White House liaison to the American Jewish community.
The group visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, met with Holocaust survivor Marty Weiss, and heard his personal story.
Other stops included the White House, the Lincoln Memorial and a briefing at the Eisenhower Executive Offices.
Weinstein said the national Holocaust museum was of great interest to the group because of the planned changes to the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education and Tolerance.
“The Holocaust survivor told us his life story, which was incredible,” she said. “Along the way we learned a lot about our own leadership, talked about Jewish values in general, and reflected on our own values. What makes us Jewish leaders?”
As the group was preparing to depart Washington, Dr. Brown returned and did a wrap-up session with them titled “Speak Up.”
This 18-month training period, by the way, started in August 2014 and ends in February.
Goldfarb said he is enthusiastic about the chances these trips afford participants. He described it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
“This … is a real-life opportunity to meet people in the other communities, and to give them a stepping stone that helps them get more involved — to learn more about the system and all its moving parts,” he said.
The Leadership Development Group has existed in Dallas for decades and has generated dozens of community leaders.
“It started in the 1970s — or perhaps even further back,” she said. “We have 20 couples who have participated in each class,” explained Laura Silvis Feinberg.
By being a part of the group, members learn — through great focus and involvement — about the vital work the Federation does for the local community and Israel.
Involvement consists of visiting agencies such as CHAI, Jewish Family Service and The Legacy at Preston Hollow, learning about the planning and allocations process, and committing to activities and involvement.
Daniel J. Prescott, JFGD board chair, did not attend the Washington trip but said his past experience as a member of the Leadership Development Group was “transformational.”
“I can’t tell you how much I learned,” Prescott said. “It set me on the path for future leadership in the community.”
Several people who attended the December retreat said they found it inspirational.
Weinstein said she and others concluded there is much to accomplish with the leadership skills they honed on the trip.
“There has been change but not enough change,” she said. “This lit a fire in our group to come back and create change in the community on a different level.”