Supporting the Modern Jewish Family

At ChampionsGate Leadership Conference, Jewish Communal Leaders Embrace Challenges and Opportunities

From the prevalence of technology and social media in daily life to the difficulties of economic stress and changing social norms, many forces in modern society threaten to tear the traditional family unit apart. For Modern Orthodox families, the pressure can be even more acute, as they attempt to balance their spiritual commitment to a Torah lifestyle with active roles in the wider world.

To help communal leadership guide families through these and other challenges, Yeshiva University’s ChampionsGate Leadership Conference focused on “The Jewish Family: The Foundation and Pride of Our People.” The conference took place in Orlando, Florida, from July 28 to 31 and was organized by the Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) with support from the Mitzner Family and Drs. Mordecai and Monique Katz.

At ChampionsGate, YU faculty and professionals collaborated with lay leaders and others from 31 communities in the United States and five countries around the world to dig into the challenges facing Jewish families and communities today. Rabbi Yaakov Glasser, the David Mitzner Dean of the CJF and one of the conference’s organizers, called it “the cross-pollinating of perspectives.”

“ChampionsGate is the opportunity for Yeshiva University to help inspire the community and for us to learn from the community what is next, what are the opportunities out there and what are the challenges out there,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, vice president of university and community life at YU.

The conference opened with a symposium that went straight to the heart of the matter: “Then and Now: How Have Changes in Society Impacted Community, Parenting and Relationships?” and a keynote speech, “It Takes a Village: The Intersection of Family and Community,” from Rachelle Fraenkel. “To me, it’s all about family,” she said. “What faces us is this: families are a protected environment, not only with physical walls but also walls of love. In the face of everything that pushes against those walls, we have to say, ‘No, this is our home, our home is a protected place, it’s a place where we decide what is seen and what is done.’ If we don’t do that, we will lose what is most precious to us.”

Many echoed Fraenkel’s concern for the health and well-being of the Modern Orthodox family. “It’s important to make sure the family is a strong base and core,” said Talia Molotsky, a recent graduate of Stern College for Women who will be attending the Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Study in the fall. Ira Mitzner, vice chairman of the YU Board of Trustees, agreed completely: “Family is at the core of the teaching of our mesorah, our heritage.”

The main attraction of every ChampionsGate is the roster of interactive workshops. This year, workshops were organized along three tracks – relationships, parenting and community. Each workshop had a short panel discussion followed by group work centered on developing actionable solutions. “Relationships” looked into how the institution of marriage, arranged or not, was responding to cultural pressures. “Parenting” took on technology, children who leave Torah observance and acceptance of gay and lesbian members within Judaism. “Community” examined the connections between millennials and synagogues, how materialism tests Jewish values and procedures for keeping children safe.

For communal leaders around the world, it was an incredible opportunity to connect to and learn from each other. Rabbi Paul Lewin, who came to ChampionsGate from Sydney, Australia, was awed by the chance “to mix with the Who’s Who of world Jewry.” “It’s an honor to learn from the ‘greats’, the gedolim, of the Jewish world today,” agreed Rabbi Daniel Friedman from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Participants also had the opportunity to have individual consultations with leading professionals on such topics as community-building strategies, board development and legal counsel, addressing mental health issues and management for Jewish organizations.

“The reaction and feedback has been remarkable,” said Rabbi Glasser. “People felt a sense of warmth, of belonging, of elevation, of aspiration. The coalescence of so many different types of people, the energy, the ruach [spirit], the singing, the learning, the growing – it was just an incredible, incredible weekend.”