Making a generational difference
By Deb Silverthorn
When the pandemic upended the plans of many of the community’s young adults, the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas provided a path of learning, growth and fulfillment.The JFGD Changemakers fellowship was a three-week, online gathering.
“The depth of knowledge, and the breadth of experience, of these twenty-somethings was incredible and they were here to make the most of every moment and all there was to learn about,” said Brett Steiger, who with Bobby Gibbs and Julie Judson led the first three-week JFGD Changemakers cohorts. Dallas’ group was the only one led primarily by lay leadership.
“For them, it was not about checking a box and moving on, but about genuinely wanting to become involved,” said Steiger, who with his wife, Andrea, has chaired the Federation’s Leadership Development Group. “They built friendships and I’m certain they will be part of bettering the Jewish world as individuals and through the camaraderie they created.”
The premiere class of JFGD Changemakers, half still in college and half recent graduates, included Sarah Balis, Sophie Bernstein, Blake Bruneman, Marina Dauer, Erin Sporkin, Frank Feder, Karen Folz, Brooke Goldin, Aaron Goldman, Carly Hacker, Brian Kaner, Melissa Kurtzman, Lauren Leshefsky, Jessica Moore, Tyler Richardson, Katie Rose, Rachel Rudberg, Sam Shane and Ryan Speckman.
The program, which began July 6, provided speakers; rabbis, educators, Jewish communal professionals and others in three main categories — the story of self: personal and professional development; the story of us: the global Jewish community; and the story of now: service and advocacy.
“The program divided its weeks into ideas from Rabbi Hillel’s ‘If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?’” said Hacker, a junior at Washington University in St. Louis. She is majoring in American culture studies and sociology, and minoring in Spanish. “I will take back to campus the process of developing ideas which begin with an exploration of self and values then creating meaningful experiences and lasting change in our world.”
Each participant earned a $500 stipend as well as an in-depth orientation into communal leadership.
“I learned how to be a strong Jewish leader, how to approach social justice and how to be a better nonprofit professional,” said Balis, who graduated from Arizona State University in May with a major in human communications and minors in religious studies and nonprofit management. Balis left Dallas this week for the MASA Israel Journey, teaching English in Jerusalem for 10 months. “Changemakers was informative and engaging and I’m thankful for the opportunity that, while it went by too quickly, was so interesting.”
The Changemakers connected for a minimum of 15 hours each week, part of that communicating and learning with nearly 500 fellows across the United States and part of that breaking into electives with their local peers. Each session posed questions to the students, such as: “What’s my story?” “How do I find my authentic voice as a leader and how do I stay true to myself?” and “What connects Jews around the world, what is our responsibility to one another and what will my role in the story be?”
As they take their next steps, participants have call-to-action opportunities to answer additional questions: What is the story of now, the urgency of this moment, what’s Jewish about service and advocacy and what are the issues, who are our partners and where do we go from here?
“Our cohort members were incredible,” said Gibbs, a member of the Federation’s Young Adults Division leadership team and its Planning and Allocations committee. “They were all looking for ways to take action and learn to be relevant in their dedication to their Jewish community wherever that may be, and I’m confident they will do just that.”