I was privileged to spend five days last week in Snowmass, CO with the new Wexner Heritage Program classes  Philadelphia 16, New York 16 and New York RSJ 16  the Wexner team and an amazing group of teachers.  We arrived in Colorado excited and a bit nervous at the prospect of meeting so many new people.  Too short a time later, we left having made deep connections with dozens of new friends and feeling extremely fortunate to be the newest members of the “Wexner family.”

The schedule for the week was packed with engaging texts and world-class faculty who led thoughtful and respectful classroom debates.  In the midst of this remarkable learning environment, my question on the first evening dealt with the weighty issue of whether attendance at services was mandatory.  Upon reflection, I blame jet lag for this unimpressive question.  Nevertheless, the response was surprising although attendance at services is not mandatory, many past attendees described the Liberal and Traditional services as among the highlights of the week.  So, on the second morning of the Institute, I walked into the Liberal service and was surprised to find that I loved every minute of it.  I had never attended any shacharit service before, let alone one with such beautiful music in such an incredible setting.  I was hooked and for the remainder of the Institute looked forward to spending an hour each morning with Rabbi David Ingber, Elana Jagoda Kaye and Saul Kaye.  Later in the week, I had the same feelings when I attended Traditional mincha, with Dr. Elli Kranzler and Rabba Yaffa Epstein. 

Although the learning, the setting, the food and the overall organization of the Institute were all world class, I was most impressed by the way The Wexner Foundation thoughtfully crafted the composition of each cohort.  Day after day, we remarked on how amazing it was that a diverse group of people came together so quickly to form a cohesive unit.  The strength of our new community was evident in all of our activities, but nowhere more so than our classroom discussions.  These discussions were always enlightening and respectful, even when covering provocative and potentially inflammatory topics such as BDS, criticism of Israel and contemporary Antisemitism.  I was fascinated by Rabbi David Ingber’s class on Revelation, impressed and engaged by the discussion of Contemporary Antisemitism led by Professor Deborah Lipstadt, and proud of the way our class, led by Rabbi Matt Berkowitz (WGF Alum, Class 6) respectfully debated our different perspectives on the domestic and international challenges facing Israel.  Throughout the week, I learned a great deal by listening to and speaking with the members of the Philadelphia 16, New York 16 and New York RSJ 16 cohorts and look forward to being together again next year in Jerusalem.

As I reflect on an amazing week, I keep sharing with friends and family the following additional memories:

  1. The incredible spirit and pride of the RSJ cohort
  2. Rabbi Elka Abrahamson’s passionate and inspiring presentation on the Vision and Values of The Wexner Foundation
  3. Rabba Yaffa Epstein’s infectious enthusiasm and joy for teaching her jet-lagged Philly students
  4. Closing the lobby bar two nights in a row with rousing Hebrew and Russian songs
  5. Early morning trail runs with Scott Harris and Darcy Crystal from New York 
  6. And, of course, the Beit Café

Jeff Bartos WHP Member (Philadelphia 16) is President of ESB Holdings LLC, which acquires and develops single-family residential, retail and commercial real estate and owns several energy efficiency project management and contracting companies.  Jeff serves on the Board of Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia in many capacities, including the Nominating Committee, the Policy, Strategy & Funding Committee and is Chair of Jewish Federation Real Estate.  Additionally, Jeff is a Capitol Club Member and Congressional Club Member of AIPAC and an investor in Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Jeff can be reached at jeffbartos8@gmail.com.