NYLC Toronto Retreat 2019


Each year, The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) hosts a week-long retreat to bring together National Young Leadership Cabinet (NYLC) members from across the system. This 5-year (formerly 6-year) premier leadership and philanthropic program recruits the best of the best in young leadership and, each summer, Retreat kicks off its curriculum and makes some big announcements for the upcoming year.

This year’s Retreat in Toronto brought together 238 Cabinet members from 48 communities —the largest participation in more than a decade. Our local Los Angeles community was thrilled to have six (of 11) cabinet members participate; three first years (Eden Cohen, Tamara Kagel and Dylan Lewis), one third year (Leslie Ross), and two fourth years (Robin Polansky and Marisa Polin). They also ran parallel training for 22 Young Leadership & Next Gen Engagement Professionals from 21 Federations, including Alexi Baker, the Los Angeles professional who oversees Cabinet.

Retreat faculty included 20 educators, trainers, and leadership development experts who have been working closely with the JFNA National Young Leadership Team to deliver the core courses and electives tied to Cabinet’s new curriculum and learning outcomes. In addition to content facilitated by the faculty, many sessions were led by Cabinet members themselves, sharing projects and practices from their local Federation communities.

Each class-year has its own focused content, including the following course highlights:

First YearsUnderstanding & Navigating Federation, Your Jewish Journey, Making the Ask

Second YearsUsing Influence & Communication for Impact

Third YearsCultivating Community Investment, The Changing Jewish Community

Fourth YearsDesign Thinking, Adaptive Leadership

Fifth YearsReframing Organizations, Visioning

Sixth YearsLiving an Intentional Life

The Opening Plenary was powerful. JFNA’s new incoming President & CEO Eric Fingerhut taught a text from the Talmud. He led the group in a dynamic discussion about centering our work as leaders around the importance of Jewish ideas and knowledge, and he made a compelling case for collective responsibility.

Following a beloved tradition, the Global Study Mission destination was announced for Spring 2020 to Riga and Paris, with an optional pre-mission stopover in Tallinn.

The week had many meaningful moments, including:

  • Hearing from Deborah Lipstadt who briefed the group on current trends in anti-Semitism and key similarities and differences in anti-Semitism today as compared to the past.
  • Taking part in community service projects with Toronto’s UJA Federation organizations that support job placement and training, social services, the environment, hunger, children in need, and the elderly.
  • Global Shabbat with Rabbi Shuey Biston from Parkland, Florida and musician Rick Recht together with special guests from France, Spain, Latvia, and Israel to share with Cabinet the experience of Jewish life in their home countries and Federation’s role in nurturing vibrant Jewish communities around the world.

Friday was Campaign Day and one of the highlights of the week where everyone gets to hear personal stories of how Federation is creating impact in their own lives and in the lives of people locally and around the world. Collectively, 238+ Cabinet members raised over $2.6M for the 2020 campaign. All money raised supports the campaigns of each Cabinet member’s local Federation.

Campaign Day Speakers included:

  • David Brown (Chicago), JFNA National Campaign Chair & Cabinet Alum
  • Marisa Polin (Fourth Year, New York/L.A.), 2019-20 NYL Cabinet Philanthropy Co-Chair
  • Jeff Finkelstein, President & CEO, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh
  • Sacha Ghozlan, President, Union of Jewish Students, France
  • Gillian Presner (Second Year, Ottawa)
  • Margaret Jelinek Lewis, Houston, personal Hurricane Harvey story of survival
  • Brian Ashin (Fifth Year, Washington DC), 2019-20 NYL Cabinet Philanthropy Co-Chair

National Young Leadership Cabinet Retreat concluded after an emotional farewell from our graduating Sixth Years and a beautiful havdalah ceremony overlooking Lake Ontario.

In classic Cabinet fashion, the agenda was packed —long days became late lights and early mornings. The learning was robust, the speakers inspiring, and the conversations engaging. Most important, however, were the relationships — the new connections and friendships — the envisioning and dreaming that happens when talented young leaders are aligned around shared values and a common, collective purpose.

Our First Years had an incredible week, as evidenced by some of their reflections:

“Cabinet Retreat was such a meaningful opportunity to learn about the impact Federation is having on people’s lives. I learned about how the Federation system helped save starving Jews in Yemen, provided a network of support for survivors of the Tree of Life shooting, and provided financial support to Jews whose homes were ravaged after the flooding from Hurricane Harvey. I’ll never forget hearing the firsthand accounts of how the Federation helped save lives. I was grateful for the opportunity to be there for the week, but even more grateful to be a part of National Young Leadership Cabinet.” – Tamara Kagel

“For me, Judaism has been first and foremost about the great people and the traditions, a feeling reinforced by all the thoughtful, kind, funny, and talented people I met at Cabinet Retreat. They shared my focus to keep Jewish traditions going strong for future generations.” – Dylan Lewis

“My first Cabinet retreat was incredible. I feel so privileged to be a part of such an important program and in the company of giants who are united by shared Jewish values, a love of Judaism, and a sense of responsibility to shape the future of the Jewish community around the world. The most impactful aspects of the retreat were getting to know and learn from my fellow chevra, learning where Federation dollars are going, and in what ways the Federation (and its many partners) are shaping, changing, and in many cases, saving Jewish lives. I came back armed with a better understanding and deeper appreciation for the incredibly important work the Federation is doing and a profound sense of commitment to my local community and the Jewish world at large. I am so proud and excited to continue my leadership growth as a Cabinet member.” – Eden Cohen