Young leaders lauded at GA
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Young leaders lauded at GA

As Jewish communal leaders from across the globe met in Washington last week, one theme permeated almost every session: The federation system’s future lies with its young leaders.

The new executive director of the Jewish Federations of North America, Jerry Silverman, told reporters at the group’s General Assembly that he wants to see 10 times as many young adults at next year’s conference. The federation system, he said, is searching for new ways to reach younger donors.

On the second day of the GA, some 200 young leaders gathered at a luncheon honoring people 45 and under who have been active in their communities.

Earlier this year, Lisa Beth Meisel of Tenafly and Michael Starr of Oradell received the Russell Berrie Young Leadership Award at UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s annual meeting. Alumni of the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program, they were invited to the reception at the GA to share their successes.

Starr first got active in UJA-NNJ 14 years ago, through the Jewish Community Relations Council, and eventually became chair of the JCRC. He is chair of UJA-NNJ’s strategic planning process and a member of the steering committee of the Kehillah Partnership, which links communal organizations through cost- and revenue-sharing. “It’s a huge honor,” he said of the award. “It’s just a very flattering recognition of doing what I think is important work I wish more people were doing.”

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Lisa Beth Meisel

He praised GA organizers for bringing everybody together at the young leadership luncheon, but added that more needs to be done. “The federation needs to do a better job of engaging young leadership,” Starr said. “That’s something the leadership of the federation itself recognizes. When you look at strategic planning, the need to engage younger families and people is critical for federation.”

Starr sees a lot of momentum building for such outreach. “It’s going to take time, but we really need to reach people when they’re first moving to the community and starting families and help them realize federation provides opportunities to make differences in their community’s lives and in their own lives,” he said.

As a past board member of UJA-NNJ’s Women’s Division, Meisel was vice chair of its outreach and education committee and chaired its Lion of Judah campaign. She serves on the board of the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, where she chairs the health and recreation department. She is also in her sixth and final year of serving on the national Young Leadership Cabinet of the Jewish Federations of North America.

“It seems like a small drop of water that ends up filling a pond, then a lake, and then an ocean,” she said of her communal work and the effect it’s had on others.

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Michael Starr

A friend from the Jersey 2 Jerusalem community mission in 2007 went on to volunteer with Bergen Reads, she noted. And, Meisel said, her dedication to communal work has spread to the rest of her family. Her husband, Greg, was co-chair of J2J, while their children, Jordan and Benjamin, have found their own ways to get involved.

“My son goes to Maccabi games, and there are thousands of kids that participate and do tzedakah projects and are actively involved in being Jewish,” she said. “Young people are engaging in ways that are different … and they’re creating new programs that are beyond what I would have thought of.”

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