Contemporary young Jewish leadership

By Joshua Yudkin

As the Jewish diaspora, we are in the third iteration of defining our dynamic relationship with the State of Israel. In the first go-around, we gave more to Israel than we received. In the second go-around, Israel was able to fend for herself. In this third go-around, Israel may be giving back to the diaspora and investing in global Jewry more than she receives.

In the spirit of investing in Jewish peoplehood globally and for perhaps the first time ever, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs partnered with the Jewish Agency for Israel to host a regional seminar for young leaders in Latin America. This text outlines three important findings on contemporary young Jewish leadership.

First, leadership transcends an individual or a generation. Leadership is inspired by passion, based in dedication and cultivated through practice. Many communities understand that young Jewish leaders are not the future; they are the present. In Panama, for example, 40% of the Jewish organizations have presidents who are young leaders less than 45 years old. As we have seen throughout our history, young leaders are able, willing and prepared to serve. Yet, as people live longer, older members of the community serve for longer. While this is perhaps admirable and noble in intention, their continued leadership inhibits young leaders from serving and, inadvertently, may create generational divides.

There is a Hebrew expression, “Emun and firgun.” Emun, believing in others, is not enough; true teamwork also requires firgun, developing a deep level of trust and unconditional support. Incorporating and empowering young leaders is essential for community cohesion. Transgenerational leadership translates into tactical synergy that allows for a greater impact.

Second, no two generations are the same. Alternatively, each generation faces unique challenges and identifies differently than previous generations. In a contemporary culture of divisive discourse and competing identity politics, younger Jews often find themselves stuck in the middle. Sexual orientation, gender equality, racial and ethnic equality and inclusion, mixed religious backgrounds and complicated contemporary politics are aspects of their identity that may compete with their Jewish identity — and it is not their fault. As glocal (global and local) citizens, young Jews are concerned and involved in many social issues. In a divided Jewish community where aspects of their identity may be taboo and/or disappointing and may delegitimize their membership and or sense of belonging, we, the greater Jewish community, are responsible. We have an obligation to create a safe, inclusive and supportive community. Rather than perpetuating a dichotomy where young leaders are forced to fragment their wholeness and choose aspects of their identity, we have a duty to allow them and all members of our community to celebrate their full self. Frankly, alleged competing identities and interests, rather than shared concerns, are distracting.

Finally, Israel is not just the modern nation-state that Theodor Herzl imagined in our homeland as Ze’ev Jabotinsky and David Ben-Gurion advocated, but also the center of Jewish life as Ahad Ha’am envisioned. Israel is our partner, a resource and the assurance that Jewish life and leadership will thrive around the world. Young Jewish leaders have unprecedented access to Israel. From experiential programs in Israel to local engagement with Israelis at home, Israel has never been more accessible. Thanks to the vision, generosity and commitment of those who came before, young leaders develop an authentic, personal and tangible relationship with Israel. We never lead alone.

Demonstrating emun and firgun in one another, we can create an inclusive and engaged community with Israel as our partner.

Activate young leaders to serve. Empower younger members to lead.

Joshua Yudkin currently serves as an executive committee member of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and is a co-founder of JUST Conversations. He is an epidemiologist by training who was recently awarded a Fulbright research grant and works at the intersection of community building and public health.

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