ORT plays key role in developing young leaders in their communities


JFNA – Jewish Changemakers Fellowship Program

World ORT is playing a key role in a new program organized by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). The Jewish Changemakers Fellowship Program is an online leadership experience that targets Jewish students and recent graduates aged 20-25. Sessions are conducted online and aim to enhance participants’ career development, networking skills and ability to make a difference to their Jewish communities and to world Jewry.

Activities are led by mentors who are volunteers from Jewish communities across the US and abroad, who provide guidance, insight and encouragement to students and young professionals just entering the workforce. Mentors meet with their fellows, or “Changemakers”, for three online sessions lasting two hours each where they share their professional, volunteer and philanthropic wisdom and experience. Each mentor is matched with three to five fellows who are assigned to them based on shared interest.

As well as the mentorship sessions, participants were also supported by coaches who they met with several times a week, undertaking formal instruction almost on a daily basis and participating in informal breakout sessions every day – which helped to strengthen and develop the next generation of Jewish leaders.

ORT provided three out of the 10 mentors at the inaugural round of sessions, which were held from July 6th-24th 2020. The three ORT mentors were:

  • Leandro Margulis from ORT America
  • Brad Kolar from ORT America
  • Jimmy Salinas from ORT Mexico

Each mentor led their fellows in discussions based around the themes of career development, serving their local Jewish community and aiding the global Jewish community.

“The program really resonated with me, and I thought sharing my experiences would be useful to my fellows,” said Leandro. An ORT graduate from Buenos Aires, Argentina, Leandro is currently working in the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley. “The world is going through a period of crisis right now with the Coronavirus. I have been in similar situations myself – there is a crisis situation in Argentina every 10 years or so – so I thought my experience and wisdom could come in handy for Jewish young professionals in the United States.”

Leandro said that while growing up in the ORT school in Buenos Aires he didn’t realize that it was part of a larger “ORT family” until he was asked to represent the school for visiting ORT America delegations. He first became involved with ORT America when he moved to Miami. “ORT helped me become part of the Jewish community. Wherever I moved in the US – Miami, Cleveland and now San Francisco, I became involved with ORT and ORT became my Jewish community. ORT is really the gift that keeps on giving – the more I give to ORT the more I get back in return.

“The more I give to ORT the more I get back in return”
JFNA mentor Leandro Margulis

“The Jewish Changemakers program is a great way to share ideas, to have a conversation and to give young professionals actionable ideas for the future. It helps them to help themselves and to give back to their Jewish communities.”

Leandro explained that as a program mentor he didn’t see himself as a lecturer, but more of a facilitator or a coach leading a conversation. “I was like an advisor, helping everyone bounce ideas off each other. I hope that I was able to give my fellows a different perspective. I am not a JFNA employee or a Jewish professional – hopefully my background in Argentina gave a global perspective rather than a solely Jewish professional perspective.

“It was rewarding to give something to my fellows but also for me to learn from them. I wish that I had been able to participate in a program like this when I was younger. JFNA has already asked me to participate in the next round of sessions later this month. I encourage others to join the program as well – they will learn a lot and feel great about themselves.”

Phoebe was one of Leandro’s fellows on the Changemakers program. “It was a great program,” she said. “I really enjoyed it. The speakers were amazing and the topics were clear and useful. Our mentors made it very interactive even though we were on Zoom. I learned a lot and made a lot of connections both inside and outside the group.”

“Anyone can be a changemaker, anyone can make a difference”
JFNA fellow Phoebe

Phoebe explained that she graduated from university two years ago after earning her degree in Event Management and Hospitality. She started working for an event management company but was furloughed soon after the Covid crisis began. “I saw the JFNA program advertised on social media and it sounded interesting to me so I joined up. “I’ve always been involved in the Jewish community – I went on Birthright, I lived in a Moshe House, I was active in Hillel at university, I was involved in a leadership program at the Miami Jewish Federation. Since I wasn’t working now and had extra time on my hands, I thought the program would be a good way to stay involved Jewishly.

