Berrie Fellows Leadership Program casts a wide net for leaders
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Berrie Fellows Leadership Program casts a wide net for leaders

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Members of the second Berrie Fellows cohort are pictured during a visit to Israel. From left are Rae Janvey (senior leadership consultant), Teddi Hunter, Rena Schlussel, Paula Shaiman, Stephanie Goldman Pittel, Martha Cohen, Jonathan Mangot, and David Rosenblatt. Courtesy uja-nnj

Since 2004, the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program has worked to strengthen the North Jersey Jewish community by creating a cadre of action-oriented leaders. Forty-three “fellows,” chosen from the mainstream of Jewish life, have sharpened their skills in two-year seminar regimens and have visited Israel.

Now, for the third “cohort,” the program, administered by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, is broadening its base and reaching out to members of the Jewish community who have not been on the radar screen.

“We are looking for people who are outside the organization stream; we want to break down barriers,” said Laura Freeman, program director.

Among those sought are spouses in interfaith marriages. “That’s a huge challenge,” Freeman said, noting nearly 50 percent of Jews who marry do so outside of the religion. “We have to embrace Jews by choice and involve them in the community,” she said, speaking of converts to Judaism.

Israeli transplants “culturally have a different point of reference,” she said, as do émigrés from Russia, and their input can enrich the program.

Also sought are people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. “It’s hard to know how many people this category includes, but “they can provide a unique perspective,” she said.

It’s hoped, Freeman added, that the program will expand beyond its Bergen County base to Hudson County and particularly Hoboken, with its burgeoning Jewish population.

“We want to have a whole rainbow of Jews,” said Angelica Berrie, president of the Berrie Foundation, which funds the program. She is continuing the work of her late husband, philanthropist Russell Berrie.

“We are actively recruiting outside the area,” Berrie said. “Who knows where the program will go? We have to reach into our communities for the best people.”

The program is a work in progress, Berrie said. “It’s not perfect, but we keep tweaking it, taking it to the next level,” she said. “We are looking for out-of-the-box people” who must be able to inspire others to connect to the Jewish community, she said.

While Berrie alumni typically fill leadership roles in JCCs, synagogues. and non-profit agencies, for example, their skills are valued outside the Jewish community. “There’s a whole world out” there that needs leadership skills, Berrie said.

Mainline Jewish organizations may need to “refresh” their thinking, she said, and organizations must be efficient. From the point of view of a funding organization, it’s important that organizations that receive funds use them efficiently, and that’s part of where leadership comes in, she said.

Freeman explained that nominees are chosen by members of the community but are not told of their nomination. Then the names are reviewed and those on the narrowed-down list are invited to apply. They are interviewed by a selection panel, and the finalists are picked.

This year, for the first time, applicants will be able to self-nominate, Freeman said.

The program is based on Jewish values, and issues are seen through a “Jewish lens,” said Freeman. “Everything is laced with chesed and tikkun olam,” the values of kindness and repairing the world, she said.

“Jewish knowledge and Israel are central to our concept,” said Rae Janvey, senior leadership consultant. “Jewish life brings meaning and purpose.”

While the faculty is still being put together for the third cohort, the program is reaching within itself, seeking guidance from its alumni, said Janvey. The emphasis is on action as well as thought, she said.

The hoped-for age range is 30 to 50, she said, a span that promotes the ferment of ideas and “reflects the real world.”

While one side of the Jewish leadership equation involves professionals – rabbis and organization staffers, for example – the program aims to prepare lay leaders to work alongside the professionals, Janvy said.

David Goodman of Paramus, the incoming president of the federation, is a Berrie alumnus and offers his take on the program. Among his community roles, he is a past president of the Jewish Family Service of North Jersey and UJA-NNJ chair for strategic planning and implementation.

“The ancient Jewish teachings still apply,” he said, doing “what is just and right.”

“A leader is someone who sets an example, and that’s what I try to do,” he said of the practical side of the program. “It’s an opportunity to work with people of like minds, committed to bettering the Jewish community.”

Of the drive for diversity, he said, “I would welcome anybody to share their experience,” he said. “If it leads to a stronger and more vibrant community, I am all for it.”

For more information, go to www.berriefellows.org.

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