June 8, 2009

JDC Leadership Program Helps Locals Shape their Jewish Future in Latin America

More than 700 Jewish leaders, volunteers, and students from nations throughout Latin America and the Caribbean gathered in Cartagena, Columbia, in early May 2009 for this year’s General Assembly (GA). Organized by JDC ever 2-3 years, this most recent gathering provided a welcome opportunity for Jewish professionals and community leaders from all areas of the region to participate in forums exploring relevant topics such as Jewish education, fundraising, programs for youth, and attracting new community members; as well as to share best practices and network.

Among the best and the brightest who attend these regional GAs are participants and graduates of JDC’s Leatid (“toward the future” in Hebrew) Latin America program. In fact, nearly all volunteer and professional Jewish community leaders to emerge as key figures in the region in recent years have benefitted from this JDC-sponsored leadership development initiative. Over the course of two years and approximately six intensive seminars, Leatid provides trainings, workshops, and forums that help communities deal with the challenges—economic, religious, and other—they face. In addition to specialized workshops, seminars, and follow-up coaching conducted in local communities in response to particular needs, Leatid’s core programs include training for institutional directors and for young communal leaders as well as an online forum for leaders of Jewish institutions to learn from one another.

Participants in Leatid’s current Program for Directors of Jewish Communities share their impressions of the value of this experience.

Perla Sananes, age 35 from Venezuela, has worked nearly half her life at the Hebraica Social, Cultural, and Sports Center in Caracas, where she is also the director of the Integrated Child Development Department. She was one of 23 Leatid participants to attend the GA. She talked about feeling grateful for the opportunity to participate in such a relevant and informative training program: “We are learning how to approach and anticipate upcoming challenges,” she said. “As the world’s situation is changing, we as Jewish community leaders have a responsibility to focus on global issues, such as water supply and terrorism. We were taught we should be involved in matters that impact the world at large.”

Perla also highlighted the value of sharing best practices, learning from her peers dealing with community development challenges throughout the whole of Latin America. “As Venezuela prepares to merge institutions due to the decrease in community membership, our colleagues from Argentina who have already gone through the process have provided us with useful advice.”

Juan Michan, also 35, is from Argentina, which is still recovering from the 2001 economic crisis that plunged approximately one-third of the country’s Jewish middle class into poverty. He is executive director of the Macabi Noar, which is transitioning from a local club to a Jewish community center that serves as a hub of social activity for 1,800-plus Argentine Jews.

“[Leatid] provides community professionals a set of skills that are valuable for both the institution and individual participants,” Michan said.

Ilana Lustgarten agreed. The 32-year-old from Uruguay has one year under her belt as executive director of the Montevideo Tzedaka Foundation. ”We are being trained how to lead,” she said. “I’ve received advice on how to make effective presentations and several tips about conveying the message I want to spread, who my target audience is, and whom within that audience I particularly want to reach. Importantly, we were coached in fundraising, and that is a major focus of my daily work,” said Lustgarten.

Fernando Lapiduz of Argentina has, along with his wife, Patricia, been serving as the JDC program coordinators in Cuba since 2007 and was eager to participate in Leatid. The experience, for him, was overwhelming. “Leatid has meant a whole new way of viewing my role as a community leader. It has opened my mind, brought so much information I can apply to my work, so many tools that I can use to enhance local Jewish involvement, and such a great exchange with colleagues. For me, Leatid has made an invaluable contribution.”

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