Building a Network of Jewish Leadership

Case studies from San Francisco, Warsaw and Israel

“Leaders don’t create followers, they create leaders.” – Tom Peters

These words are not credited to Nancy and Stephen Grand, but they might as well be. As renowned philanthropists in the global Jewish community, the Grands have been driven by the notion of tikkun olam in their lifelong work to make this world a better place. As true leaders, they know that the greatest endeavor is to breed new Jewish leaders, which has led them to create and fund a 15-month leadership program, the Grand Leadership Institute (GLI), with the goal of bringing a strong cohort of talented individuals together to create a corps of leadership for the Federation’s key positions over the next 5-10 years.

The learning has already begun for the first 12 GLI fellows, 10 of whom recently returned from a combined mission to Poland and Israel joined by the Federation’s CEO, Danny Grossman, where the group met with Jewish leaders to try and understand how they can learn from one another to strengthen the connection to their own communities at home.

Vibrant Jewish life in Warsaw

The group was amazed to find a thriving Jewish community in Warsaw, led by a cadre of young innovative leaders who are rejuvenating Poland’s 25,000-strong Jewish community, greatly inspired by the country’s robust pre-war Jewish culture, once the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world. The visit to the recently-opened Museum of the History of Polish Jews, whose largest private donors hail from the Bay area, framed the visit for the GLI fellows, who learned of the millennium of prolific Jewish life and culture in Poland that preceded the horrors of the Holocaust.

From the ashes of the Shoah and years of Communist rule that stifled Jewish life, the group discovered how the Polish Jewish community today is being revitalized with innovative programming, street festivals, and artistic events. Heading this revival is the Warsaw JCC, a grantee of the Federation, whose mission is to facilitate the creation of lively modern Jewish culture in Warsaw.

The SukoTaxi, a creative way the JCC brings Sukkot into the lives of Warsaw Jews

Landing in Israel and its complex reality

After learning what Jewish renewal looks like in Warsaw today, the GLI fellows boarded a plane to Tel Aviv to learn of contemporary Jewish leadership there, just as the current wave of stabbing violence began in Israel. The harsh reality of current events in the Jewish homeland was mediated by the group’s visits with several Federation grantees that are working hard to extract from the despair valuable opportunities that exhibit true leadership.

One such program was encountered with a visit to Juha’s Guesthouse in Jisr az-Zarqa. The hostel was created by two Israeli entrepreneurs – one Arab, the other Jewish – who recognized that this impoverished Arab town on the Mediterranean (not far from the affluent Caesarea) is the perfect place for a backpacker’s hostel. Against all odds, Ahmed Juha and Neta Hanien have worked past their own cultural barriers to model that cooperation is advantageous to all.

Juha's Guesthouse. Photo:

The leadership mission continued with the group’s meeting in Tel Aviv with BINA, the Center for Jewish Identity and Hebrew Culture, another Federation grantee, which exemplifies a current secular Jewish renaissance in Israel. The GLI fellows visited the foreign workers’ neighborhood in south Tel Aviv where BINA is helping to address the educational, welfare and cultural needs of this disadvantaged community.

Global Jewish Leadership

The GLI experience in Poland and Israel highlights the fact that, though we may be geographically and culturally different, we are indeed one connected community, a global family expressing its Jewishness uniquely. These cross-border meetings of leaders are inspiring Israeli, Bay Area and Warsaw Jewish leaders to find fresh, innovative ways to “do Jewish” in the 21st century. The Federation is proud to provide this platform, enabling and connecting Jewish leaders from around the world to be inspired by one another, and supporting vibrant Jewish life that will endure for future generations.

Grand Leadership Institute mission participants with President Shimon Peres

The Grand Leadership Institute is a 15-month program launched by Nancy and Stephen Grand with the goal of bringing a strong cohort of talented individuals together to create a corps of leadership for the Federation’s key positions over the next 5-10 years. For more information, contact either Debbie Berkowitz or Katherine Tick.

Categories: Israel, Overseas


November 09, 2015