Rites of Passage
WHP NY 16 met earlier this week for their Siyum, the seminar marking the transition from their two years of being current Wexner Heritage Members to joining the alumni community. One of their assignments for the evening was to read their original application to the program that they had submitted two and a half years earlier, and to reflect on and update their vision statement. Here are a few excerpts:
Reading my vision statement (from my application) made me a little sad. I spoke about how I hoped to move the needle on creating more liberal, Orthodox opportunities for Jewish practice in Queens, and I do not believe I have done so. Nor do I believe that there is great hope of doing so in the near future. I could choose to be discouraged, or I can choose to widen my lens, to expand my vision of what change looks like and where change is possible. I choose the latter.
I realize that I often find myself in positions where I am one of the most liberal Jews among a group of more traditional Orthodox Jews (i.e. on the board of my children’s school), and then I often find myself in positions where I am one of the most traditional Jews among a group of more liberal Jews (i.e. among neighborhood friends and acquaintances). While I do not necessarily like this labeling, or this idea of defining myself in relation to others — it is interesting to consider that I am often in rooms where my outlook is in the minority instead of the majority. This points to an important leadership role that I can play in simply speaking up from a different point of view, from seeing the world from a different vantage point.
— Kerry Newman, NY 16
I am not leaving this program with a solution or an answer as to what exactly I’m going to do next. I want to continue my work in combatting poverty in Jewish neighborhoods but, and maybe it’s always been this way, I cannot avoid noticing that the gaps between us are growing wider. The idea of an us and a them (in whatever context you mean) has never felt so present; we have found ways to polarize ourselves along multiple dimensions (politically, religiously, socio-demographically) and people have lost the ability to listen because they are so focused on themselves being heard.
Unintentionally, we are focused on what divides us vs. what unites us, and I would like to change that paradigm.
— Paul Siegel, NY 16
My vision now is to pursue Judaism as a form of profound values-based leadership development in which practices of amazement and responsibility can feed each other. Just as it is quite difficult to pursue social justice without deliberate concentration on hope, gratitude and wonder, I believe that one can gain a sense of mutuality and shared accountability when experiencing oneself as part of something quite vast.
What does it mean to build lives around wakeful gratitude and courageous responsibility?
What does it mean to create a community that honors the particular and serves the universal?
How might a rabbi leverage diverse and enlivening forms of tefilah, serious study of Torah and Talmud and a caring community to inspire social action?
These are my essential questions for rabbinical school, which I begin immediately after our Wexner Summer Institute.
— Andrew Mandel, NY 16
My Jewish leadership goals are to make sure that my actions always represent my words. That I lead by example, not by preaching or strong-arming. That I am able to hear those that I don’t necessarily agree with. And that I challenge myself not fall into predictable roles that come naturally to me.
I am not a visionary. I am an executor, a worker. Part of writing my personal vision statement 2.0 was not only acknowledging this, but also accepting it. I do not set policy or write organizational mission statements. But I try to model behaviors of civility, appreciation, follow-up and respect in an effort to improve relationships, among peers, and lay leaders and professionals — who dedicate their lives to civil service. Yes, it’s true — I’m not a visionary. But if modeling these behaviors rubs off on a few people, and they in turn do the same — imagine the ripple effect that might occur…
These goals ring true to me for my Heschel School PA presidency, as I re-engage in work at UJA-Federation, and equally important to me today, in parenting my children.
Upon reflecting why the Wexner Heritage program has been so meaningful to me over the past two years, a few things are clear. Les Wexner is certainly a visionary. Yet he also models the same behaviors that are vital and dear to me — thus creating an atmosphere and room full of people with similar morals and values that I hold in such high regard.
— Emily Gindi, NY 16
Kerry Newman is the Assistant Director for Capital Gifts & Special Initiatives at UJA-Federation of New York. She has worked in the Jewish Communal field for fifteen years, previously as a Hillel professional. She received her Master in Public Administration and a master’s in Jewish and Hebrew Studies from NYU. She and her husband are raising their two boys in Forest Hills, NY. Kerry blogs for Kveller.com, and enjoys traveling and spending time outdoors.
Paul Siegel is the Managing Principal of Emet Capital, a private equity investment firm. Paul has been actively engaged at UJA-Federation of New York for the past ten years, where he is on the Board of Directors and a member of both the Network and Caring Cabinets. Paul previously chaired the Safety Net and Security Task Force, whose primary aim is to reduce suffering and isolation through targeted grantmaking. Mr. Siegel lives in NYC with his wife and three daughters.
Andrew K. Mandel is an educator, advocate and newly minted rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College. A Harvard College graduate, Andrew began his career teaching seventh grade in South Texas before designing many of Teach For America’s national leadership development initiatives for 16 years. He earned his doctorate in adult learning and leadership from Teachers College and co-founded a volunteer organization to bring justice to the East Ramapo (NY) School District.
Emily Gindi is a fourth generation family member at Acme Smoked Fish Corporation in Greenpoint Brooklyn. Previously, Emily worked at UJA-Federation of NY where she worked in the Young Leadership Division and is a former trustee. Emily is the Parents’ Association Co-President at the Heschel School and sits on the Board of the JWF of New York. Emily lives in NYC with her husband and their three children. She likes to spend time outdoors, read and travel with her family.