From the people that brought you such innovative programs like Leading Up North and ROI120 comes the Insight Fellowship – a bold and audacious program aimed at getting a select group of young Jewish leaders who have recently graduated college to experience first hand various aspects of the Jewish Community. The chosen eight will receive a nice salary and complete placements in a number of Jewish communal organizations over the course of 22 months. Fellows will also benefit from travel, seminars and ongoing support from CLI and the Schusterman Foundation, the sponsors of this program. Intrigued, I spoke to Yoni Gordis of CLI who, delightful as always, filled me in on the details. Deadline for submissions is February 8th so if you or anyone you know might be interested, apply ASAP! My questions are in bold:

ck: So let me see if I understand Insight. You are going to take young, motivated Jewish student leaders, idealistic recent college grads, and send them into the scary, scary world of the organized Jewish community? When I first read about that I thought of Teach America where I saw idealistic recent Ed. grads get sent to teach at inner city schools only to have all their idealism snuffed out and mercilessly crushed by the daily rigors and realities of their jobs. Is the organized Jewish community in fact the best place for the types of leaders you are looking for to make the most use of their talents?

Yoni Gordis: The Jewish community today offers many amazing opportunities for future (and current) leaders. It is actually the most fertile place for young Jews to take their identities and the visions for the world and manifest them into a reality. Do many Jewish organizations need to evolve? Without question they do, and part of that evolution is built into the Insight Fellowship. Not only will the Insight Fellows learning about the opportunities in the Jewish world, but the host organizations will also grow as they welcome the Insight Fellows into the inner core of their organization’s highest profile projects. Jewish organizations need to learn to listen and take risks. Younger generation folks need to see the complexities of organizational management. The Jewish communal world is more diverse and innovative than it appears to many people and there are places where the vision and voices of young adults are being taken very seriously. The placements at the Insight Fellowship are being selected to make best use of the Fellows’ skills and knowledge. If one actually believes in the power of non-profits and the potential of community that seeks to turn the coals of identity into creative fire, then Insight and the Jewish community itself would be the place for a practical young visionary to spend two years.

Do you have any idea what specific organizations the Insight Fellows will be working for? I mean I’d be impressed if young accomplished innovators were to be allowed access to the highest levels of decision making in any established Jewish organization… I know Ann (Raskin, CLI Program Manager) discussed CLI’s ongoing involvement with the Fellows throughout the course of their Fellowships – will this be enough to offer the Fellows guidance and assist them in dealing with the possibility of the sort of institutional resistance and resentment one would expect in any organization when something different is tried?

We are currently in the midst of the recruitment process of host organizations. It’s an amazingly eclectic list, including small organizations and large organizations as well as organizations in a variety of fields (culture, social justice, campus life, work with youth, community, and more). The organizations themselves will be receiving ongoing support for their supervisors who will be working with the Insight Fellows. Rather than resistance and resentment, we are encountering real enthusiasm from the organizations regarding the chance to tap into the skills and insight [ 🙂 ] of the best and brightest of the next generation of future leaders. Organizations who are resistant simply do not become host organizations for Insight. So the mix of Insight Fellowship staff, coaches and mentors, along with the staff at the host organizations, will offer real engagement – attentiveness and pushback – that will make this an unmatched experience in both the lives of the Insight Fellows and the host organizations.

Well you certainly make it seem enticing! Young idealists riffing off of existing organizations and vice versa. What do you think was the primary motivator behind the institution of these fellowships? Some mean spirited individuals might say you were trying to co-opt Jewish innovation and young Jewish leadership – not me of course! So yeah… motivation and what do you hope to accomplish?

CLI’s motivation behind the creation of the Insight Fellowship was to reduce the gap between young adults and positive exposure to the workings of Jewish communal organizations. Our belief is that younger gen folks, with the opportunity to work deeply in organizations on project based work, would see that this is an engaging career path. This would benefit them and it would benefit the organizations who need some help in attracting folks who often turn elsewhere thinking that they can find a rewarding experience in the Jewish world. Some of us have a different experience that we want to share. While some innovation might happen out of organizational frameworks, a lot does happen within them (CLI is a great example of that). We have a lot of trust in the next generation and in their ability to shape communities whose values and habits resonate with their peers – we believe that the Insight Fellowship is one step in getting this generation’s vision for community out there in the world with traction and cutting edge content.

Any parting thoughts?

We are amazed by the numbers and caliber of people and the strength of questions we are getting about the Insight Fellowship. The deadline for application is February 8 and you can get more information by visiting our Web site.

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About the author


Founder and Publisher of Jewlicious, David Abitbol lives in Jerusalem with his wife, newborn daughter and toddler son. Blogging as "ck" he's been blocked on twitter by the right and the left, so he's doing something right.


