YU’s annual ChampionsGate leadership conference is celebrating its seventh year, and the theme, fittingly, is “Shmitta: Reflection, Celebration, and Renewal.” The conference, which took place from August 2-5, featured conversations focused on renewal and rejuvenation for the vital lay and communal leaders, noted educators, scholars, and invested members of the Jewish community who gathered together to discuss the most pressing challenges facing Modern Orthodox leadership today.

Rabbi Ari Rockoff, director of the Department of Community Partnership for
the CJF, noted, “The notion of shmitta, our theme for this year’s ChampionsGate conference, is built into the Jewish cycle, and the idea behind it is to take a step back and reflect on what we, as a broader community, have accomplished so far. It’s not so much about the issues we’ve dealt with but how we’ve dealt with them, and that’s a unique view that we haven’t ever really taken before. It is also an opportunity to refresh our own perspectives as we continue to mature and work together for a greater future, and look ahead to our next seven years.”

Jewish community leader Amy Katz ’76S, executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), agreed with Rabbi Rockoff about the need to assess the past. “Our commitment to the work we do and the organizations and causes we serve often overcomes our need to step back, reflect, balance, and rejuvenate,” remarked Katz. “ChampionsGate VII offered us just that opportunity. Tal Ben Shachar’s opening presentation introduced us to the elements of positive psychology and enabled us to walk away with concrete ways in which we can actualize and integrate change in our lives.”

As always, YU scholars and speakers helped inform and educate those in attendance. They included President Richard Joel; Rabbi Kenneth Brander, the David Mitzner Dean of the CJF; Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik, director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought; Mrs. Nechama Price, instructor in Jewish Studies and Bible at YU’s Stern College for Women; and other outstanding presenters.

Aryeh Goldberg ’01SB, who flew in from LA to participate in ChampionsGate, serves on the Regional Council of Los Angeles, an Alumni Affairs initiative to engage local YU graduates, and on Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s advisory council for the CJF. He declared, “It was an amazingly powerful experience to be surrounded by over 400 lay leaders from around the world who care passionately about the future of the Jewish people, and who work tirelessly in their communities to secure and enhance that future. This year’s Shmitta theme was a poignant one in that we took a moment to celebrate each other, reinvigorate ourselves, and collectively leave Championsgate with a renewed sense of the possible. We learned about remembering to focus on our families as that is some of the greatest community work of all; we challenged pre-conceived notions of the definition of Modern Orthodoxy in an effort to be prepared to strengthen our communities; and we had fun while meeting each other and sharing experiences.”

As Katz summed it up, “Our kids have Shabbatonim and summer camp; we have ChampionsGate!”

This year’s conference was held at  the Orlando Hilton, thanks to YU Trustee Ira Mitzner ’81YC and his wife Mindy who have generously been donating use of their facilities since ChampionsGate began seven years ago.


Leave a Reply