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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Proposal: International Jewish scholars program in Jerusalem

>A Big Idea To Foster Jewish Leadership
Professor Gil Troy 

Just outside McGill University's Montreal campus sits a grand mansion housing 13 over-achieving 20-somethings for the year.  Each of them gets a room with a bed, a desk, a television, and computer set-up. They prepare their meals in an open, modern kitchen with multiple cooking stations. This way, they either cook one meal together or cook smaller meals side-by-side, sometimes reflecting their native cuisines: Indian and Afghani, Canadian and Dutch, Israeli and Egyptian, among others. No, this is not the latest Canadian reality-TV show.  It is the headquarters of the remarkable Sauve Scholars — an international, interdisciplinary program for future leaders that could serve as a model for the kind of cutting-edge leadership hothouse the Jewish community desperately needs.
 The Sauve Scholars program, modeled on Harvard's Neiman Fellowship for mid-career journalists, exposes each participant to the best courses, professors, and informal seminars McGill University has to offer. But most importantly, the scholars get the gift of each other, learning how to work together, learn together, dream about a better world together — and take the first steps toward making it happen.
Imagine now a Jewish version set in some beautifully restored mansion in Jerusalem. Imagine 20 Jews from Israel and the diaspora, with the participants reflecting the demographic spread throughout the Jewish world. But take three twists on McGill's model.
For starters, the curriculum would offer high-level, hands-on grounding in Jewish learning and leadership — with each fellow also designing a particular project with a practical application shaping the Jewish future.  Add to it a give-back-to-the-community dimension, whereby the fellows promise to work in the Jewish community for the following five years — with support from each other, a growing alumni network, and regular contact from on-staff mentors. And finally, recognize that too many of these programs simply send rejection letters to the many talented people who apply and don't get accepted. Let the follow-up commitment to community activism be a condition for applying, and let everyone who then applies get a free leadership seminar in Israel.
As birthright israel has flourished, many in the Jewish world began seeking the next great idea, wondering how to follow up birthright with other, sustained, pathways toward Jewish engagement. The Jewish Agency has launched the ambitious Masa program encouraging young Jews to work or study in the Jewish people's homeland for an extended period during or just after university.
These programs have focused the Jewish world's attention on the critical "twenty-something" cohort. University students and recent graduates frequently experience the greatest distance from organized religion and traditional community life precisely when many are choosing lifetime partners and making other decisions that will shape their futures. The Jewish world is starting to recognize how important it is to tap the energy, creativity, and passion of our youth — both through mass-produced programs like birthright and through smaller, more targeted programs.
A yearlong learning and leadership fellowship in Jerusalem, if done correctly, could create a cadre of Jewish change agents, networkers, and leaders who could transform the Jewish world. This would especially be true if the ranks of these fellows were buttressed by the many others participating in the program through a shorter leadership training program but an equally intensive community commitment. 
The idea is not just to identify the "best and the brightest." The idea is to shape our community's future leaders while also listening to them. The program will succeed only if participants feel empowered during that year, subsequently able to dream boldly about an exciting Jewish future, and then ready to start taking substantive steps toward implementing some of their plans.
Jerusalem is the ideal venue for this program. Beyond the obvious spiritual, historical, and traditional resources, the combination of thinkers, activists, rabbis, politicians, and community leaders living or passing through the Jewish people's capital in a given year is overwhelming. A program like this could use Jerusalem as a classroom and, wherever possible, as a laboratory to test ideas. A program like this would succeed only if in addition to tapping the energies of the next generation, it could tap the skills and experiences of today's leaders, creating exciting, interactive forums — not passive lectures — for all to learn and grow together.
The Sauve Scholars' program was launched only in 2003, so it is hard to judge its impact on the world. A program like the Rhodes Scholarship, however, has had a transformative effect, shaping generations of leading politicians, intellectuals, and social activists. Surprisingly, in the United States, the Rhodes only selects 32 winners from all 50 states annually
The Sauve Scholars are named after Canada's first female governor-general, Jeanne Sauve. The Rhodes Scholarship honors the memory of the financier Cecil John Rhodes. This Jerusalem-based Jewish leadership fellowship awaits the name of a visionary, generous donor who wishes to elevate this — and future — generations of Jews.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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