Before the Masa Israel Leadership Summit, I felt that my resume did not indicate extensive Jewish leadership. In high school I was involved in BBYO, but I never held any significant positions. In college, my involvement with Jewish organizations consisted of attending Shabbat dinners at Hillel and attending a few “American Movement for Israel” meetings if I had the time. My main involvement on the University of Michigan campus was within the Greek community and Model United Nations. Being a leader in those communities and always feeling very proud to be Jewish, I considered myself a leader and a Jew as two separate entities. I thought that in order to be considered a “Jewish leader” you had to be a leader in some domain related to Judaism.
However, this past Leadership Summit taught me that being a Jewish leader is not just about working for AIPAC or at the Jewish Federation, or about keeping every Shabbat, or even about participating in a pro-Israel rally. It is so much more than that. Being a Jewish leader consists of living a life that exemplifies the Jewish values from the teachings of the Torah. To be kind, to live an honest life, to take care of our own people in addition to taking care of others, exemplifies a true Jewish leader because those tasks are challenging and only a true leader can do it.
Although it is quite difficult to measure all Jewish value usage today, at this conference I learned that the value of “Tikkun olam” and “Tzedaka” is undeniably practiced in America. I was surprised to discover that 39% of world Jewry is from America. I also learned that a Jewish American is 15% more likely to donate money to charity than a non-Jewish American. Additionally, when Jewish Americans do donate, they give on average $1,200 per year where as non-Jewish Americans who donate give around $660 per year. It is also important to note that 92% of Jewish Americans give to non-Jewish organizations, so the Jewish people are not just helping each other, but they are also living their Jewish values and contributing in attempt to heal, repair, and transform the world.
While it is evident that we have some pretty great Jewish leaders in America today, I am concerned about the quantity of future Jewish leaders. One of our speakers at the summit, Rabbi Dr. Donniel Hartman, brought to my attention some interesting observations about my generation, otherwise known as the millenials. He said that what is happening in my generation is a very odd thing. For the first time in our history, the Jewish people have succeeded at assimilating in the United States. With 58% of American Jews being in interfaith marriages, the millenials in America are the first generation to not really experience any sort of anti-Semitism. As great as this is, I am worried that because my generation has assimilated so well into American culture, we will lose sight of the values that are so integral to being Jewish. Whether being raised in a Jewish home or in an interfaith home, I truly hope that Jews in my generation and future generations to come will have the opportunity to be taught our Jewish values and become the best leaders that we can be.
Nicole Hertzberg of West Bloomfield, MI, is teaching English in an underprivledged community of Petach Tikva through Masa's Israel Teaching Fellows program. She was invited to attend the Masa Israel Post-College Leadership Summit, an intensive, five-day learning and skill-building seminar for exceptional participants of Masa Israel programs, designed to provide participants with the skills and knowledge needed to become a strong and active Jewish leader.