The three Wexner Heritage cohorts (NY 16, NY RSJ (Russian Speaking Jews) 16 and Philadelphia 16) concluded their two years of meeting together — four hours every other week — and will officially join the alumni community at their summer institute, July 8-13, in Snowbird, Utah. In their final seminars, each cohort of 20 created and brought for each other an offering, a gift or an “Ot” (from Ot hi l’olam — a sign or a symbol or a letter of the alphabet, for all time). These otiyot took on many creative forms, from brachot to photos or songs, to glass-engraved paper weights with a pasuk they’d studied together, or, yes, red baseball caps (pictured above, courtesy of NY RSJ 16 Kyrill Firshein and explained below). Below are some tastes:
Let me tell you a story. There was once a Jewish girl who grew up in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, where she was hiding her Jewish identity because she was afraid of anti-Semitism and didn’t want to be singled out among other kids.
Then the girl grew up, turned 17, and immigrated to United States in 1999. Before she left Ukraine, her grandparents told her, “in your new country, stick with Jews.” She didn’t know what “sticking with Jews” meant, but she was determined to follow their advice. This girl went on to pursue her higher education and had a successful career in corporate America…
In the last two years I learned about the amazing talent and potential of the RSJ community. I also learned about the addictive power of What’s App, about the value of shared rides home when we debriefed the learning, about the wittiness and unapologetically strong opinions of the RSJ cohort members, about political debates that made me learn a thing or two about Trump, and so much more…
Most of all, I am grateful for the unbelievable cohort of Russian Jews who participated in the program. We created a unique bond and I truly believe that together we can impact the future of our people. I don’t know where our life journey will take all of us, but I hope that by “sticking with Jews”, being proud of who we are and where we come from and using the lessons that we learned in Wexner wisely, we will build a better life for ourselves, for our loved ones, for the Jewish community and for the world at large.
—Yelena Kutikova, NY RSJ 16
Why Dove Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate Promises are my “Ot,” or Symbol, of our Wexner Heritage Fellowship
Dove Silky Smooth Milk Chocolate Promises are my Wexner symbol. Here are the reasons.
• Our member Cindy Feinberg so generously supplied them to us on a regular basis, proving once again that good food enhances group bonding, and that nothing happens unless someone takes initiative.
• Dove Promises are sweet and contain milk, like the land of milk and honey. Because they contain milk, some of us have to wait a period of time to enjoy them after having meat, reminding us that holiness and time are connected.
• They are chocolate, a substance that has been part of the inheritance of humanity for thousands of years, and like Torah, can be disseminated in many forms that evolve over time and are highly portable. Of which are we more confident, that there will be chocolate in 1,000 years or Jews in 1,000 years?
• They have the name Dove, which reminds us of Noah and the dove of peace, charging us to pursue peace and work to avert ecological disaster.
• Like Noah, we strive to be righteous in our generation, but like Dove Promises, we may be well-intentioned and well-credentialed and still fall short. Dove Promises are kosher certified by the O-U, but they were not “kosher” within the confines of the UJA building. This reminds us of the need for humility. The cultural codes of Judaism and its communities can be hard to decipher even for the seasoned Jew.
• Dove Promises are best enjoyed in community and as part of a larger meal. The morsel remains but a morsel if not part of a bigger story.
• Dove Silky Smooth Chocolate Promises explicitly contain a promise, but a promise of what? Are we Wexner Fellows silky smooth and promising? And if so how do we ensure that our output is not eclipsed by our promise?
• Is silky smoothness an attribute in a leader, or do we need to break some eggs? How do we know when a silky smooth talker is a gifted, honest leader or a deceitful master of the bait and switch?
• What is best, a Dove Promise, Dove soap or a Dove bar, and how can these three trademarks coexist on our supermarket aisle? Is one more authentic than the other? Is the ideal Judaism unified or diverse? Is dissent a weakness or a strength? Is sameness in the Divine image?
• When we come to a hotel in a foreign land, a chocolate waiting on our pillow says thank you for being here, and it is always important to show gratitude and appreciation. It reminds us of the comforting embrace of the Jewish community around the globe, which, like a good PJ Library book, lulls us into pleasant dreams for tomorrow and helps us awaken refreshed and ready for the challenge of a new day.
—Bruce Goldberger, New York 16
Prayer of Gratitude
Thank you for new friends who have become family.
Thank you for lively conversation and enriching questions, which push me
to confront preconceived notions and force me to reconsider ancient
Thank you for learning beside me. Teaching me.
Thank you for teachers who make me think, reconsider, and leave me with more questions.
Thank you for your leadership in the community.
Thank you for challenging me to be better and for inspiring me to make a difference.
Blessed are You who creates meaningful, transformative experiences.