  • How is this different from the JCSC program at Hillel (except for the fact that it isn’t with Hillel)? Or maybe that IS the difference.

    I am a young Jewish leader whose idealism was snuffed out by working in the Jewish community immediately after graduation. I worked hard, often more than 60-70 hours a week (making very, very little money) for 2 1/2 years, not counting the numerous weekend-long and multi-day conventions I staffed or went to in order to improve myself as a Jewish leader. None of my work was credited to me, none of my effort was recognized. I just worked, worked, worked. I made a lot of little changes, but only after a lot of grief, countless nervous breakdowns in the grocery store, screaming fits in my car, and illnesses that left me bedridden. I had no real idea of what I was doing or what to expect and I was thoroughly abused, chewed up and spat out.

    I have decided to go to grad school and study something that will take me far, far away from ever working in the Jewish community ever again.

    I certainly hope this fellowship provides people with more support – even more support than the JCSC fellows receive. I think most are not prepared for the realities of working in the Jewish communal world after their training session and get a nice abrupt wake-up call once work begins (then they spend months trying to live the JCSC idealistic dream, leading to frustration and even emotional breakdowns, etc). I hope they prepare their fellows for the difficulty of working in the Jewish community and the special problems that arise – for example, the people you work with are not just the people you work with, but they are also the people you go to shul with, the people at every Jewish event you attend.

    What can I say… I think having these fellowships is a good idea but I have doubts as to whether throwing recent grads to the wolves is really the best way to enact real change.

  • tzipi –
    i appreciate everything you write. our research also validates your experience, showing that you are not alone. our design of Insight was very much influenced by comments such as yours. so, my question would be as follows – what WOULD be the best way to enact real change from your perspective?

  • The problem is I don’t know if a realistic solution. Here are my thoughts on a fellowship like this, just from observation of fellowships, participating in smaller fellowships (not JCSC but other smaller ones) and personal experience as an employee. I know they aren’t exactly feasible (long long long):

    Often the fellowships send people all over the country to work, which means that each fellow is dealing with a very different community with very different issues – usually a community that the fellow did not come from. The fellow then spends a good amount of time simply adjusting to a new community and is not actually productive until months later. Maybe some kind of real research about each community should be done in advance so that the new fellow can be prepared and shorten the adjustment time. This way, the training can be customized in a way to keep it from existing in an ideal world that has no real bearing on what they do. Or, if you are relying on out-going fellows (which you can’t in the first year, haha), have some kind of regulated process so that the incoming fellows aren’t depending on the outgoing to care enough to spend a lot of time and energy not only trying to leave advice but also figure out a way to most effectively present that advice.

    Also, I think a mentor in that community and organization would be helpful. Someone who knows how the community works, who to go to for what you need in different situations, etc but who is also closer to the fellow in age (if possible). Someone who also understands the real goals of the fellowship and can help the fellow achieve them, not someone who is in the position to use the fellow as an assistant or subordinate or someone who feels like they are responsible for the work the fellow does, or has to “clean up” after that person’s mistakes. I think this would help by giving the fellow a reality check – but not in the “what you want to do is completely impossible” way, but the “i like your ideas, let’s figure out how to integrate them into our organization” kind of way. This mentor’s goals would be to prevent burn-out by empowering the fellow in the organization, helping him/her to navigate the system without the frustration of repeated trial-and-error for EVERYTHING, in addition to helping the fellow turn the idealistic training into realistic opportunities. The fellowship would have to have two types of training for this purpose – one for the fellows, which would be intense, one-on-one as well as group sessions; and one for the mentors who are from the communities in which the fellows are placed, which wouldn’t be as intense but would help them understand the fellows’ goals and help them to help the fellow customize them for the specific community.

    Fellowship follow-up with the supervisors in the organization that is participating in the fellowship. My experience is such that my (former) supervisor treats his employees like crap/ignores their existence and then reports positive change to fellowship supervisors and board members so the fellowship (or anyone else) has no idea what a hostile environment it is for the fellows. I’m not sure how to get around that – during the fellowship, the fellow often feels as though he/she can’t say anything negative about his/her boss until the end due to the boss’ ability to make the environment that much more hostile/difficult to work in, so maybe setting up some kind of frequent feedback from the beginning would be helpful. The fellow could give feedback honestly and the fellowship would talk to the supervisor one-on-one in general terms at regular intervals, not specifying whether there was a complaint or not. (I would hope this would prevent the suspicion that the fellow is complaining about the supervisor, preventing the supervisor from feeling inadequate) This would go in the other direction as well, although I am less familiar with that end of the relationship. This would also allow the supervisor to discuss the fellow’s ideas with the fellowship and try to come up with strategies to work with the fellow, keeping him/her in line with the program as well as the organization’s goals.

