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My Experience in the FILL Program

Jewish Federation Los Angeles is proud to announce that we now offer an internal leadership opportunity for young Federation professionals. FILL — Federation Innovation Leadership Lab — is a yearlong program that builds professional development and strengthens leadership skills and culminates in an impactful international travel experience that exposes the FILL Fellows to the Federation’s global work and other like-minded young leaders. The program provides new skills and experiences, adding more excitement and passion to our Los Angeles Jewish community.

The first in this blog series is a personal account from Miriam Maya, FILL Fellow and Director of Caring for Jews in Need & LAJAC (Los Angeles Jewish Abilities Center), who shares below her experience in the program.

During my two and a half years of personal and professional involvement in our Los Angeles Jewish community, I have seen and experienced how the Federation addresses communal needs and strengthens community both locally and around the world.

As part of our Federation’s FILL program, eight of my colleagues, Federation President & CEO Jay Sanderson, and I embarked on a 10-day innovation and leadership mission this past January to better understand the unique challenges facing the Jewish communities in Budapest and Israel, and to see, hear, experience, and learn the ways in which our partnerships address these obstacles.

The Los Angeles Federation staff members on this mission represented various departments and initiatives. While our day-to-day roles differ, this trip afforded us the unique opportunity to touch each aspect of our work together and experience the trip holistically. We engaged in conversations with young leaders about their interfaith background and Jewish identity in Budapest. We served meals and sorted clothes for Jews in need at a Lasova Soup Kitchen in Tel Aviv. We met with teens participating in Unistream who are receiving tools, resources, and support to become entrepreneurs and impact the future of Israeli society. We learned from political leaders and partners about the social gaps of those living in the periphery and innovative efforts to break the cycle of poverty.

A highlight for me took place early on in the trip in Budapest. Our Federation’s work there is done in partnership with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), which allows us to impact vulnerable members of the Jewish community, including Holocaust survivors and those with disabilities. While in Budapest, a small group of us met with a single mother named Adrien and her talented young adult daughter Andrea, who has Down syndrome. Adrien herself has battled many life-threatening illnesses that prevent her from working and interfere with providing for her family. Adrien’s youngest daughter Viktoria has grown up learning how to care for her ill mother and for her sister. Unlike in Los Angeles, Budapest lacks the programs, resources, and housing options for individuals with disabilities. For the past few months, Andrea has been a part of the Baltazar Theater, the only acting school in Budapest for individuals with developmental disabilities. Through this program, she has been able to learn new life skills, expand her social circle, and explore her creative interests. Additionally, Viktoria has accepted the responsibility of acting as her sister’s primary caretaker.

Speaking with Adrien and her family about their struggles and hopes for the future was powerful, eye opening, and put into perspective how fortunate we are in Los Angeles to have a network of partners to provide the support needed for individuals with special needs and their families. As a way for us to remember our visit with Andrea and her family, Andrea gave each of us a hand-drawn picture of images that bring her happiness. Andrea was a true inspiration. Her story is a reminder to actively cultivate an attitude of happiness in order to thrive, despite even the most difficult of circumstances.

The FILL program not only enhanced my leadership skills — it also strengthened my connection to my work and to my colleagues. As I wrap up my participation in FILL, I feel excited and committed to sharing the knowledge and new perspective I have acquired, and to continue being a part of the meaningful work our Federation does on behalf of our community.

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