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OTZMA & JFNA – Cultivating Leadership for the Next Generation

On Tuesday January 3, 2012, 29 Otzmaniks came to the JFNA offices in Jerusalem to meet with visiting JFNA President and CEO, Jerry Silverman. Despite being mid-winter, the streets were lit up with the fresh sparkling sunshine native to Jerusalem. This was the current participants' first visit with a JFNA head figure and designed to be a key moment in their Israel experience.

Otzma, JFNA's 'leadership and service experience' in Israel, which selects some of the finest youth aged 20-30 for a year-long course in Israel, was holding a meeting in the JFNA Israel offices. The meeting was engineered so that the potential leaders of the Otzma participants could meet with current leadership: a fine opportunity for each to swap tips.

The fourth month of the participants' ten month long program, this meeting offered a significant moment in terms of reflection on experiences and planning ahead. Otzma Israel has two tracks for its participants: the 'Classic' track and the Teaching track. For those enlisted in the Classic track, this meeting marked the end of their time so far in their initial placement and jumpstarted the next leg of the program in their Partnership Together Cities.

The meeting was an example of the consolidation of the JFNA-Otzma relationship which has been strengthened all the more since Otzma moved into JFNA offices last year. JFNA's investment in the next generation of leaders is considered a high priority and Silverman's meeting with these elite youth was of key importance to both parties. Rebecca Caspi, Director General of JFNA Israel, proclaimed, 'The next generation of leaders is to be found in those who are engaged, those who are proactive and those who are able to take a stand. Otzma is helping create the leadership of the future.'

The meeting between Jerry Silverman and the Otzma participants took the format of an informal question and answer session. Silverman enquired about each of the Otzma participant's experiences, asking them where they had come from and what they each felt, not only about what they had gained from the program but what they would have liked to have gained. The main element the participants relayed benefiting from was the education program Otzma runs.

Cultivating a connection to the Jewish world and a bond, both intellectual and emotional is a main target of Otzma's activities. Of the twenty-five participants, when asked about their plans for the coming year, six expressed interest in returning to school, three in becoming educators, three in staying in Israel, the rest in being involved in the Jewish world somehow.

The group as a whole expressed strong interest in making connections with the Jewish world. Each one of the twenty nine participants is now in Israel having made the conscious and proactive decision to prioritize gaining experience within the Jewish world. Standing apart from their peers in the post-bachelors degree rat race, these individuals have put their other professional focusses on hold to invest in acquiring invaluable exposure to the Jewish world in Israel.

The participants view their year with Otzma as a spring board into greater involvement with Jewish organizations back home in the States and demonstrated enthusiasm in coming together with Otzma alumni to learn about their life paths after Otzma. QUOTE – 'The sense of community among Otzma participants is incredible; you really feel part of family of like-minded individuals. Hearing about the different directions alumni have taken helps to inform our own decisions.' 

The program Otzma is set to arrange a get together for the current participants to meet with alumni in various professional settings, an event which is hoped to assist the Otzmaniks in their own decision making needed for the following year's career choices.  One Otzma participant relayed a reason for his attraction to Otzma. 'Hearing about the network available to all participants and the opportunity to widen my web of connections was another draw of the program.' All articulated strong satisfaction with the educational program offered by Otzma and most importantly craved assistance making the transition they desire into employment within the American Jewish world.  

Silverman inquired into the group's activities for the coming year and relayed his excitement at the prospect of a growing number of Otzma participants in the next year's cohort. 'The continued flourishing of a program like Otzma is a clear sign that we are doing something right. In Otzma we see the next generation of involved and motivated Jews; the fresh voice of America's Jewish organizations.'