If you’re reading this, you know the power of a Wexner Institute. This was my first exposure to the intense intellectual stimulation and deep commitment of the entire Wexner enterprise, as experienced at the Wexner Heritage New Member Institute in Aspen that just finished last Friday. Deciding where to focus this reflection has been difficult—should I emphasize the numerous ah-ha moments inspired by the excellent faculty? The easy camaraderie among the San Francisco, Denver and New England cohorts? The obvious commitment of Les and Abigail Wexner? the leadership at The Wexner Foundation? Or, the awe-inspiring beauty of the setting (when we had a chance to come out of the basement to see it!)?

I choose to focus this post on the address from Les Wexner on the first full day—the one session that most impacted my perspective on the whole New Member Institute. He inspired me with his personal story and impressed me with his dedication to Jewish causes and leadership. How could anyone NOT be in awe of everything he has done professionally, personally, and to empower the Jewish people?

Here are three takeaways that I’ve been turning over in my mind since his talk:

Les Wexner doesn’t consider himself a leader. And that’s nearly a quote! I remember thinking, “If he doesn’t think he’s a leader, then none of us here has any hope of being one either.” After I lifted my jaw off the table—and over the ensuing days of learning—I came to think of that statement as not just modesty, but something more. While this may not have been what he meant, I see it as a call to apply my talents and skills to the places where I am needed in the Jewish community, to be present and responsive. And not just where I am asked to contribute, but also where I think I will be able to make the most impact. While that is indeed leadership, it is also a commitment to service—and that’s a distinction worth remembering.

We have to support each other. Les spoke of several instances where the strength of the collective was more than that of the individual—even when that individual could initiate whole projects independently. As I learned more about the other Heritage Members at the Institute, I was impressed by the variety of activities they are engaged in and the skills and experience they bring to the program. Branching out beyond the people I already met into the vast sea of Wexner alums and the power of the collective—with their passion, intellect and commitment—could be transformative.

Be the wind. Les Wexner used a wind metaphor to describe us as lay leaders and his hope for our continued development. To paraphrase, he referred to our Jewish leadership prior to Wexner as a wind whose impact has been felt most keenly by those closest to our endeavors. Maybe a breeze or even a gusty wind. But through Wexner and what we will learn, we can strengthen our wind to increase our impact, and focus it on the places in the Jewish community where we can blow away barriers and be contributors to our community’s continuing evolution.  

In the coming two years, I hope to earn the title of a “Wexner”—learning from and supporting my cohort, growing as a Jewish leader, and proving the value of this generous investment. I am more convinced than ever that the Wexner experience is a tremendous gift from Les and Abigail Wexner, the Foundation leadership (staff), and the faculty. But what I do with the gift is up to me. I am up to the challenge.

Monica Rodriguez Kuniyoshi is a current Wexner Heritage Member  (San Francisco 14). Professionally, she is Associate Director of Business Development (Americas) for K&L Gates LLP, a large international law firm. In her lay capacity, Monica is a founding board member of Limmud Bay Area, an innovative learning experience affiliated with Limmud International; on the leadership team for a new building project at Kol Emeth Congregation in Palo Alto, CA; and on the advisory board for Kesher, a program of Jewish LearningWorks. Monica lives in Palo Alto with her husband Ethan, daughter Avivah and baby on the way. She can be reached at monica@kuniyoshi.com.