Amy Ryan and Seth Gladstein took part in the Esther Leah Ritz Institute for Emerging JCC Leaders Institute at this month’s JCC Association of North America biennial in Memphis, Tennessee.
Ryan and Gladstein were part of the broader Louisville delegation to the biennial, which also included Jeff Tuvlin, Sara Klein Wagner, Stacy Gordon Funk and Tom Wissinger.
Tuvlin co-chaired this year’s Ritz institute – a leadership development program for JCCs. Executives and senior lay leaders identify emerging leaders and invite up to two to participate in the program, which takes place at the biennial every two years.
“The program this year provided the participants with a broad range of experiences, including understanding the direction of the JCC movement by the new CEO, sessions on board governance, Jewish peoplehood, peer networking and working with foundations,” Tuvlin said. “It was truly a crash course in leadership.”
The institute is named for JCCA Honorary Chair Esther Leah Ritz, who died in 2003. She was president of the JWB board of directors – the forerunner of JCCA.
An attorney, Gladstein noted two big take-aways from the experience for him:
• Jews come to JCCs not as Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or Secular – just as Jews; and
• JCCs should be gateways to the Jewish world for non-Jews.
“For many of our members, we’re the first Jewish people they’ve ever interacted with,” Gladstein said. “It raises awareness of our culture, which helps our community.”
The institute also taught him that other Jewish communities face the same challenges as Louisville.
“At the same it really sounds like we’re on the right track,” he said.
Once the new center opens, he added, “I can see our participation going through the roof. I see it as such a great opportunity. We have the groundwork; we just have to pull the trigger.”
Making her first trip to a JCCA biennial, Ryan, director of enterprise leadership development for Humana, said the institute instilled in her important lessons in leadership and governance.
“You really don’t know until you go to one of these that we are doing really good things [in Louisville],” she said. “Sometimes, you need that external validation.”
She also learned that JCCs must be the “town squares” for their respective communities – places where Jews meet and connect.
“That’s critical to the future,” Ryan said.
Perhaps most important, Ryan said the institute experience impressed upon her the need for Jewish Louisville to focus on young leadership development, from Gen X’ers to Millennials.
She noted there are unique differences between each generation, and leadership development must reflect them. She suggested studying how other communities approach the challenge, and how they find success.
We need to connect to them (young generations) in new ways,” Ryan said.