Leadership as family affair

Leadership as family affair

If confidence and charisma are qualities of effective leadership, then Tuvia and Miriam Brander have been blessed with these and more

The newlyweds from Bergen County – married just six months – are deeply passionate about serving the Jewish community and fiercely determined to make a difference in the world.

Tuvia, who comes from Teaneck, and Miriam, neé Apter, from Fair Lawn, are spending the 2013-2014 academic year in Jerusalem, where Tuvia is pursuing rabbinical studies at Yeshiva University’s Gruss Kollel and Miriam works as an intern at PresenTense, an organization that fosters young social entrepreneurs.

Miriam and Tuvia Brander – both deeply committed to service.

Recently, they were among a delegation of 14 young leaders from the Gruss Kollel community selected by Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future to represent the university at the Jewish Federations of North America’s General Assembly. Once every five years the GA is held in Jerusalem; in November, Jews from North America and Israelis from across the political spectrum gathered there for three days to discuss issues facing Israel and the global Jewish community.

“Federation is an umbrella for so many organizations, and interacting with their leaders and learning from them was a tremendous opportunity,” said Tuvia, whose father is YU vice president and communal leader Rabbi Kenneth Brander.

“On the other hand, it was important for everyone at the GA to see that the people YU trains for leadership are actively engaged in learning from all types of leaders in the Jewish community,” he added. “One of my favorite things about being there was just walking around and meeting the representatives of so many different organizations.”

Miriam, who earned her place as a YU delegate in her own right, agreed. “One of the highlights was meeting the people on the ground from various Federations leading the charge in creating innovative and engaging programming and shaping the global Jewish community,” she said. A graduate of YU’s Stern College for Women, she plans a career in Jewish communal and nonprofit work and is applying to graduate programs in the New York area for next year.

“I’m very grateful that YU enabled us to attend the GA and I enjoyed being counted among those who are pushing Jewish leadership,” said Tuvia, who expects to receive rabbinic ordination from Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in June 2014. He also is working toward a master’s degree in Jewish studies at YU’s Bernard Revel Graduate School for Jewish Studies, and he is a Wexner Graduate Fellow. The four-year Wexner fellowship program identifies and nurtures emerging Jewish professional leaders.

Both Miriam and Tuvia have extensive experience that qualifies them as just that kind of leader. At Stern, Miriam was active in student government and clubs and was a coordinator for the volunteer organization Nechama: Jewish Response to Disaster as part of a tornado cleanup mission in 2012. She also volunteered in Rwanda, where she worked at an orphanage and assisted women who were victims of gender-based violence to become self-supporting. In Muchucuxcah, Mexico, she joined an American Jewish World Service mission to work on construction and sustainable agriculture. Also on her resume are stints at the aliyah organization Nefesh b’Nefesh, at NCSY as a chapter adviser, and at the Jerusalem Journey as a supervisor of high school students in Israel.

Tuvia’s resume, like his wife’s, shows service and volunteerism. At YU, among other activities, he was head resident adviser in the dorms for several years, played active roles in student government and in the student court, and revived and oversaw a student-run journal. Beyond the YU campus, his activities and leadership experience include a rabbinic internship at the Young Israel of Plainview, N.Y.; leading an AJWS mission to Muchucuxcah (the year after Miriam’s trip there); helping to develop and run the Kansas City YU Summer Experience, which brought a group of students to that city for internships and to engage with the local Jewish community, and coordinating programs for NCSY in Israel.

While these experiences certainly contributed to developing Tuvia’s resume as an aspiring Jewish communal leader, growing up in the Brander household – first in Boca Raton, where his father was a pulpit rabbi and leader of the Orthodox community, and then in Teaneck, where the family moved when Tuvia was in 12th grade – gave him an insider’s view of the life for which he and Miriam now are preparing.

“I often get the joke about, well, at least you know what you’re getting into – forewarned is forearmed,” he said. “But growing up, I got to see on an intimate level the incredible ability to be active in people’s lives, to really matter and make a difference. I got to see how leaders, no matter what their Jewish perspective, can have an incredible impact on the national Jewish scene and how they can contribute to the eternality of the Jewish people.”

The Branders now plan to stay in America after they both finish their education, although that might change. Miriam says she doesn’t yet see the “where” of their future once their studies are done. “We’ll go wherever there’s a need,” she said, open to the challenges of both small and large Jewish communities.

“Large communities have large infrastructure but also larger and more complex problems and less clear-cut ways of moving forward. Smaller communities generally have room to grow but usually have fewer resources. Each has its own unique challenges and advantages.”

Both Branders agree, however, that it is a decision they will make together, and wherever they go, it will be as a team.

“We’re both very motivated and focused on helping the Jewish community and society in general, and whatever capacity we do that in, and in whatever place we end up, we’ll be a strong team,” Miriam said.

“We’re both committed to the same goals. But what makes us strong is that while we’re both working towards those goals, we’re also trying to help each other,” Tuvia added. “In all my endeavors, I know that Miriam is right behind me supporting me. And she knows that I’m there for her. We’re not just two people working toward something. We’re helping each other to succeed.”

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