Leadership Development Program Concludes Successful First Year

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After being selected as one of just five pilot communities to participate in Yesod – a Jewish learning group for rising Jewish leaders sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) — Philadelphia recently wrapped up the first year of this excellent new development opportunity for local volunteers.

After being selected as one of just five pilot communities to participate in Yesod – a Jewish learning group for rising Jewish leaders sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) — Philadelphia recently wrapped up the first year of this excellent new development opportunity for local volunteers.
According to Elissa Maier, Vice President of JFNA’s Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence, Yesod was launched to help individual communities invest in volunteer leadership, build a pipeline of well-prepared leaders and create leadership succession planning.
“At the end of the day, the most important resource we have is human capital,” said Maier. “There’s nothing more important than investing in the people who lead us on a volunteer and professional level. We need to ensure they are well-prepared and to help elevate the work they do.”
The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia selected 25 communal leaders to participate; the men and women met monthly throughout the past year for Jewish study, personal reflection and group-building and to explore theories of leadership. As Yesod Chairs, Daniel Eisenstadt and Daniel Erlbaum led this inaugural leadership-development effort.
“With the Jewish Federation’s mission of being the hub for Jewish activity in our region, I believe it’s important for the Jewish Federation to help the community better understand the principles, parameters and meaning behind its work,” said Erlbaum. “That context is best brought to bear through Torah, where we come to understand the Jewish mission and our instruction for how to live and give.”
As facilitator of the program, Rabbi Joel Seltzer, Executive Director of Camp Ramah in the Poconos, used the national Yesod curriculum, which combined Jewish texts with modern resources such as TED Talks and Harvard Business Review articles, and customized it for local leaders.
Rabbi Seltzer said he feels that ultimately the most powerful part of the curriculum was “building relationships with one another. People shared personal stories. We got to know each other on a deeper level by sharing what’s led us to this place of leadership.”
According to Erlbaum, the program’s highlight for him was “the group realization that our religious texts have so much practical value to offer in the realm of leadership development. Many of us have participated in leadership-development programs and groups inside and outside the walls of our Jewish Federation building, but none of the content has been as powerful or instructive as the Torah-based insight we received through Yesod.”
“Any time you get a group of people together united in their desire to grow personally and advance the interests of the community, the experience is a positive one,” said Erlbaum. “All the more so in this case given the program’s format, which was equal parts analyze and internalize texts on the one hand, and share and discuss personal experiences on the other. Both modes contributed equally to the bonding of the group and the development of practical leadership skills.”
Rabbi Seltzer believes Yesod is “a great program that can inspire people to continue leading or raise their leadership to the next level.”
“From a national perspective, the curriculum has been very well received, and we have gotten great feedback,” said Maier, who says they have found that participants value and appreciate the program. As a result, JFNA is currently launching year two of Yesod, with nine communities already signed on. The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia is now exploring the possibility of offering Yesod to a second group of community leaders.
“I’m hopeful Yesod is the beginning of a broader effort for the Jewish Federation to further educate our community Jewishly,” said Erlbaum. “If the Yesod program is offered locally again in the future, I would say those offered should jump at the chance to participate. It is an opportunity to share, listen, learn and connect with amazing material and amazing people.”
For more information on Yesod, please contact Addie Lewis Klein, Senior Manager of Volunteer Engagement and Campaign Operations at the Jewish Federation, at 215.832.0828 or [email protected]

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