    I think a lot of it has to do with one-on-one support on every level, and customized for each community in which the fellow is placed. The fellowship is a good idea, like I said, I like the idea of putting young people/fresh eyes into organizations to help make changes, but the support and protection from that sudden reality shock is so important in my eyes. Keeping the training truly relevant to each placement, creating a supportive and positive environment, and preparing the fellows honestly – those are the main things I think are important for success in a program like this. Like I said, not exactly feasible…

  • Sounds to me like good evaluation and tracking mechanisms both during and after the fellowship period would resolve many of the issues you raise, Tzipi.

    As for ending up with a bad supervisor, that happens in real life not just on fellowships. There can be an opt-out mechanism for the fellow that allows, under certain circumstances, for the fellow to move to another place of work. It can be arranged that as part of the evaluation mechanism, the fellow requests anonymity regarding negative comments. This would allow him/her to stay on in their job if the institute can’t or won’t remove them to another place of work.

  • You bring up some valid concerns tzipi. I recently met a whole bunch of JCSCs, placed in communities from coast to coast and your experience seems singularly traumatic. Sure they all expressed challenges that they had to overcome but overall they described an experience that was positive. A local mentor is a good idea and a more effective feedback system is certainly handy. I know you have a receptive audience here. I doubt the people involved in the Insight Fellowship have any interest in creating a self-congratulatory program. They’re listening and as far as I can tell, many of your concerns are being or have already been addressed.

  • I wasn’t a JCSC so I don’t know if their experiences are traumatic like mine was – I was just a college graduate who applied to work at a synagogue, had a erally bad experience but was like, “maybe they’re not all like this,” got another job and had to quit because the environment was so hostile. I didn’t have the support the JCSCs have, but I think even they could have more support in order to fully live out the JCSC goals.

    I know bad supervisors exist in real life and not just Jewish life, but the problem with bad supervisors in Jewish life is that not only are they bad supervisors, but they’re in your synagogue, they know all the people you know, they’re at events you go to, etc. And in the case of being placed in a new city, they are also the point of reference for your job success (people know him/her and are friends with him/her and if you aren’t successful because he is creating a hostile environment, people only see that you aren’t successful – they don’t know who you are, how hard you’re working; and it’s the whole community that sees this, the people you see at services or in the JCC gym, not just other people in your field).

    I’m glad most of the concerns are already being addressed 🙂 I’m glad I’m not the only one who has these ideas/problems and I hope the Insight Fellowship is successful.

  • thanks. we’re doing our best and know that we’re going to be learning lessons. (if we don’t, we’re not doing our jobs well.) change has to start somewhere and one of the first steps, from our side, is listening to folks who have first hand experience.

    tzipi, drop me a line… yoni {at} leadingup {dot} org.

  • I just came across this very interesting thread which, for some reason I missed the first time around.

    I’m an organizational consultant, working mainly in Israel, specializing in Jewish organizational leadership. Tzipi very articulately raises some of the difficulties experienced by leaders – and even non-leaders – who innocently enter the Jewish organizational world and within a very short period of time burn out, taking their talent, idealism, vision and energy with them, never to return. While Tzipi expresses the pain of one individual, the loss each year of hundreds of Tzipi’s to the world of Jewish organizations can only result in organizational deterioration and eventually organizational death.

    My belief is that until the root causes of the problem are dealt with, the situation can and will only continue and become worse, until Jewish organizations just implode – as some are already doing – because they cannot retain the quality human resources they so badly need in order to successfully meet the changes and challenges they constantly face. Without going into deep analysis of the subject let me raise a couple of questions (in order to raise more questions) regarding these organizations:

    · Was the organizational culture competitive, coercive or hostile, or was it in keeping with the mission of the organization?
    · How much of a “vision imperative” of and for the organization did Tzipi’s immediate boss, (and her boss’s boss, etc. all the way up the chain of command) have, that guided both her actions and her upward, downward and sideways relationships within the organizational system?
    · Who in fact, led the organization – the CEO? the Board? The founder? Different people at different times? Nobody?
    · What kind of disparity was there between Tzipi’s salary and that of her CEO?

    These are some beginning systemic questions that must be looked at in order to better understand the broader organizational complex which caused Tzipi’s unfortunate, but not at all uncommon brush with the Jewish organizational world.

    I’m very happy to further discuss these concerns in private e-mail correspondence with regard to specific issues.

    Best wishes

    Mike Lowy [email protected]

  • Does it give any better than this!?! As a full-time writer myself is always good to read such a well written and well thought out content.