The Federation’s 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 ages 25-40, this 15-month leadership training program provides the tools, knowledge, and connections needed to become an effective Jewish communal leader. CLI participants attend monthly meetings and workshops, honing their leadership skills and learning all about Jewish non-profit initiatives in L.A. They travel to Israel with other participants, deepen their connection to the global and local Jewish communities, and cultivate relationships with esteemed leaders of the Jewish community.
Jessica Weizenbluth, current CLI participant, recently traveled to Israel for 10 days with CLI. Read more about her experience!
I can’t believe I almost skipped the CLI Israel trip. When I was first accepted to CLI, I was concerned that the trip would tout the country as perfect, presenting an “Israel-can-do-no-wrong” kind of attitude. I am so happy I changed my mind, because my concern was ill-founded.
The intention of the trip was not political. Rather, we met with individuals at the forefront of various industries and programs, including start-up founders, PTSD treatment program directors, and individuals working to combat poverty and racism. While this was my fifth time in Israel, what made this trip particularly poignant was seeing intelligent and innovative individuals acknowledge the country’s downfalls and create business models, products, and programs to improve the well-being of not just Israelis but also the world. The incredible company of my peers didn’t hurt, either.
We also met members of the Knesset, including Merav Michaeli, a former journalist, feminist activist, and member of the Labor Party. While her platform ruffled some feathers, I appreciated that The Jewish Federation, an organization dedicated to the support of a secure State of Israel, enabled us to hear her perspective.
Israel is commonly referred to as the “Start-Up Nation,” and our program gave us a comprehensive understanding of how this title surfaced. It was eye opening to meet with representatives and founders of various start-ups in Israel who have implemented strategies and invented technologies that are changing the world. Notably, we met with the VP of Business Development at OrCam, a company that has developed a tiny wearable device that helps blind and visually impaired individuals identify faces, read, and go grocery shopping; Daniel Weil, CEO of TOM maker space, a global movement connecting makers, developers, engineers, and people with disabilities to develop technological solutions for specific needs; and Heidi Zaidel, VP of Investor Relations at OurCrowd, an equity crowdfunding platform for investing in global start-ups. Each one of these companies provides a service that improves quality of life and presents opportunities to individuals within and outside of Israel.
With the contentious walls that have been built in Israel, and the discussion of walls being built here in America, it was both meaningful and alarming to visit the wall dividing Israel and Gaza. On the moshav Nativ Ha’asara, we met with Tsameret Zamir, a woman who has endured numerous rocket fire attacks and has lived on the moshav her entire life. She discussed the continuous fear that plagues her community and expressed genuine concern that both citizens of Gaza and Israel were victims of this violence. As a peace offering to the people of Gaza and a method to provide hope for peace to the community of Native Ha’asara, Zamir created Path to Peace. A mosaic project on the Israeli part of the wall visible from Gaza, Path to Peace shares messages and images of hope and peace, including the word “Salam” and drawings of doves, peace signs, and flowers. Zamir creates colorful tiles and asks visitors to write a message for peace on the back of each tile, then glues the tiles onto the mosaic. While confronting the realities of the danger threatening both sides was difficult, it was inspiring to see someone turn a stark reminder of fear and menace into a symbol of hope and positivity.
We had many incredible experiences on our Israel trip, but what truly made each day so special was the company. Our group connected so well, and learning about our shared second home’s challenges and successes bonded us. Now, on the other end of the CLI Israel trip, I have new friends and a fresh perspective on Israel. While the decisions being made by its political leaders may be distressing to some, so many people in Israel are creating, learning, challenging norms, and attempting to improve the country and the world. I am truly grateful I had the opportunity to come back and see Israel from this vantage point. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Jessica Weizenbluth is a health care attorney at Miller Health Law Group in Los Angeles. She grew up in Toronto, Canada where she graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School and holds a BA in philosophy and Certificate of Ethics from The University of Western Ontario. Jessica currently sits on the board of directors at the Heart Touch Project and is a former member of the Bet Tzedek New Leadership Council. Jessica also recently completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training.