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WexPOOL and Stepping Up to Lead in the Russian Speaking Jewish Community

Posted on Wednesday, June 07, 2017 by Leonid Vayner, Lenny Gusel, Boris Khodorkovsky, Yelena Kutikova

Limmud FSU New York was held in Westchester ,NY on May 12-14, 2017.  An estimated 1,000 participated in this year’s festivities); for additional info, click here.

As the first year of our Wexner Heritage program comes to a close, we (New York RSJ 16) wanted to reflect on our experience to-date.  The personal bonds our cohort formed resulted in stimulating and passionate discussions, several collaborations aimed to strengthen our Jewish identity and pro-Israel sentiments, and, of course, new friendships.

Yet, the one thing that stands out in our minds is the now-traditional carpool shared by four authors of this article.  Our 17 rides from class back to Brooklyn was "safe-space" for us to digest the materials discussed in each class, share opinions and make forward-looking plans.  During one of these drives, we got the idea to volunteer to be a panel at the Limmud FSU New York so that we could share our personal journeys from inactive participants in the Jewish world to active community leaders.  We wanted to use this platform as a call-to-action for our fellow Limmudniks (a familial nickname for those attending Limmud FSU).

Limmud FSU has been a fantastic success story over the last 10 years in getting Russian-speaking Jews (RSJ) together for a weekend of learning, sharing and "Tusovka" (networking).  Every year, though, many of us experience a big letdown soon after the euphoria of Limmud — there is no structured way for us to turn our passion into action.  To address this, our panel of fellow Wexnerites focused on the ways for passionate RSJ attendees to step up and become the "servant-leaders" of tomorrow.  As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks put it in his Lessons in Leadership book "to be a Jew is to be called on to lead".

The panelists tackled many topics that professionals in Jewish organizations take for granted, yet are foreign to lay leaders and volunteers.  Our discussion ranged from the definition of “lay leadership” to the meaning of “philanthropy”, to false assumptions in the RSJ community about the impossibility of fusing Jewish lay leadership with a successful career and meaningful family life.  Many challenges that we all face at one time or another, e.g. lack of time, belief that one person does not matter, distrust of anything organized, not knowing how to get started, lack of experienced and willing “mentors”, were discussed as well.   The panel wrapped up with an eloquent call-to-action by our panel moderator and NY RSJ 16 Member, Yelena Kutikova, with the following words: “To build a strong RSJ community, we shouldn't wait for others to do the job for us.  Each of us matters and each of us brings something unique to the table.  Now that Limmud FSU is coming to an end, it's time to put our thoughts and ideas into actions and build initiatives that will bring our community together.  Let's be there for each other, let's support each other, and let's develop a strong RSJ community that will last for generations to come.” 

Leonid Vayner, WHP Member (New York RSJ 16), is an experienced cybersecurity professional.  Leonid holds an MBA in Strategic Management from Pace University, BS in Computer Science from NYU-Polytechnic University, multiple industry certifications and four patents.  He is the founding member of iMishpacha, a grassroots group of RSJ families with children and teens.  He serves on Kings Bay YM-YWHA Board of Directors & volunteers with several non-profits focused on promoting STEM-based education.  For his service to the community, he has been recognized by Morgan Stanley as Volunteer Honoree in 2013 and UJA-Federation of New York with Community Changemaker Award in 2016.  He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and three children and can be reached at leonid_vayner@yahoo.com.