Why Jewish Leadership Needs To Start Early

The world today is a scary place. Beyond the obvious pandemic fears, we live during a time where not all lives matter, where people of color fear the streets, where women have to reconsider what they wear or where they go, and where speaking up for issues that matter puts you at unnecessary risk. It’s not the world that we planned when bringing children into, or what we envisioned growing up. It’s disappointing, maddening, and frustrating, but not unfixable (is that a word? Who cares, it’s a word today).

Three years ago, I joined the staff at a wonderful congregation that was kind enough to give me a platform that allows me to do the work that I enjoy the most. Jewish leadership development has been a passion of mine for as long as I can remember. I am not talking about Jewish leadership in terms of practice and ritual, but about the pillars of social justice and tikkun olam (repair the world). If you know me personally, you’ve heard me repeat the phrase “Jewish education is a non-negotiable” when it comes to my children. Yes, I am “that” mom who will not budge when it comes to starting my children in a Jewish preschool and religious school straight out of Pre-K. For me, it goes beyond the preparation for their Bnei Mitzvah, its about creating better humans, humans that will change the world.

For the past three years, I have had the invaluable opportunity to work with outstanding role models of Jewish leadership (I am looking at you, Ali Stamm and Lulu Belferder!). I have been given the opportunity to be my “extra” self in the classroom (whether in person or on zoom, as it’s the case for the last year), and create different spaces that allow me to shape the minds of what the future of our world will look like. I have had the humbling chance to teach both adults and teen leaders, as well as spend time with younger generations in shaping their path towards Jewish leadership.

I have been asked a few times why I believe so strongly in working with kids and teens, rather than adults. To me, leadership begins as early as we can expose our children to it. Jewish education, like secular education, needs to start early in order to create a solid foundation and a love for the work that we do. Yes, we have all found areas that we are passionate in later in life, but there is something life-changing about instilling those believes in the younger generations, because they are the ones who will change the world.

As adults, our job isn’t only to go to the streets or the polling places to demand change (if you are reading this, and have not registered to vote, DO SO NOW!). We need to practice what we preach, and make sure that the younger generations don’t just see us fighting, but that they understand and join the fight. I have heard from people that speaking about uncomfortable subjects like racial inequality and homophobia are not subjects that young children should be exposed to, and while I understand your discomfort, I respectfully disagree. The fact that children are the future isn’t just a cliché sentence that we use, its where the power of change really is.

When I heard about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death this past week, it felt like a close member of my family was gone. RBG spent her life fighting so we could have equal rights; so someone like me could do something that I love, like standing in front of groups of people to talk about leadership and how we can change the world. If it wasn’t for her hard work, I wouldn’t be where I am together, my daughter wouldn’t have the endless opportunities that she has in front of her, and the world would be even scarier. She was the kind of person that we all should aspire to be: someone who will fight for equal rights, no matter the circumstances. This is where I look for inspiration for Jewish leadership: fight for what you believe in, even when people count you out or don’t take you seriously. This is why our children and teens have to be the ones to develop their leadership skills as early as possible, even if people see them as young, I want to be part of the reason for them to prove them wrong. I want my 8 year old to have the tools and skills to go stand in front of any adult who dares to question him empowered with all the right words and actions; I want him to show the world that he won’t wait for the adults to fix our world, but that he himself will repair it.

Today’s Shabbat is considered Shabbat Shuvah, or Shabbat or Return, which falls in between Rosh Hashanah (New Year) and Yom Kippur (Day of Repentance), and its focus its to really look into how we will make this new year different. My wish for all of us is to make this year one where we empower our younger generations to take into the streets and repair the world.


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