During the weekend of April 8-10, 2016, 50 young students and professionals gathered together in the scenic Marin Country coast of San Francisco for the first ever leadership seminar of the WZO and I was privileged to be one of them. The seminar was created in partnership with many other key organizations within the Jewish-Israel world like the Israeli Consulate, ZOA, IAC-Mishelanu, JNF, Jewish Agency and others.

Unlike many other seminars I have attended which focused on advocacy the WZO seminar’s goal was to provide us with the foundation to be those advocates and leaders. The sessions and workshops provided us with invaluable tools to strengthen and enhance our connection to our heritage, our homeland, and ourselves.

The participants and staff came from all walks of life and served as a melting pot of Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform Jews. As an Orthodox Jew who spends most of her time with those of the same background, it was a new and unique experience for me to be spending a weekend learning and being open to others different than me. Ultimately our passion and dedication to Israel and the Jewish people brought us together and it was an incredible feeling to come together in such an open and accepting environment.

Opening up Shabbat was the WZO’s new program called LSD. No, it’s not what you think, but it is quite catchy. LSD – let’s start davening, is an amazing new way for Jews of all affiliations to come together to pray and celebrate their heritage and roots through music and dance bringing Shabbat together as one people and one united body. LSD has been spreading and bringing Shabbat through out many communities of North America and has given many people who never thought they would be excited to pray with a new enthusiasm and desire for connection to G-d.

We were honored with the presence of Dr. Simcha Leibovich, the North American representative of the WZO, whom I was able to learn so much from and look forward to working with in the many years to come.

An especially memorable moment from the weekend with Simcha was during his personal leadership and development session. He asked us to envision someone who greatly touched us and played a significant role in our lives. Participants spoke beautifully about their family members, teachers, and friends who impacted them tremendously, making it a very effective workshop that we all gained inspiration from. Simcha taught us about the two kinds of transactional vs. transformational leaders. A transactional leader is someone who leads mainly by focusing on what is happening in the present and ensuring everything flows smoothly today, while a transformational leader looks at the present and prioritizes how to ensure success for the future through team-building, motivation and collaboration. Examples of King David and the prophet Nathan helped us best connect to this idea of becoming transformational leaders and helping others step up to the plate as well.

Additionally, we hosted many diverse outside speakers who illustrated the power of teamwork and collaboration in leadership. The Connected Wisdom team showed us the power of active collaboration and listening through their method of the Circle. I had participated in one other workshop with the Connected Wisdom team back in November at Mishelanu’s New York retreat and was excited to get back on the bandwagon. There were six rules to the Circle we were in which were meant to help us conduct discussions in an organized way so everyone could be heard and encouraged to express their thoughts and ideas freely. Each group had a speaking object and only the holder of the object was permitted to speak, while those around actively listened and later gave constructive support and feedback. We discussed our motivations and role models and how we believe we can overcome the great challenges in our lives as Jewish leaders. Although the others in my Circle had different challenges and diverse realities than me I gained a lot of insight and strength from hearing their strategies and priorities, which will very much benefit my leadership in the future. After the session I was even able to give a testimony of my experience with the Circle on the shores of the Pacific and am excited for it to be published to share!

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Ravit Baer, the current Deputy Consul General of Israel in the Pacific Northwest, conducted a laid back conversation with us about Israel’s role in North America, life for women in Israel and career opportunities, and her own journey to diplomacy. As a women striving for a career in diplomacy and a former intern of the Israeli Consulate it was extremely special for me to get to know Ravit and ask her questions that could be of guidance in the future.

When I started IAC Mishelanu I never thought I would be given the opportunities I have been given to further my goals and brighten my future like I have. As part of the IAC, which was also a key sponsor the seminar, Mishelanu students were sent to be a part of this transformative weekend and fostered the incredible and continued partnership through the IAC and WZO. As my graduation comes closer (five weeks to go!) I am in awe of all the skills and experiences I have the pleasure of being a part of and look forward to the new generation of leadership that is upon us.

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Thank you to Rotem Malach and the entire WZO staff for an incredible weekend!