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An Interview with CLI Participant Shirley Pakdaman

The Community Leadership Institute (CLI) is a highly-competitive training program for the future leaders of Jewish institutions and non-profit organizations across Los Angeles. An incredible opportunity for young professionals aged between 25 and 40, this 15-month leadership training program provides the tools, knowledge, and connections needed to become an effective leader of the Jewish community. CLI participants attend monthly meetings and workshops, honing their leadership skills, and learning all about Jewish non-profit initiatives in LA. They travel to Israel with other participants, simultaneously deepening their connection to the global and local Jewish communities. They cultivate relationships with esteemed leaders of the Jewish community who offer them one-on-one support and guidance. CLI lifts them up and supports them on their journey to becoming one of the next great leaders of the Jewish community of LA.

We recently interviewed Shirley about her CLI experience thus far.

What motivated you to apply for our Federation’s Community Leadership Institute (CLI)?

The Jewish community and philanthropy have always been a part of my life, but since finding a solid place in my career I’ve wanted to be more connected and to give back in a more powerful way. The CLI program was the perfect opportunity to learn how to be a leader in the nonprofit world and make connections with like-minded people who are also passionate about community and philanthropy.

What do you do professionally? What track are you in?

I’m a psychologist in private practice, working with people one on one. The CLI program will give me the tools to make a positive impact in a new way, at a systemic, community, and maybe even global level eventually. I’m in the Universal Track.

What inspires you about the community/the Jewish community?

The dedication and passion of our leaders and lay leaders. Near the beginning of the CLI program, I had the opportunity to attend The Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly and heard directly from leaders from around the world. Every session demonstrated our Jewish values in action, from social justice to human dignity to repairing the world, and doing it all with a sense of accountability, open-mindedness, and innovation. I had never felt prouder to be part of the community. The same dedication was evident when we met with our mentors, top leaders in The Jewish Federation who give so openly of their energy, time, and resources to support the incredible work of the Federation and to cultivating this new generation of leaders.

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

The energy of all of us coming together at the opening retreat, excited to meet, unite, and make a difference was empowering and like a breath of fresh air. It was eye opening to hear all of the different paths that brought people to CLI, especially the participants from the Russian track. I remember the wave of Russian Jewish immigration when I was in elementary school, but hadn’t heard detailed personal stories. The way the American Jewish community advocated to bring them here to freedom and the ways in which the Russian immigrants rose above so many challenges is so moving to me.

One of the sessions that was incredibly interesting was led by Rabbanit Alissa Thomas-Newborn. She shared her own story with us, led us through lessons to discover which Jewish values speak to us most personally, and suggested using those values as guides in our leadership styles and future philanthropic endeavors.

What has been your favorite part about CLI?

The relationships! My cohort is such an impressive and diverse group of individuals who genuinely care about our community and the world and have shown great depth, compassion, and spirit. I’m looking forward to how our relationships grow throughout the program and beyond. I appreciate having access to the extensive experience and knowledge of my mentor Julie Platt, a superstar leader in the Jewish community. I am so inspired by her and her work.

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

I am continuing to develop dimensions of myself as a leader, philanthropist, and Jewish woman. CLI encourages me to share whatever talents and strengths I have to help the community, but it also forces me to exercise them for myself, helping me grow as a person. We are often asked to share and reflect on things I normally wouldn’t have the opportunity to examine and then appreciate about myself. I want to share my patience, hope, warmth, humor, and knowledge in order to keep learning — and to put it all into action in a style that is authentic to who I am.

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

The importance of being visible, proud, unified, fearless, and strong. Being self-secure lends itself to giving with open hands and an open heart — and to strengthening others.

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