Faces of Federation

An Interview with CLI Participant Elham Makabi

Elham Makabi recently participated in The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Community Leadership Institute (CLI). She shares her experience with us! Applications are now open for CLI 2019!

What defines Jewish culture or tradition for you?

Getting together with my family/cousins/friends for Shabbat dinners and celebrating all the chagim (Jewish holidays) is the essence of Jewish culture and tradition for me. The excitement and the “hustle and bustle” of preparing for any of the chagim is indescribable! From Rosh Hashana to Sukkot, Simcha Torah, Hannukah, Tu B’shvat, Purim, Passover and Shavuot there are so many joyful holidays to celebrate and break away from the repetitiveness of our everyday lives.

You know you live in LA when….

Most Angelinos complain when there’s a drop of rain or when the temperature falls below 70. We like our sunshine! I love the four seasons. In the moderation that Los Angeles provides! 😉

What motivated you to apply for CLI?

Being an active community member and giving back is important and meaningful to me.  Since high school, I have volunteered at and been involved with various community engagements and organizations.  However, it just wasn’t fulfilling enough. At some point I realized I needed a more robust training to be able to pursue my passion, join a board and make a difference. My amazing friends, Sharona Toobian and Jasmine Oberman Eisler, recommended that I apply for CLI. I’m so glad I did!

What track of CLI are you in?

The Universal Track, aka the best track 😉

What do you do professionally?

I’m the Director of Finance at Pressman Academy, a local joyful  day school and early childhood center.

What inspires you about our community?

Our unity! Through CLI, I’ve had the honor of meeting many Jewish leaders in our community and learning about their various philanthropic engagements.  Many sit on different boards and make decisions; many donate funds; many are creating programs; and many are getting their feet wet and figuring out how they’d like to give back.  All of that is so inspiring and heartwarming to me! Despite everyone’s different background, it’s been amazing to see so many lay leaders (amateur or seasoned) come together and work towards a common goal – Jewish Continuity.  These are the people that I look up to!

What sessions have you found to be most the interesting/moving?

There were so many great sessions! If I had to pick one, my favorite one in LA was “Decoding Your Best Self” by Debby Selzer Cummins. The session carried a great energy, while being fun and thought-provoking. Debby created an opportunity to learn more about my strengths and interests, which would serve as a guide in figuring out the why/how/where that my passion lies in terms of serving the community.

What has been your favorite part about CLI?

Everyone that I met and connected with through CLI! All the participants in my cohort are so driven and awesome. Also I’m so lucky I got paired with a kind, inspirational and innovative Eshet Chayil, Heidi Monkarsh, as my mentor and role model. Lastly, I still can’t stop talking about our well-planned, eye-opening, informative and fun Israel trip!

How has CLI impacted you in your career or personal development journey thus far?

CLI has given me the opportunity to increase my understanding and appreciation of the diversity of our community.  I have also learned more about myself, my passion and my areas of growth.  All of these qualities present themselves in my professional and personal life. In order to be an effective leader, I’ve learned that it’s important to be true to your values, but also have the understanding and respect of where others are coming from. It’s from there where we can all come together.

What is one lesson you have learned since being a part of CLI?

Never give up on a cause you believe in – even when it feels difficult to move forward!

Did you have a Bat Mitzvah?

I did!

What did it look like?

Well, I was in Iran then. I went to synagogue the first Shabbat after my 12th birthday with my family and my dad said a blessing on the Torah on my behalf, as was customary in Iran. The following Thursday night (Thursday nights there are like our Saturday night here), my parents hosted a party for me and invited all my friends. We ate, danced, played some games and I gave a speech.


The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Community Leadership Institute (CLI) is a competitive 15-month program. CLI provides young adults (ages 25-40) robust skill-building opportunities and meaningful connections. CLI participants learn to leverage their motivation and passion to lead the future of our Jewish community.

Paired with seasoned mentors, participants attend an opening retreat and monthly sessions, travel to Israel for an unforgettable 10-day experience, and collaborate on group projects. CLIers graduate with a deepened understanding of and connection to the local and global Jewish community.

Learn more about the program at one of our six information sessions spanning from March 12-27th! Applications are due March 29th. Visit www.yaJewishLA.org/cli or email CLI@JewishLA.org for details/questions.