Hundreds Convene at ChampionsGate National Leadership Conference Presented by Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future
Hundreds of leaders representing more than 80 Jewish communities descended upon Disney World’s Magic Kingdom by the busload. However, they weren’t at the legendary theme park to meet its famous characters or experience the rides, but for a rare opportunity to take a peek “behind the curtain” and learn from one of the most successful global business operations. The group—in Orlando for the Fifth Annual ChampionsGate National Leadership Conference presented by Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF)—explored best practices and methods utilized by Disney on a private tour provided by the Disney Institute, an authority in leadership training.
The theme of the conference, which ran from July 29 – Aug. 1, was “Tomorrow Begins Today: From ‘Best Practices’ to ‘Next Practices.’” It aimed to inspire participants to collectively adapt innovative and creative approaches to how they address challenges and growth opportunities in their respective communities and organizations.
“At ChampionsGate, we convene as a community of community leaders,” saidRabbi Kenneth Brander, The David Mitzner Dean of the CJF. “It is a celebration of the synergy between the Yeshiva and Jewish communities around the world. Together we have come to the recognition that it is time to no longer focus on the best practices, but rather on the next practices in dealing with these challenges.”
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The conference—made possible with the support of Mindy and Ira Mitzner ’81Y, University Trustee and chair of the CJF advisory council who provided his ChampionsGate resort as the conference venue—has grown from a gathering of 40 in 2006 into a highly anticipated annual event drawing 360 rabbis, lay leaders and Jewish community professionals this year.
“At ChampionsGate, we gather the leaders of our community to take our communal pulse, celebrate our accomplishments, confront our challenges, advance our values, nourish our spirits and rededicate ourselves to the sacred task of building community,” said Yeshiva University President Richard M. Joel. “This was Mindy and Ira’s vision, and they have willed it into reality with their leadership and generosity.”
The program addressed key issues facing the Jewish community and featured University deans, faculty and administrators including Rabbi David Hirsch, rosh yeshiva at RIETS; Suzanne Last Stone, professor of law at the Cardozo School of Law and director of Cardozo’s Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization; Rabbi Edward Reichman, MD, associate professor at the Einstein; and Dr. Efrat Sobolofsky, director of YUConnects.
“Yeshiva University’s desire to be marbitz [spread] Torah U’Madda is not merely theoretical,” said Dr. Rachel Rabinovich, president of Denver Academy of Torah. “Under the leadership of President Joel, YU and the CJF continue to provide their deep resources to further the mission and strengthen the infrastructure of innumerable communities like ours.”
Building on the conference theme of next practices, four leadership forums—Funds, Family, Faith and Future—were designed utilizing new and innovative methodologies to engage and encourage interaction among participants. Each track employed a unique facilitation technique known as “scenario planning”—a process introduced by Royal Dutch Shell and a best practice currently used by multiple Fortune 500 companies.
Dr. Scott Goldberg, director of University-School Partnership at YU’s Azrieli Graduate School, facilitated a forum on “Faith: Infusing Jewish Life and Rituals with Greater Passion and Spirituality” and encouraged participants to interact through Twitter during his forum, demonstrating how technology can be used as an inspirational tool.
Josh Joseph, YU vice president and chief of staff, led a track on “Future: Training and Inspiring the Next Generation of Jewish Community Leaders,” and asked participants for their suggestions on what issues the Orthodox community will face in 2020. The lively forum also featured a video presentation, filmed and edited during the session by Uri Westrich, a former YU presidential fellow.
“Throughout the year, we are involved in ongoing conversations with community leaders,” explained Rabbi Ari Rockoff, director of community partnership at the CJF and conference organizer. “These programs were designed using their feedback.”
Josh Kahane ’01Y, an attorney from Memphis, was excited to have the opportunity “to discuss challenges and strengths” with both professional and lay leadership from across the country. “Living and working in a community on the cusp of real Jewish growth, it is important to strengthen my understanding of the YU philosophical model as we continue to create an identity for our young Modern Orthodox community,” said Kahane.
A highlight for many participants was a thought-provoking and open panel discussion on Shabbat entitled, “Orthodoxy’s Big Tent: Where Do We Put the Stakes?” The diverse panel—moderated by Ira Mitzner—featured President Joel; Rabbi Yona Reiss, The Max and Marion Grill Dean of RIETS; Dr. Karen Bacon, The Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Stern College for Women; Rabbi David Stav, chair of the Tzohar organization in Israel; Gary Rosenblatt; editor and publisher of The Jewish Week of New York; Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, founder of Project Y.E.S.; C.B. Neugroschl, newly appointed head of school at Yeshiva University High School for Girls; and Barry Shrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston.
“Rabbi Brander and President Joel eloquently articulated the challenges facing our generation and the inspired leadership it will take to squarely address them,” said Rabbi Horowitz. “As a member of the Charedi community, I feel that we all face similar challenges and we need to work together to find solutions. I was very proud to be part of this uplifting weekend.”
On the final day of the conference, Rabbi Heshy Glass, head of school at Los Angeles’ YULA High School, reflected on his ChampionsGate experience. “It was great meeting and networking with my counterparts from around the country,” he said, motioning to his peers seated around the breakfast table. “We will definitely be following up with each other throughout the year.”