— Michal Wachs, Philadelphia 16
MYPHL16 or To Wex Poetic
Wise, who learns from all
Speak, those who would listen
Crinkle, crunch — no!
Revelation, rainbow, fresh thin air
Morning dew/do prayer
Green, raw egg, no ham
Bless, blessing, blessed. Love&Liturgy.
Fortunate, spiritual energy, sacred, divine
Secular vision, Action vicarious faith
Pass, pour, sip
Educate, engage, immerse.
Anecdotes, not data.
715, dinner. Shalom.
— Cody Greenes, Philadelphia 16
TOP 11 LESSONS FROM MY ABORTED SUDDEN DEATH
Editor’s note: While each WHP cohort experiences many simchas and losses, births, deaths, bnei mitzvah and marriages, Jeff Feig, NY 16, is the first WHP member we know of who actually went into cardiac arrest, was technically dead, and then brought back to life. While this was obviously a very difficult experience for him and his family, like most good leaders, he not only emerged wiser, with renewed sense of purpose and gratitude, but with a life-giving dose of humor.
But the main change in my state of mind was that — I can’t think of a better way to put it — the background music suddenly stopped. It had always been there, the music of daily life that’s constantly going, the music of infinite time and possibilities; and now suddenly it was gone, replaced by nothing, just silence. — James Kugel
1. See your doctors regularly, you idiot. Three years between visits is not appropriate. While you’re at it, get off your duff and exercise. 10k steps per day, one hour of moving your body, pushing your heart rate to the max, whatever turns you on, just exercise. It makes a difference in length of life and quality of life.
2. Take a statin and a baby aspirin every day. I’m not interested in how low you think your cholesterol is or how you will get it under control by eating like a vegan for a week. Just take the damn meds. The research is clear. People on statins have fewer cardiac events. No medicine in history has been as effective in preventing death.
3. Ski. Ski. Ski. It’s a great sport and a great way to spend time. Don’t die before you’ve skied enough times. If skiing is not your thing, try it. OK, if it is really not your thing, bike, run, play tennis, basketball, hockey, hike, climb rocks and mountains, work out, take a walk. Just be active. It’s not just for health, it’s for fun and challenge and getting out there.
4. Laugh and have fun often. The glass isn’t half full. It’s 90% full.
5. Don’t be broiges (yiddish word, look it up), it’s not worth it. Family is important and I will come to that later, but have a lot of friends and be close to them, be open with them, treasure them. Friends can be the family you choose. Without your friends, #4 is much harder. Friends make mistakes. Forgive them. Don’t assume bad intent, they rarely have it.
6. Do things. Do lots of things. You’ve got old age to relax and sleep. Be active, read a lot, take chances, wake up early, stay up late, don’t miss an opportunity, make things happen even when it’s hard and a pain in the ass. Challenge yourself, it’s worth it. You can sleep when you’re dead.
7. Make sure all the places you go, belong to, attend gyms, synagogues, churches, community centers, schools, etc, have AEDs. Get one for your home. They are cheaper than death. They work. They save lives. Learn how to use it. Learn CPR. You WILL have the opportunity to save a life, don’t blow it.
8. Have friends who are doctors. They are great people. They help. They are underpaid and overworked. They are in this because they are committed and damned smart. Be a good friend to them, they will always be a good friend to you.
9. Make a difference. Be involved, be present. Make a difference to your family, to your friends, to your community, to your nation, to your people, to the world. You can’t do it all, but you can make a difference. Pick your spots, know where you can affect change, make lives better or just make a difference. We need you.
10. Spend those precious moments with your spouse or partner and your kids and create more. Enjoy them, love them, treasure them, you can never have enough time. Laugh with your kids, wipe their tears and just don’t yell at them. It never helps and usually hurts. Create memories, have fun, engender happiness.
11. Celebrate. Celebrate. Celebrate. Celebrate every opportunity at every possible time. Find a reason to celebrate and make it happen. Surround yourself with the people you love and celebrate. Don’t forget the music. The music always makes everything better, it makes the celebrations deeper and more fun. You can’t celebrate enough. Isn’t that what life’s all about?
— Jeff Feig, New York 16
Dear Wexner chevre,
I am so grateful to have been on this journey with every single one of you over the last two years. When it is 5 o’clock on a Monday and I’ve had a hard day, I am energized by the thought of joining in discussion and debate with you late into the evening. What we have studied has been inspiring and enlightening, but for me it is less of the “what” and more of the “how” and “who” that have really mattered. When other people ask me about my Wexner experience, the first thing I tell them is how beautiful our community is. We’ve supported each other through personal tragedies, and through some of life’s most joyous moments. We’ve come together to make great things happen, and we have laughed through it all.
