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The Impact of the FILL Fellowship

Jewish Federation Los Angeles offers 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.

Shannon Pournazarian Rahbarpour, FILL Fellow and Federation’s Director of Leadership Development, shares with us the impact of the FILL Fellowship program and her experience abroad.

As I returned home from a particularly large and rowdy “Big Fat Persian Family” Shabbat dinner this past weekend, I gleamed with pride and gratitude. Until then, I hadn’t had the chance to share with them the account of my truly incredible adventures in Budapest and Israel with the Federation Innovation Leadership Lab (FILL) group. My family members are very close with one another and many of them share a loveable curiosity about what it is I do as a nonprofit professional, so it was meaningful to make what was once my personal journey a family affair.

I found myself retelling my favorite anecdotes about who I met, what I saw, why it mattered — and of course — what I ate! I quickly realized that no matter who I was speaking with, whether it was my 14-year old cousin, my 65-year old uncle, or my great-grandmother (whose age is an ever-present debate among her own children), I had a unique and relevant experience that touched each of them in a very special way.

To my 14-year old cousin, whose main interests these days seem to be related to the latest snapchat filter, I shared my experience learning about Unistream. While I had heard about Federation’s new partnership with the Israel-based nonprofit during the months leading up to this trip, walking into an actual facility and meeting participants took my understanding of the impact of their work to another level. I told my cousin all about how Unistream affords teenagers in Israel’s periphery communities the opportunity to learn about the latest innovations and business practices and to create their own social enterprises that address Israel’s (and the world’s) most pressing needs. These teens learn how to write formal business plans, imagine and implement groundbreaking technology, and, create the trendiest new apps — something he was particularly pleased to hear about.

To my 65-year old uncle, who has spent the majority of his life caring for his younger brother with developmental disabilities, I spoke about my visit with a family in Budapest who is supported by the work of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in partnership with The Jewish Federation. The burden of care falls on the youngest member of the family — a 22-year-old girl is responsible for both her ailing single mother with terminal cancer and her adult sibling with Down Syndrome. They receive financial support from JDC and The Jewish Federation, which relieves them of monthly bill pressures and will enable this young woman to eventually go to college to build a life of opportunity for her family. My uncle was particularly emotional when hearing that the family has already discussed their plan for the sibling with Down Syndrome after the mother’s imminent passing. He was relieved to know that this deserving family is both supported by and thriving because of our work and that the younger sister had committed to caring for her sibling permanently, just as he has done for his.

And to my forever young great-grandmother, whose constant concern is whether I remember to wear a jacket outside, I told her about how cold I was in Budapest (even with my heaviest coat on). I told her this for a very important reason. As my peers and I stood along the Danube River where small brass sculptures of shoes faced the waterfront — one of the most poignant Holocaust memorials I have been lucky enough to see — we grabbed on to each other for body heat. Our guide had mentioned that this was one of the coldest winters Budapest had seen in decades, but still not as cold as the winter of the Holocaust. During that time, Jews were gathered in groups and shot, their bodies falling forward into the Danube. Those who were lucky enough to escape the gun shots and free themselves from the rope and weight of fallen bodies swam across the semi-frozen river to survive. Suddenly, the coldness I was experiencing felt inconsequential. While I’ve learned about the Holocaust since elementary school and visited several memorials and museums, this was perhaps the most moving moment for me as I stood facing the Danube with a group of colleagues who not only live free Jewish lives, but who devote their professional careers to ensuring and sustaining the Jewish future. It was beautiful.

As Shabbat dinner came to a close, I left my family members feeling delighted, knowing that they better understood my work and, most importantly, the good work that the Federation is committed to locally and globally. Looking back on the past year, FILL has afforded me a myriad of professional and personal development opportunities. I’ve learned from top-tier facilitators, worked with amazing colleagues who constantly inspire me with the work they do, and learned about the deeply impactful work of our Federation — outside of my specific role in our Leadership Development department. I am honored to be a part of this inaugural cohort and eager to continue sharing stories from this unforgettable experience.

While I participated in this trip with only 10 of my colleagues and our President & CEO, I know the impact reaches far beyond the group — to my cousin, uncle, great-grandmother, and beyond.

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