A Community Is Only as Strong as Its Leaders


Last week, at Friday night services, I had the great joy of watching dozens of second graders singing Hinei Ma Tov and Oseh Shalom while their parents and grandparents practically jumped out of their seats to get a better view. It was a truly joyful (and utterly chaotic) scene; the kind of community moment we have had so little of over the past eighteen months. It has been quite a few years since my own children stood on the bimah singing their hearts out with their classmates, but I felt those parents’ joy; I felt the pride of the congregation in those 7 and 8 year olds. I felt what it meant to everyone in that room to have a beautiful, lively, multi-generational, chaotic, communal Jewish experience. And that experience was only possible through the tireless work of our Jewish communal professionals and lay leaders, who have continued to hold our community close and are bringing so much energy and creativity to Jewish experiences.

Almost 20 years ago, fairly new to San Diego, I first dipped my toes into lay leadership on a JCC marketing committee and with a seat on my synagogue board. I was amazed by the expertise and the commitment of so many of the more senior lay leaders. I was hooked. Being a part of meaningful decision making for organizations that had such a positive impact on my life and the life of my family felt, and feels, like a privilege, even when the board budget meetings go long, or the technology doesn’t quite work. Today, nearly 20 years later, I count myself lucky to work closely with many of those leaders from whom I have learned so much over the years.

As I experienced first-hand, leadership in our community can, and should, start at a young age. Developing young leaders is one way Federation works to create an enduring Jewish community. That’s why I’m so excited about the launch of Leads, a new opportunity for Jewish young adults in San Diego that focuses on networking, mentoring, and community involvement. Leads participants will be matched with a seasoned leader for mentorship and will participate in sessions focused on the Jewish community and leadership skill building. Federation is providing this program at no cost to participants and I ask that you share this wonderful opportunity far and wide.

Federation also is deepening its support of local Jewish teen engagement; an investment in our teens today, and our community’s leaders tomorrow. We just received a three-year $800,000 matching grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation to expand this important work. This grant builds on a successful six-year relationship with the Foundation co-investing in engaging Jewish teens in San Diego. From research, Federation understands that engaging teens happens in many ways, and the impact of Jewish immersive experiences on identity building and connection to Jewish community is crystal clear. We are offering an Immersive Experience Grant to incentivize every Jewish high school student to participate in at least one 5 day immersive experience with their Jewish peers. You can help Federation engage teens throughout San Diego in Jewish life by sharing this grant opportunity with those interested.

We appreciate your support and involvement that helps make possible meaningful Jewish engagement and the development of young leaders. These efforts are catalysts for those joyful, chaotic communal moments we all love. I cherish those moments a little bit more now. They bring us together and help to build our vibrant and strong Jewish community.

Shabbat Shalom,

Heidi Gantwerk
Interim Chief Executive Officer


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