I will be forever grateful for the support that you have given me as Katie and I have struggled to build a family. Crying is not something that comes easily to me — one of the only 3 times I remember crying about infertility was when I asked you to keep us in your prayers last December. It’s like my body knew that I was in a safe place in which I could let my guard down. I appreciate that more than I can possibly express. I hope you will all be in town next December, as (G-d willing) we welcome our very hoped-for bundle of joy into our home!
I hope this is not the end for our group. While I’m sure we will see each other at community events, etc., I really hope that we can make an effort to convene regularly to learn and to be together. I can’t wait to see what’s next for all of us personally, professionally and communally. #ThanksWex, for pulling together such a wonderful family.
— Susan Pultman, Philadelphia 16
“And here is what Rabbi Hanina said: “I have learned much from my teachers and even more from my friends…” — Talmud Bavli, Ta’anit 7a
This two year experience with you all has exceeded all of my expectations. I have learned so much from our incredible teachers and the dedicated staff at The Wexner Foundation, but nothing can compare to what I have learned from being in a community with all of you.
I am profoundly grateful for your open minds, your respectful debate, your piercing insights, your vulnerability, your professionalism, your dedication, your good nature, your support and your collective sense of humor.
I know we will cement our bond further this summer in Utah, and that we will continue to find ways to work together, to learn together, to grow together and to celebrate and mourn together as we move through life connected forever.
Onward and Upward!
— Rob Auritt, Philadelphia 16
Editor’s note: This red baseball cap was given by Kyrill Firshein to each member of his NY RSJ 16 class (along with facilitator for their siyum, Vice President of The Wexner Foundation, Rabbi Jay Moses, also in the photo at top). The cap says, in Russian, “Make America Healthy Again,” which, of course, can be interpreted in a number of ways. While there were predictably strong reactions to this symbol among those with widely varying political views, in the festivity of their final evening together, the entire class gave a nod to pluralism and celebrated each other in fullness, donning their red “ot” to mark the occasion.
Robert Auritt is a business transactions attorney practicing at the intersection of the entertainment, sports and technology spaces. Rob is a graduate of Akiba Hebrew Academy, of Temple University, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Religion, and of Brooklyn Law School. He is a past president and an active member of Kol Tzedek and sits on the board of Jewish Farm School and on the Philadelphia Regional Council of New Israel Fund.
Jeff Feig lives in NYC with his wife and their three boys. The Feigs support ReelAbilities, Beat the Streets NY, Harlem Children’s Zone, and Jewish organizations such as JTS, The Jewish Week, and the Manhattan JCC. Most recently, they support increasing CPR training & ensuring wide availability of AEDs (Automated External Defibrillators) after Jeff’s sudden case of cardiac arrest in August 2016. Jeff has been in the financial sales & trading industry for over 25 years.
Bruce Goldberger is an attorney in New York. He is a member of the Board of Darkhei Noam, an independent partnership minyan, and is a member of the International Council of the New Israel Fund. He is married to Esther Sperber, an architect, and their two daughters are students at SAR Academy, an Orthodox day school in the Bronx.
Cody Greenes is an attorney representing plaintiffs suffering from cancer due to asbestos exposure. He received a JD from Rutgers Law & a BA in Political Science from UC Santa Barbara. He is active in local, regional and international non-profits which focus on Jewish continuity, education, engagement and helping those in need. A special shout-out to Moishe House! Cody and his wife enjoy camping, hiking, reading, time with friends and family and engaging with their local Jewish communities.
Yelena Kutikova was born in Kiev, Ukraine. Yelena immigrated to the US in 1999 with her parents and sister. She received a BA in Psychology from Brooklyn College and an MA in Organizational Psychology from Columbia. She is Director of Learning and Development for UJA Federation and has broad leadership experience. Passionate about building strong Jewish community she is active in the PA of Mazel, where her daughter attends, and at Jewish Parent Academy (JPA) for Russian Jewish parents.
Susan Pultman is a Neuro-Oncology Social Worker at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Susan has a degree Women and Gender Studies and Anthropology (Washington University in St. Louis), and a Master of Social Work and Master of Education in Human Sexuality (Widener University). Originally from St. Louis, she is an active congregant and board member of Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, PA. She and her wife, Katie, live in Wynnewood, PA and are looking forward to welcoming their first child in December.
Michal Wachs is a Senior Project Manager for Schindler Elevator Corporation, currently managing the Comcast Technology Center in Philadelphia. Michal earned a BSBA from Washington University in St. Louis in 2008 and an MBA from Temple University in 2013. She is a Board Member of Camp Ramah in the Poconos, where she serves on the Development and Facilities Committees. Michal lives in Philadelphia with her husband, Daniel Gold, where they are expecting their first child at the end of August.