“The program taught me a lot about myself, my values, and what is important when it comes to being a leader and making a change. Our mentors gave us lots of resources to help us become more involved in the community and taught us that anyone can be a changemaker, anyone can make a difference. The program opened my eyes to the diversity of the Jewish community and inspired me to increase my volunteerism. Since the program ended I have volunteered with my Jewish federation, I have delivered hurricane aid packages to elderly members of the community, I volunteered for a kosher food drive for people who were suffering economically because of Covid. I also signed up to the ‘Gift of Life’, which helps to match people for bone marrow transplants. Changemakers introduced us to amazing opportunities to become involved and to use our skills to benefit the community.

“The fellows were from all over the United States, Mexico, Canada, and Brazil. There were Jews from rural areas, Jews from small towns and Jews from big cities. The program showed me that there all sorts of Jews in the world and it was very interesting for me to learn about their different backgrounds and to hear their stories. I thought Leandro was incredible. “He told us his story and about his career path and background. Then we talked about our own goals and what we hoped to achieve in our careers. Leandro really made an effort to remember what we spoke about and to engage with us. I thought what he did for us was amazing. The program helped me to realize my values, my passions and my priorities, especially now that the world is in crisis. It taught me the value of involvement – helping others and helping the community. I am thankful that I am fortunate enough to be able to do this.

“Leandro did a great job of connecting us. I am now in touch with him on LinkedIn and he even sent my resume around to some prospective employers. I know that I can always reach out to him if I need to. He is very open to his fellows to reach out to him. I was very lucky to have him as my mentor.”

Brad Kolar grew up with ORT. “My mom was an ‘ORT lady’ – she was involved with ORT in Chicago since I was a boy – and now I am proud to be an ‘ORT man’.” Currently a member of the Chicago Advisory Board of ORT America and the ORT America National Executive Committee, Brad was approached to become involved with the JFNA Changemakers program by the new ORT America CEO Barbara Birch and jumped at the chance. “I wanted to re-engage with the Jewish community and with its young people. I do leadership consulting professionally, and I always get people telling me that they wish they had done leadership training earlier. So I was glad to be given an opportunity to help out young people early in their careers.

“Our Jewish future is in good hands”
JFNA mentor Brad Kolar

“It’s been interesting and fun. I am amazed at the program. It is just as good – or better – than any professional corporate development program. It’s really impressive and I give my kudos to JFNA for organizing it. The people they bring in are great – business leaders, politicians, high-caliber writers. The content is great as well and the speakers are perfectly matched for the content. Everything is taught through the prism of Jewish values.

“I had five fellows. I was able to help them make connections in their field and l will keep in touch with several of them. The mentoring sessions are very free-flowing – they are not lectures but conversations. We talked a lot about leadership, activism and social transformation – how to create change both for yourself and your community. I talked about my own core Jewish values and how I try to live by them. I also tried to provide my fellows with resources that they could use for further exploration – I was more of a resource-provider than a lecturer or teacher.”

Brad explained that the fellows are all in different places in their development and want to get different things out of the program. Thus some of what he did was very targeted, like advising some of them how to prepare for job interviews. “I saw my role as three-fold: providing resources, advice and reflection. “The program gives fellows great connections in the larger, professional world – both Jewish and otherwise. They really become the Jewish leaders of the future.

“We’re living in crazy times right now, but I came out of the program convinced that our Jewish future is in good hands. It felt good to help strengthen the Jewish community and shape its future.”

Ava, a Changemaker fellow and Brad’s mentee, explains how she has benefited from the experience:

“One of the most beneficial parts of the program was meeting with my mentor, Brad, once a week. Brad helped me debunk my preconceived notions of what it meant to be a leader, and inspired our group to look at leadership from all angles. He provided us with great resources both during sessions and throughout the week and wanted to help each of us achieve our career aspirations. For me, this looked like putting me in touch with his friend who works in the organizational change world and thanks to Brad, she and I have a monthly call set up as she has great advice for the field I am venturing into. Brad leads with kindness and curiosity and created a space where our group could connect, ask questions, and grow together.

“The program helped me see that little gestures and actions can make a difference and to become a leader who leads next to people not in front of or above. The program affirmed the importance of personal and communal values. The structure of it, working from within one’s self to without into the community amplified the idea that I need to take care of myself and know who I am to be able to be a better member of my community.”