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Jewish Non-Profit Leadership Institute (JNLI)

Custom & Craft
Los Angeles, California United States
Leadership team

Eileen Levinson, Founder & Creative Director
Wendy Jackler, Program Manager

Organization website
In collaboration with

The Jewish Nonprofit Leadership Institute (JNLI) collaborates with 11 local Jewish communal organizations in Cincinnati. They are: Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, Mayerson JCC, Jewish Family Service, The Center for Holocaust and Humanity Education, Camp Livingston, JVS Career Services, Cincinnati Hillel, Halom House, American Jewish Committee, Rockwern Academy, and The Jewish Foundation of Cincinnati.

Prize category
1 – 3 years
Target audience
Jewish Professionals
Leadership Development

JNLI brings mid-level professionals across the Jewish community together to develop leadership skills and enhance their capacity to excel in their respective positions. Jewish texts and values are weaved into every leadership discussion. To date, there have been two cohorts of 50 emergent leaders from 11 Jewish organizations, with the third cohort beginning in Fall 2016. Administered by the Jewish Federation, JNLI is the first course of its kind on a local, community level and is the start of a community-wide talent management initiative to address the Jewish communal leadership shortage and the needs of professionals and volunteer leaders.

What Jewish wisdom do you use in your work?

Jewish wisdom is explored in JNLI through Biblical, Talmudic, Hasidic and modern Jewish texts which expose participants to the complex, nuanced and multifaceted approaches of Jewish wisdom. The specific texts are identified for their capacity to create meaningful debate within the classroom setting and to enrich the contemplation of the issues Jewish professional leaders face. Through text study, group analysis and open discussion, participants deepen their appreciation for the “Jewish aspects” of their work and gain greater insights into their own leadership styles.

Two examples are:
1. JNLI participants learn that the dynamics that drive us can be understood through the lens of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s reading of the “two Adams” of the Book of Genesis. As described by author David Brooks, our results-driven society rewards the material success of the “Adam 1” self and often ignores the development of the more transformative, humble, emotionally intelligent “Adam 2” self. JNLI is a deliberate effort to teach “Adam 1” achievers how to cultivate and harness the power of their emotionally intelligent “Adam 2” selves. The result is the admirable leadership quality that any room full of Jewish professionals can recognize, but few can achieve. It’s what business consultant Jim Collins calls “Level 5 Leadership: the paradoxical combination of personal humility and professional will.”

2. JNLI participants learn about Emotional Intelligence leadership styles and about being a successful team player and a manager through the lens of the "Mussar Movement.” The Mussar (from the book of Proverbs 1:2 meaning moral conduct, instruction or discipline) movement is a Jewish ethical, educational and cultural movement that developed in the 19th century in Lithuania, particularly among Orthodox Lithuanian Jews.

How does your program work to make that wisdom accessible and directly applicable to your audience's lives?

The JNLI curriculum is uniquely designed and executed by Arna Poupko Fisher, national lecturer, Wexner Scholar, former full time scholar in residence of the Montreal Federation and a University of Cincinnati Judaic Studies professor, and Tom Monaco, Educational Leadership PhD and executive coach. These two dynamic educators prove to be the perfect complements to one another, both in terms of their teaching styles and the content of their lessons. Monaco leads participants through exercises that help assess personal strengths and leadership competencies, and identify personal core values, and mission and vision statements. With the support of supplemental readings, he provides researched and vetted methods for change and improvement. Fisher’s lessons are rich and poetic. They involve the exploration of leadership principles through ancient Jewish texts, proving that emotionally intelligent leadership is not a new idea, and that people have been trying to learn and master it since the composition of the Hebrew Bible. The course also features monthly coaching sessions in which smaller groups share a confidential, safe space for critique and personal growth. Outside of the classroom and post-graduation, there are ongoing opportunities for learning, team building and collaboration, such as agency site visits, retreats and lunch and learns. This provides a space for participants to expand on the insights and knowledge gained through the course.

The goal of this program is to build strong leaders, and Jewish wisdom provides additional content and resources to every topic and issue. Jewish text serves and supports the leadership content, and participants, both Jewish and non-Jewish, quickly see the value in Jewish sources. With each topic, participants explore relevant text that uncovers what exists in Judaism to deepen and broaden the subject.

The format for learning is interactive, and Jewish texts are explored in a group or chavruta (one on one) setting, with content chosen for its accessibility to everyone, irrespective of religious affiliation, knowledge of Judaism or professional position. The texts are intentionally chosen to complement each topic with unique insights and complexities that encourage engagement and discussion. The facilitator invites all ideas and opinions and creates a welcoming space for learning.

Through this process, participants learn to appreciate a multitude of interpretations and the variety of applications for their work. Participants learn that Torah study can connect to any agency and all moral, ethical and legal dilemmas. This study allows professionals in the Jewish community to consider serious issues in a deeper way, steeped in values.

What impact has your program had on your participants?

Graduates of JNLI see Jewish tradition and text as resources for their work. Graduates are using the language of JNLI in their agencies and across our community. Here are a few examples of how JNLI has made an impact:

• ”I notice the impact of JNLI in my work and in my personal life. I’ve come a long way since the not-so-distant days of sacrificing everything for the sake of immediate productivity. I’m a more strategic thinker. I’m a more generous listener. I’m a more resonant leader. And it’s because I’ve been given the tools to re-train myself.”

• “Social Work values guide our work with Jewish Family Service clients. Our clients’ values guide their lives. It is imperative for us to understand Jewish values, traditions and wisdoms when working in the Jewish community and serving the Jewish people in need. The Jewish teachings of JNLI helped us to have a greater depth of knowledge to understand and relate to our Jewish clients and even our Jewish colleagues. The JNLI presenters connected Jewish values to the leadership materials. Doing this brought a more multifaceted and progressive understanding that is valuable in working within a Jewish community and a Jewish communal agency system. This is extremely valuable, especially to those of us from other faith traditions.”

• “The incorporation of Jewish wisdom into the JNLI curriculum was not only fun but impacted my work in overseeing the Jewish Federation’s annual campaign allocations process with over 90 volunteer leaders. As part of our learning about management styles and techniques, we studied parsha Yitro in the book of Exodus—specifically the section when Jethro gives Moses counsel regarding delegation of authority. This was not only impactful on me personally, but I have now “paid it forward” to many lay leaders in helping them develop their leadership skill-set.”

What have you learned about applied Jewish wisdom that contributes to your success?

Through the study of Jewish text, we have learned how servant leadership is truly part of our history and culture. By reflecting on some of the greatest leaders, we also have learned the value of belonging to a community, the importance of supporting each other, the need to listen before speaking, the importance of life balance, the recognition of individual strengths as they influence the team, and how Jewish values drive the missions of our organizations. The modern theories of leadership development (whether from Five Dysfunctions of a Team, or From Good to Great) reflect basic Jewish values and Jewish thought.