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Bringing a Kehilla Together

Hundreds of Community Leaders Gather to Share Ideas and Inspiration at Annual ChampionsGate Conference

More than 350 rabbinic, educational and lay leaders from 73 communities across North America and around the globe came together for Yeshiva University’s Eighth Annual ChampionsGate National Leadership Conference held in Orlando, Fla., July 25-28.

View pictures from the event here.

This year’s theme, “Kehilla: What We Bring to It,” explored the broader narrative of community, inviting participants to journey through four separate realms of communal leadership as they gained practical tools and fostered new collaborative partnerships to address pressing issues facing their communities at home and Orthodox Judaism as a whole.

“The future of our community is dependent on our commitment to Torah values and gifted leadership who support those values throughout our community,” said YU President Richard M. Joel. “For four days at a mythical place called ChampionsGate, that existed with great celebration.”

Presented by YU’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), ChampionsGate has grown from a gathering of 40 lay leaders in 2005 into a major event involving dozens of prominent leaders from the Orthodox world. Its creation and growth were made possible by the vision and support of Mindy and Ira Mitzner ‘81YC, vice chair of the University Board of Trustees and chair of the CJF advisory council.

“Bringing together faculty, roshei yeshiva, senior administrators and YU trustees to engage with lay leaders and rabbis from across North America allows us to convene the resources and energies of Yeshiva University to help strengthen communities around the Jewish world,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, David Mitzner Dean of the CJF and YU vice president of university and community life. “The ChampionsGate conference is a transformational experience for all involved.”

This year’s conference offered insightful sessions and group discussions about how to incorporate Skills, Knowledge, Inspiration and Networking to become more effective community leaders—how to have “SKIN” in the game. The Knowledge category included “The Intersection of Earning and Giving: A Roundtable Discussion on Economic Trends and the Dynamic of Philanthropy,” a panel discussion with Dr. David Magerman, founder of the Kohelet Foundation; Evelyn Stavsky, a managing director and global head of structured lending at Citigroup; and Morry Weiss, a past chairman of YU’s Board of Trustees and CEO at American Greetings. The panel was moderated by Dr. James Kahn, the Henry and Bertha Kressel Professor of Economics and chair of the Economics Department at YU and featured closing remarks from Dan Forman, YU’s vice president for institutional advancement.

A conversation over Shabbat, “Kehilla: What We Bring to It,” wove the conference’s diverse strands together into a unified theme, with participants including  President Joel; Rabbi Leonard Matanky, dean of Chicago’s Ida Crown Jewish Academy, spiritual leader of Congregation K.I.N.S. of West Rogers Park and president of the Rabbinical Council of America ; Barry Shrage, president of Boston’s Combined Jewish Philanthropies; Laura Goldman, of counsel at Barnett Sivon and Natter; and Debbie Isaac, president of AMIT.

Other sessions ranged in topic from “Current Trends in Keeping Our Schools and Shuls Safe,” by Leora Joseph, chief deputy district attorney handing the special victims unit in Denver, Colorado, to “60 Ideas in 60 Minutes” from Dr. Jim Cain, a team-building guru and author of 12 books.

This year, for the first time, conference participants won’t be the only ones to benefit from the breadth of experience and expertise shared at ChampionsGate. Select presentations shared at the conference were filmed and will be made available publicly as the next round of ELI Talks, 12-minute TED-style presentations that seek to share innovative and thought-provoking Jewish content, presented in partnership with the AVI CHAI Foundation. Those lectures included, “Complex, Not Complicated: Designing Dynamic Learning Systems” by Dr. Scott Goldberg, director of the YU Institute for University-School Partnership; “Jewish Perspectives on Happiness” by Dr. David Pelcovitz, the Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Chair in Jewish Education at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration; and “Being in the Business of Tikun Olam” by Anita Zucker, CEO of the InterTech Group.

“I was very intrigued by the notion of ELI Talks coming to ChampionsGate,” said Ed Stelzer ’90YC, an attorney from Teaneck, NJ. “It was exciting to see thoughtful Jewish leaders presenting their ideas and scholarship in this format. I am a big fan of the TED Talks and I appreciate that YU and the AviChai Foundation have taken this step of making these important messages available at the conference and later for the world to see online.”

The ChampionsGate Conference marked the beginning of the program year for the University’s leadership incubator, the Presidential Fellowship in University and Community Leadership, led by Rabbi Josh Joseph, YU senior vice president and chief of staff. At the conference, new Fellows had the chance to meet with lay leaders from across North America who will mentor them individually throughout the year. Additionally, six rabbinical students and their spouses attended the conference to learn more about the assorted challenges and strengths of a wide variety of Jewish communities in preparation for their own future leadership roles.

For Marjorie Robinow, of Overland Park, Kans., attending the conference with her husband for the fourth time, this year’s theme really hit home. “Kansas is a small community,” she said. “Living here is all about kehilla [community]. New York City is far away to us—I’m hoping to develop stronger bonds with YU, a process that has already started with the summer internship program in our community, and create more opportunities for intellectual and career-based interchange.”

“The energy and potential here is palpable, and I look forward to it all year,” said Aryeh Goldberg ’01SB, director of corporate strategy at SnF Management Company in Los Angeles, Calif. “I was excited to experience the ELI Talks and hear Dr. Goldberg elaborate on a thoughtful paradigm for impactful Jewish education.”

It was the third year at ChampionsGate for Rabbi Barry Kislowicz ’99YC, ’04R, head of the Fuchs Mizrachi School in Cleveland, OH, who has found that he takes not only inspiration and new ideas from the conference home to his community, but often people he has met there as well. “Rabbi Meir Solovechik, Dr. David Pelcovitz—I heard these people speak at ChampionsGate in past years and knew my community had to hear them too, so we brought them in for a Shabbaton,” he said. “I also found out about the YU Institute for University-School Partnership’s new teacher induction program here, which is something we implemented this year. YU is taking on this role as the keystone of modern Orthodox communities across America and bringing them together in a way that no else can.”

Dr. Jason Ohayon ’89YC, a consultant in allergies and pediatrics and assistant clinical professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, enjoyed the conference because of the opportunity it gave him to reconnect with the YU community and form new friendships with others. “YU is integral to the education, preparation and establishment of leaders for our generation who can teach communities how to proudly couple Torah with any lifestyle, whether it’s in the professional or business world, as a teenager or as an adult, whether you’re young and old—it’s not only for shul on Shabbat or the holidays, but a part of your daily life,” he said. “I’m hoping to bring home with me passion, love and excitement about how Torah Umadda, Yeshiva University and its leaders can help support my community as it grows and inspire our children to feel proud of living a true Torah lifestyle.”