• Courtesy Nina Peretz
Inside the Jewish Agency

“I never planned to be a leader” — cultivating Jewish leadership around the globe

Nina Peretz, 34, revived her Berlin synagogue. She is thankful for what she learned as a fellow on The Jewish Agency’s Adaptive Leadership Lab Fellowship

One person can’t build a community. Community requires the collective heart and soul of various contributors. That’s what Nina Peretz learned from the Jewish Agency’s Adaptive Leadership Lab (a.l.l) Fellowship of The Global Leadership Institute.

Peretz, a 34-year-old convert to Judaism, moved to Berlin when she was 21. In 2010, she began attending Berlin’s century-old Fraenkelufer Synagogue, which was in danger of closing due to dwindling membership. Today, thanks in large part to Peretz’s efforts, the synagogue holds communal Shabbat and holiday dinners, Shabbat services, Torah classes, and children’s programming, with about 150 people attending these activities on a regular basis. Attendees come from diverse international backgrounds, including immigrants to Germany from North and South America, Israel, Russia, Eastern Europe, and South Africa.

All of the congregation’s programming is planned and managed by volunteers, who are also responsible for raising funds to support the activities. As a result of training she received from a.l.l., Peretz says she realized “that there can’t be only two or three active volunteers, and I learned to make people my partners.”

“Although I’m still the one who takes charge of most initiatives at the congregation, there are two other chairpersons and I work with a core group,” she says. “I try to foster a community feeling.”

The Global Leadership Institute’s a.l.l Fellowship is designed for a select group of 20 Jewish professionals from North America, Europe and Israel leading change in their organizations and workplaces. The programming is rooted in the belief that leadership is both a practice and an art—not a title. The learning environment is laboratory-like, and based on with the “Adaptive Leadership” framework developed by Harvard University’s prestigious Kennedy School of Government. The fellows develop the skills to bridge the gap between the aspirations they have for their communities and the realities they face on the ground. 

Further, the Adaptive Leadership mindset consists of a “stretch experience” that calls upon participants to step beyond their comfort zones.

This month, Peretz is applying her leadership skills through planning and hosting a large-scale community event at Fraenkelufer Synagogue—a cooking workshop for all of the congregation’s volunteers.

“It will be a way of saying thank you to the volunteers, and also an opportunity to talk about next year and make plans together,” says Peretz. “I am trying to involve as many people as possible in the organization of this event.”

Peretz reflects that she actually “never planned to be a leader” and had “always questioned my role” before becoming involved with a.l.l. Through the program, she honed her leadership skills through working with a chavruta (peer partner) as well as a coach who helped her set goals. She took part in three seminars—in Jerusalem, Budapest, and Montreal—and shared best practices with leaders of large and small organizations alike.

“I feel like I’m still in the middle of the process of becoming a better community leader, but I’m more motivated and intrigued,” Peretz says. “Although we’re still a grassroots organization, now everybody has heard of the Fraenkelufer Synagogue and that gives me the incentive to carry on. I will definitely continue applying what I learned from a.l.l.”

The Global Leadership Initiative’s a.l.l Fellowship is made possible by the generosity of the Shawna Goodman and Todd Sone Family foundation from Montreal, Canada and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

The Global Leadership Institute is an initiative of The Jewish Agency that builds leadership capacity among Jewish professionals and volunteer activists so that they are better able to tackle the tough Jewish challenges of our time.  The institute's approach emphasizes both global shifts and a committement to local communities. The Institute's activities embody a belief in the creativity, resourcefulness and resilience of a diverse Jewish collective.


This article was originally reported by Rebecca Kopans for The Jewish Agency for Israel.


13 Dec 2017 / 25 Kislev 5778 0
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