The Wexner Foundation and various communal stakeholders met together with Heritage alumni (Detroit 86) and potential nominees for the Detroit ’17 class. They learned what is new in the Heritage program and also heard from various alumni how the program continues to impact their leadership. To nominate someone for the Detroit, Chicago or Montreal 2017 cohorts, please click here.
What might be said in two minutes that can capture my Wexner experience — an experience that has been a blast, a blessing and such a gift in my life? Perhaps I will offer yet another ‘thank you’ to the Wexners and to my Chicago sponsors, and simply ask again (what I believe Wexner wants us to continue to ask): “How can I give back?”
I don’t believe that the Heritage program — although transformative on many levels — is meant to be a game-changer, but rather a profound game-enhancer for its participants. It takes you from where you are in your knowledge, your interests, your efforts and your giving — and makes you more committed, and importantly, more connected so that you can do the work you are called to do in community more skillfully and with greater ease.
And the program, in my opinion, does not make leaders — you come to the program that way — but it absolutely makes better leaders: leaders who have a breadth and range of knowledge based on a two-year foundation of critical thinking and serious contemplation that has been cultivated around a table with your peers over much food and many, many hours.
The program is staffed by extraordinary people — rabbis and scholars surprisingly as excited to sit around the table with you, as you are to sit with them. My first teacher blew my mind as he asked us to consider if it even matters that Judaism continue in an increasingly post-denominational, universal world. For the first time as a Jewish leader, I wondered what benefit, if any, a Jewish people might bring to the world. He implored us to personally articulate an answer, because without one, all of our work in Jewish life — from synagogues to service agencies to justice work — might be for naught. But instead, if we could give authentic voice to a Judaism that merits continuity — well, then it becomes quickly clear that we need to roll up our sleeves and get to work!
My final teacher book ended this experience by suggesting that there has been a “Jewish project” if you will that has existed across space and time for millennia, and that the Jewish people exist today primarily — and perhaps solely — because of their ability to adapt this project to changing places and changing times. If this is true, then we are left to take away only one question — what will our, MY, response be in this time and this space to move this Jewish project forward…forward so that we might create a living, relevant Judaism to offer our children to mark the seasons of their lives and a Judaism that might leave the world a little better off for our having been here as Jews.
There were many, but certainly a defining moment of the program for me was that after two years of being a contrarian voice on Israel, I was asked to speak at one of the joint conferences. Following my remarks, a cohort member came up to share that he had never been able to hear my view so clearly, and that he was grateful for my having spoken. It was in that moment that I recognized the deep value of cultivating real relationships over time, and that those types of relationships just might make for possibilities that otherwise remain out of reach.
So that’s what the Wexner Heritage Program offers…and for 30 years, over and over in cities across North America, that is what the program delivers. May you not hesitate to apply—and may you be lucky enough to get in!
Carole Caplan, a Heritage alum (Chicago 06), recently purchased 11 acres in Ann Arbor, MI, and looks forward to teaching others how to get down and dirty in the creation of more sustainable and healthier lives. Carole is working on a local Jewish Alliance for Food, Land and Justice, providing programming on environmental and sustainable living, along with a Jewish Food Festival and Farm Education Day. She also serves on the advisory board of Hazon Detroit helping to launch the Jewish Food Festival at the Detroit Eastern Market. Carole is a past president of the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston, IL, where she was proud to have helped build the first LEED Platinum House-of-Worship in the world. Carole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.