The Young Leadership Awards were created by The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) to recognize outstanding young adult lay leaders (age 30-45) who have served our local Jewish community. Every year, our Federation selects an outstanding young male lay leader for the Ratner Leadership Award (named for Julius M. Ratner) and a young female leader for the Young Women’s Leadership Award, both of whom have exhibited exemplary leadership and philanthropy in the Los Angeles Jewish community and specifically within The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
We interviewed Aaron Kogan, the 2017 recipient of the Ratner Leadership Award, about his relationship with the Federation, his connection with the Jewish community, and his experience at the 2017 General Assembly.
Why is the Jewish community and Jewish involvement so important to you?
On a fundamental level, Judaism is a core component of my identity. The teachings of our tradition, the holidays, the experience of growing up in a Jewish home — they all enrich my life and bring new strengths and discoveries year after year. By extension, I feel that Judaism and the Jewish community contribute a tremendous amount to each of us as individuals and, in fact, to the entire world. Consequently, I feel it is essential for every member of our Jewish community to contribute, in some way, to its vibrancy and sustainability.
Beyond that, I have been deeply influenced throughout my life by the examples of my grandparents, Philip and Martha Newmark. Both of them were leaders and contributors to the strength and success of the many layers of Jewish community to which they belonged.
Finally, I carry with me a tremendous responsibility to provide my girls, Madeline and Hannah, with the same rich, beautiful experiences in Jewish life that I’ve had.
How are you currently involved with The Jewish Federation?
At the time of my receiving the award, I was completing my second two-year term as Co-Chair of the Young Adult Engagement & Leadership Development Committee. During that time, I also co-founded and co-chaired the task force to create The Network Leadership Alumni Community. Beginning in January of 2018, I joined the Community Engagement Committee, and I am involved with the building up of the Entertainment Division.
What did it mean to you to be honored this year with the Federation’s Julius M. Ratner Leadership Award?
On a personal level, it was truly gratifying. I have spent countless hours in the Federation building, at Federation events, on phone calls. It means a great deal to be recognized for the hard work and commitment.
Of course, during all that time in those meeting and at the Federation, I was never alone. Any of the things that “I” accomplished were only possible because of the tremendous work put in by my co-chairs, my staff counterparts, and the many wonderful people who sat on my various committees. The award represents all of their contributions as well.
In the spirit of my earlier answer, I can’t help but think about the joy with which my Grandpa Phil, if he were alive today, would have typed up one of his classic letters (on his typewriter), photocopied a picture of the award, and mailed it out to dozens of family members and friends around the world.
Tell us a little bit about your experience at the GA last year.
Attending the GA is like simultaneously experiencing sensory, intellectual, and spiritual overload. To be going non-stop, surrounded by thousands of engaged, intelligent, and ambitious people who care about the Jewish community and who are working in so many diverse and imaginative ways to strengthen it was truly inspiring. Some highlights that stood out for me include a political deep dive with reporters from Politico, The Los Angeles Times, and The New York Times; the presentation on what the Federation did in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston; the story of a young Yemeni man whose online social network of Jewish friends helped him escape from Yemen; the honest and insightful chat with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin; Rabbi David Wolpe’s speech on the value of Jewish learning; and the inspiring number of young people doing amazing things to change the world. I came out of the GA with more ideas than I could possibly have time to pursue, but I’d say that’s a good sign that the entire experience was a valuable one.
The Ratner Leadership Award and the Young Women’s Leadership Award include a grant to attend the 2018 Jewish Federation of North America’s General Assembly (GA), where the recipient will be recognized. This year’s GA will be held in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 22-24. Afterwards, the award recipient will be honored and recognized at the Federation’s Board Meeting in December.