By Pamela Partridge, JFSA Digital Communications Manager
This past spring, just as I started as the new Digital Communications Manager for Federation, I joined the Yesod Jewish Leadership Course organized by the Young Adult Division (YAD) of the Jewish Federation. This course comprised of a cohort of young Jewish professionals in the San Antonio community and was led by Rabbi David Komerofsky, previously of Temple Chai. Throughout the eight-week course, we watched TED talks, read articles on leadership in business, looked at case studies, and analyzed various texts. Each two-hour session had a specific theme and at some point, we would split into Zoom breakout rooms for smaller discussions before wrapping up together.
I saw this course more as an opportunity to meet other young adults in the community, rather than learning more leadership skills. I had just come from working in the Hillel world for the past 3 years, where I mentored students, staffed a couple of Taglit Birthright trips, attended numerous professional development conferences, and helped make big changes in my organization. Needless to say, I was fairly confident in my capabilities as a leader.
However, throughout the Yesod course, I started to realize that I never actually thought of myself as a “Jewish leader”. Instead, I always called myself a “leader who is Jewish”. And while those statements may seem similar, they have entirely different meanings and connotations. In my mind, a “Jewish leader” is someone who always has some back-pocket Torah ready to share. A Jewish leader went to summer camp and is well connected in their community. A Jewish leader knows the long version of the kiddush…and probably doesn’t refer to it as the “long version”.
As I continued each week, logging onto Zoom and listening to Rabbi Komerofsky’s incredible “dad jokes”, I began to think about why I separated Judaism and leadership. I realized I held both identities individually because I never fully understood how to apply Jewish values and texts to my leadership style. Judaism never seeped into my decisions as a leader, and my leadership skills never changed how I live my life as a Jew. Slowly over the eight weeks, I was able to see that these identities should influence and interact with one another. That the Jack Welch article and Numbers 13: 17-33 can connect and the lessons that are extrapolated can be used to guide how to have a difficult conversation at work. At the end of the course, I had a new perspective on how to approach my new position here at Federation. I thought about the texts and lessons together and saw myself not as a leader who happens to be Jewish, but for the first time as a Jewish leader.
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