Charting the Future of Jewish Communities

At ChampionsGate Fall Leadership Conference, Jewish Communal Leaders Gather to Confront Shared Challenges

The Yeshiva University Museum was the setting for the ChampionsGate Fall Leadership Conference on November 8. Yeshiva University’s The Center for the Jewish Future (CJF), convened the conference, which brought together YU faculty, scholars and Roshei Yeshiva, as well as lay leaders and Jewish community professionals, heads of school, and rabbis to address the questions and challenges confronting the Jewish community on both the local and national level.

“YU is home to scholars and experts who struggle daily with confronting the challenges of contemporary society through the prism of Torah values,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, vice president of university and community life at YU. “The ChampionsGate experience synergizes the efforts of YU in building the future of am Yisrael [the Jewish people] with the local and organizational leaders who guide the institutions that support our community.”

Following opening remarks by Chairman of the Yeshiva University Board of Trustees Moshael Straus and ChampionsGate host and Board of Trustees Vice Chairman Ira Mitzner, the sessions split into tracks that addressed three issues. The first was titled “Communal Response to Failures in Leadership: Interface of Rabbinic and Lay Leadership in Confronting the Opportunities and Challenges of Communal Life.” Panelists included Elanit Jakabovics, president of Kesher Israel, The Georgetown Synagogue; YU Vice President for Legal Affairs, Secretary and General Counsel Avi Lauer, and Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought and senior scholar at the CJF; Rabbi Menachem Penner, Max and Marion Grill Dean of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, and Rabbi Ari Synter, director of community initiatives at the CJF. The discussion was moderated by Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, David Mitzner Dean of the CJF.

“YU plays an important role in convening lay and professional leaders from Jewish communities nationally and worldwide to facilitate timely and pressing conversations impacting our communities,” said Lauer. “We live in a complex world and we have to learn to better help one another rather than detract from one another.”

The second track, “Assessing the Orthodox Communal Landscape: Challenges of Inclusion of the Gay and Lesbian Population,” was moderated by Dr. David Pelcovitz, Gwendolyn and Joseph Straus Chair in Psychology and Education at the Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration. “The challenge of inclusion of the gay and lesbian population in the Orthodox community is significant for our entire community. Synagogues, schools, and families are struggling with how to create expectations and policies that are understanding and compassionate, with fidelity to halacha and Torah values,” said Rabbi Brander

RIETS Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Ezra Schwartz, leader of Mount Sinai Jewish Center, and Rabbi Gary Menchel, principal at Yeshivat Har Torah, addressed the challenges faced within the synagogue and school environments, respectively, while Steven Teplitsky reflected on the complex dynamics that can arise within the modern Jewish family and community. Panelists also included Dr. David Pelcovitz and Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz, director of general studies, The Frisch School.

The third presentation, “Beyond the Roadmap: Yeshiva University in the 21st Century,” explored the financial, educational, and religious considerations that will influence YU as it continues to evolve and grow to meet the needs of the Jewish community in the next century. Sessions focused on the University’s academics and student experience; philanthropy and institutional advancement; and strategy and finance.

Presenters included Andrea Hale, director of annual giving in YU’s department of institutional advancement; Seth Moskowitz, vice president for institutional advancement; Suzy Schwartz, assistant vice president for alumni affairs and strategic development; Rabbi Ari Segal, head of school at Shalhevet High School of Los Angeles; and Temimah Zucker ’15W, founder of Tikvah V’Chizuk, an organization that offers support for those struggling with eating disorders in the Jewish community.

“My time at Wurzweiler provided me with the education I needed to enter the field of social work,” said Zucker. “But it did so much more than this. The philanthropy that allowed me to achieve my goals of attending graduate school and to work in the field of my choosing fueled my passion and validated my interests. This is why I felt it of great importance to speak about my experience at ChampionsGate and to show that my current work in the eating disorder field, and specifically in the Jewish community, was fueled not only by my passion and dreams, but also by the support I received at Wurzweiler.”

Yeshiva University’s strategic and fiscal plan was presented at ChampionsGate by Jake Harman, vice president of business affairs and chief financial officer at YU; Rabbi Josh Joseph, senior vice president; and Dr. Paul Oestreicher, executive director of communications and public affairs. In addition, a session on academic programs and student success was presented by Dr. Selma Botman, provost and vice president for academic affairs; Rabbi Brander; and Rabbi Menachem Penner.