October 11, 2010

Continuing the Legacy of the Ralph I. Goldman Fellowship

From Steve Schwager, CEO:

I am happy to write this column while sitting at my desk in JDC Headquarters. Having followed doctor’s orders after my hospitalization on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, I am back in the office and savoring my full return to work. I’m not permitted to fly for another three weeks, but fortunately Irv has picked up the burden and, as I write to you, he is in the former Soviet Union on a Chicago Federation/JFNA Prime Ministers Mission. Thanks Irv! In the interim, I have been using my Blackberry and the telephone to stay on top of everything, and am grateful to all of the JDC staff who ensured that it was “business as usual.”

I was looking for an upbeat topic.

With the 25th and 26th Ralph I. Goldman (RIG) Fellows settling into Headquarters, it seemed appropriate to share excerpts from the inspiring farewell message from outgoing RIG Fellow Violetta Shmulenzon:

“…I am astounded by the amount of growth and learning I have had the privilege to obtain through my time at JDC, and by the numerous new friends and colleagues who have embraced me as a fellow Jointnik. My time here has been truly wonderful, and I have grown both professionally and personally.

When I first came to JDC NYHQ nearly a year ago, I quickly learned from many of you the extent and depth of JDC’s role and care for the global Jewish community. My first placement was Odessa, Ukraine; arriving there more than 30 years after my family’s immigration, deep and personal reflections enhanced my work in Odessa and my understanding of Jewish life in the FSU. I cannot express my enthusiasm and gratitude for the opportunity to live in Odessa and work with the Jewish community there. Under the dedicated leadership of Shira Genish and Ira Zborovskaya, and the Odessa Joint office staff, I was able to discover a vibrant and active Jewish community. I am grateful for the opportunity to add my own colors to the mosaic of Jewish life in Odessa.

My second placement was in Jerusalem, where I observed and became a part of the heart of JDC. Under the inspirational guidance of Rebecca Bardach and the amazing staff of JDC’s Center for International Migration and Integration, as well as Rina Edelstein and the FSU Department staff, I explored the multitude of ways JDC is a part of the fabric and story of Israel and the Jewish People.

To say that I am in awe of JDC’s work and the dedication of the staff who maintain its mission is an understatement. Meeting dozens of JDC staff, seeing and being a part of current JDC projects, and most importantly, recognizing the impact JDC has had on individuals, organizations, and Am Yisrael has left me more than humbled to be part of this great organization.

This year was most meaningful and powerful thanks to the openness and warmth of Arnon Mantver and Danny Pins, Asher Ostrin and Shauli Dritter, all in Israel; the dedicated supervision and learning environment created by Sarah Eisenman, Natalie Szklarz, and the entire Next Generation and Service Initiatives Team in New York; the willingness of so many JDC staff from around the world to spend time teaching and sharing with me; the openness of Steve Schwager; and the incredible inspiration and belief in “my generation” by the one and only legend whose name I had the privilege to carry with me all year—Ralph Goldman.

Someone told me that although I am leaving JDC, JDC will never leave me. It’s true; I take all that I have learned here and the devotion I have to our global Jewish community as I move forward.

While I have already begun my new duties as the Director of Leadership Development and Camping at the Marks JCH of Bensonhurst, I look forward to continuing my relationship with JDC and each of you."

And who will continue the RIG Fellowship legacy this year?

The stellar Zev Nagel and Alejandro Okret have been chosen from an application pool that increased fourfold since last year. Deborah Lipstadt, the Ralph I. Goldman Fellowship Committee Chair said, “At a time when Jews feel worried about so many things, it is heartening to see such an outstanding group of people wanting to give to the Jewish community.”

Originally from Los Angeles, California, Zev Nagel had a strong Jewish upbringing and was very involved in his local Jewish community. He earned his BA in English Literature and minored in Jewish Studies at Yeshiva University; and he studied abroad at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Israel.

After graduation, Zev was a Senior Fellow at New York’s American Jewish Committee, where he researched policy monographs on relevant global affairs for publication, managed their international fellowship program, and worked with senior staff to launch a new generation donor/client relations program. Zev was one of 20 internationally placed public service fellows funded by the Legacy Heritage Fellowship Limited, through which he attended conferences in New York, Prague, and Jerusalem.

For two years, Zev worked as the speechwriter for Ambassador Dan Gillerman at the Permanent Mission of Israel to the UN and drafted all statements delivered at the UN on a wide range of topics including international security, economic and social development, human rights, climate change, and political affairs.

Zev also worked for New York-based political consulting firm Charney Research, specializing in conflict zone polling, market research, and strategic communications.

Most recently, Zev completed his MA in Law and Diplomacy at the Fletcher School of Tufts University, where he focused on International Business Relations and International Negotiation and Conflict Resolution, and became a certified mediator. Zev’s Graduate studies were complemented by a Jewish component as a Wexner Graduate Fellow.

Our second RIG Fellow, Alejandro Okret, was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He brings to JDC his tremendous enthusiasm as well as vast personal and professional experience living overseas and working with diverse international organizations. 

Growing up, Alejandro was active in Argentina’s Zionist youth movement and the Jewish Agency for Israel. He studied Political Science at the University of Buenos Aires and interned for the Commercial Sector of the US Embassy. Making aliyah in 2002, Alejandro spent some time on a kibbutz learning Hebrew. Alejandro went on to earn his BA in Political Science and Latin American Studies from Hebrew University, where he was also a research assistant at the Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations, translating key documents in academic publications. Additionally, he was part of a team set up by the Knesset to research Israel’s role during the military dictatorship in Argentina.

Alejandro served in the Israel Defense Forces in the spokesperson’s office, arranging security briefings for diplomats, congressmen, journalists, and other officials.

Following his army service, Alejandro worked in the Jewish Agency’s Missions Department, focusing on issues concerning olim from Ethiopia and acting as a liaison for missions to Ethiopia and Israel. He also conducted project research for the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute examining the social welfare of Spanish-speaking citizens in Israel.

Alejandro earned his MSc in Comparative Social Policy at the University of Oxford, studying policies related to social exclusion, poverty, public health, education and pensions, and specializing in welfare in Latin America. He is currently pursuing a Diploma in International Development/Economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science.

Irv and I are confident that these two young men will bring honor both to the Fellowship and to the remarkable Ralph Goldman himself. As Ralph has said, “The Fellows are like a large crowd of successful grandchildren. They give me such nachat.” They bring us great pride and joy as well, and we look forward to their many contributions to global Jewish life.

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