Jul 28, 2008 — “A great shared journey” is how President Richard M. Joel described the extraordinary experience at the ChampionsGate III National Leadership Conference held in Orlando, FL from July 20-22. The theme of the gathering, which was convened by Yeshiva University’s Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) and sponsored by the Legacy Heritage Rabbinic Enrichment Initiative, was shleimut, completeness. The ChampionsGate conference was a vehicle to build consensus among the leadership of Orthodoxy – rabbis, lay leaders, and Jewish community professionals.
“We have a wonderful opportunity to bring our people together,” said President Joel. “We have to strive as individuals to think about who we want to be in order to have a common sense of identification.”
The excitement and sense of shared purpose was palpable among the 220 lay leaders and professionals from 37 communities around the country, including the co-founder of Tzohar, an organization of 500 rabbis from communities across Israel. Ira Mitzner, YC ’81, hosted the conference.
“Our objective was to strengthen an emerging network of passionate and committed leaders who understand how to leverage the efforts of one another and partner effectively to realize communal goals,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of CJF. “We want to inspire and provoke substantive dialogue, reach consensus on the issues that we can impact, and create working plans that will enable rabbis, lay leaders, and YU professional to enrich Jewish life.”
The program featured deans, faculty, and administrators of YU including Dr. Karen Bacon, The Dr. Monique C. Katz Dean of Stern College for Women; Dr. David Schnall, dean of Azrieli Graduate School of Jewish Education and Administration; Rabbi Yona Reiss, dean of Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), and Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought and Senior Scholar at CJF, who opened the conference with a lecture on “Models of Redemption and Contemporary Jewish Life.”
“This conference is extremely important to perpetuate our core values and ideas for the future of Orthodox Jewry,” said Barry Shrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston. “We can’t live in isolation. The leadership and collaborative spirit that President Joel has engendered, and that Rabbi Brander has helped shape through CJF, provides an opportunity for lay leaders to share ideas and experiences that will help secure the future of Modern Orthodoxy.”
Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, spiritual leader of Boca Raton Synagogue, called ChampionsGate III “a remarkable opportunity to connect with Jewish leaders from across the country,” a sentiment that seemed to pervade the proceedings. “Together we can create an energy and spirit that will propel the Jewish community forward,” Rabbi Goldberg said. “President Joel’s vision and passion are contagious. Although I graduated from YU many years ago, it continues to inform, educate, and inspire me and my community through the incredible conferences and resources it provides.”
The topics covered during the course of the conference touched on issues of primary concern to Jewish communities throughout the country in an effort to determine how to be effective communal leaders. The plenary sessions addressed topics such as core values in a Torah U’Madda community, future leaders, and modeling healthy leadership collaboration.
The final plenary, which tackled the crisis of tuition in Jewish education, drew the most attention and intense discussion. Rabbi Josh Elkin, executive director of the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education (PEJE), and Yossi Prager, YC ’86, North American director of the AVI CHAI Foundation, presented an overview of Federation and community initiatives and government funding to assist families in coping with tuition costs. They also offered honest and practical alternative sources of revenue to defray soaring tuition fees.
“ChampionsGate III was a perfectly executed conference to continue President Joel’s vision for the Jewish future,” noted Andrew Groveman, president of the Memphis Jewish High School. “His vision in bringing together top leadership from 35 different communities that included lay leaders, day school leaders, and rabbis to discuss topics affecting our schools, our local communities, and the Jewish people was relevant and inspiring.”