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Listen—and then Lead

Since first being elected to the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education a few months ago, I’ve been thinking about a story from the Book of Kings. God appears to a young King Solomon in a dream and tells him that he could have anything in the world. Solomon asks for a “lev shomeah,” a listening and understanding heart. Were I to be visited by God and asked the same question, I’d probably start with more funding for our local schools. But, given that Solomon had a pretty successful reign, I think there’s something to his answer.

I am privileged to spend my days advocating for the needs of Los Angeles Unified School District students, serving on the Board of Education so that we can provide these kids with a quality education to ensure success in college, careers, and life. In my new role as Board Vice President, I am listening and learning continually—from students, their parents, and from other leaders in the field. I have to think creatively to find new and innovative solutions.

Your education doesn’t end once you’ve graduated from school and one area where I continue to learn is in exploring the values of our Jewish community. Especially now, it is important that we reflect on kindness, giving back, taking care of others, and tikkun olam: making our world a better place.

I am also reminded of those who have guided me in my journey and have provided me with the opportunities to follow my passion of working in education. As Solomon reminds us, leadership is listening. But it also matters who it is we’re listening to. I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to connect with mentors and sharpen my leadership skills, whether in college, in law school, at Teach for America, at Camp Harmony, or through my involvement in Jewish life.

In 2014, I participated in The Jewish Federation’s Rautenberg New Leaders Program (NLP), which gave me the opportunity to form and take part in an incredible network of like-minded, young, professional Jewish leaders across all sectors. As participants, we had access to civic leaders who could share veteran experiences as current and former elected officials and key stakeholders in their respective fields. The program is a call to action for young Jewish leaders, motivating us all to make a difference.

NLP gave me many of the tools I needed during my campaign and created a community that I could really depend on, truly proving the power of building and maintaining relationships. I formed lasting friendships with a State Senator, an Assistant District Attorney, consultants, lawyers, teachers and more. My roommate on our NLP Retreat hosted one of my first fundraisers when I decided to run for School Board. Many of my NLP class members were instrumental in getting my campaign off the ground. Even my Chief of Staff participated in the NLP program (and I recruited her to do the program long before we were working together)!

The values highlighted in the NLP program are those that unite us as a Jewish community, and even more as members of a larger extended society. When we come together and support each other, we can accomplish much more than as individuals.

In my application to NLP a few years ago, I quoted an African proverb that states “If you want to go fast, go alone.  If you want to go far, go together.” Today we need our leaders to help us go far, together.  NLP is a great place to start.

I would like to congratulate the NLP Class of 2017, and wish the incoming class of 2018 good luck! You have an incredible year ahead, filled with inspiration, education, and collaboration.  I am excited to see the amazing things you do together!

For more information about the Federation’s NLP, visit www.yajewishla.org/program/nlp.

Nick Melvoin is the Vice President of the Los Angeles Unified School District Board of Education. He is also an active member of the Jewish Federation and University Synagogue and serves on the boards of the Jewish Center for Justice and the Union for Reform Judaism.

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