The Three Qualities of a Jewish Leader: A Reflection from Ralph I. Goldman Fellows

What does it mean to be a Jewish leader? In this reflection, three JDC Entwine Ralph I Goldman (RIG) fellows discuss the qualities that define Jewish leadership.

By Jess Katz, Sarah Tagger, and Joshua Yudkin - JDC Entwine Ralph I. Goldman Fellows | August 4, 2021

Jessica Katz (far right) visiting with elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union. Katz, along with Joshua Yudkin and Sarah Tagger, were selected to be JDC Entwine Ralph I Goldman (RIG) fellows, a premier leadership opportunity awarded to one person annually.

The Ralph I. Goldman Fellowship in Global Leadership (RIG) is JDC’s premier leadership opportunity, awarded to one person annually, for rising Jewish leaders. In this reflection, three RIG fellows–Josh Yudkin, Jessica Katz, and Sarah Tagger — came together to recognize Ralph Goldman, JDC’s beloved Honorary Executive-Vice President, and identify the three leadership qualities that defined their fellowship experience. 

Ralph I. Goldman was a prolific leader who advanced and elevated Jewish communal life and service throughout the 20th Century. In his honor, the JDC established the Ralph I. Goldman Fellowship in Global Jewish Leadership (RIG), a premier leadership opportunity awarded to one person annually. Through the year, RIG fellows work alongside and contribute to Jewish communities around the world.

As RIG fellows, each of us had the privilege to connect with the greater Jewish world. And as we reflect on our RIG experience, we’ve identified three leadership qualities that guided our experience: the ability to navigate, negotiate, and be in the “now.”

Lao Tzu once said that “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” But what comes next also takes intention; the ability to navigate one’s life, to know where you’re going. 

Whether traveling to a new location, finding your place within an organization, or collaborating on a project, as RIG fellows we’ve had to develop keen navigation skills. Sometimes we did all these things at the same time. Each moment of the fellowship required us to figure out the next step, manage who to meet, where to go, and what to do. There were no right answers, only opportunities, some obvious, others counterintuitive. 

Joshua Yudkin boarding a flight from Dubai to Tel Aviv during his RIG fellowship.

Navigation can be as simple as triple-checking the signage in an airport, or as complicated as the politics of finding your way in a large organization – knowing who to talk to and how to get things done. Navigation is often disguised as listening. The more we listen, the better we learn to carry ourselves within a certain place, a certain time.

At some point, our ability to navigate translated into the quality of our work. By learning more about the Joint, its partners, as well as the settings it works in, we slowly found our place in the process. 

This led us to the next leadership quality, negotiation, and an important contemporary example of its importance in motion happened just this year.

As India experienced a COVID-19 surge, JDC’s disaster response team launched into action. With an impeccable track record, connections to innovative technologies, and strong relationships with local partners, the team had the tools to launch a quick response. 

But they also had to figure out where this response was most needed. They had to negotiate  their vast institutional knowledge with the immediate needs of the situation. Only by carefully negotiating and recognizing each of these elements was the team able to adequately address the imminent need. As RIG fellows, we learn from JDC’s response to these challenges, specifically the complexities of negotiating a high-stakes situation. 

But Jewish leadership also requires one more quality: being in the “now,” being present. Jewish leadership always transpires in the now. It’s about applying what we know and acting selflessly, investing in the greater collective. And yet, Jewish leadership should not be reduced to mere action: It is also about leaving divine wisdom – relevant, timely, and nuanced insight – for those who follow in your footsteps.

Jewish leadership is about leaving divine wisdom – relevant, timely, and nuanced insight – for those who follow in your footsteps.

As fellows, we reflect critically on contemporary issues and, inspired by our Jewish traditions, we learn to craft personal and authentic thought leadership and advice. Whether speaking at regional gatherings, writing in international publications, or sitting in closed-door meetings with community leaders, we practice radical gratitude for our training, relentless respect for all those in our immediate and imagined communities, and reinforce our Jewish resilience by celebrating the miraculous era in which we live.

In conclusion, each of us offers you three moments when we put these values into action.

Sarah Tagger (RIG Fellow, 2021): When I had the opportunity to go to Dubai and help launch the first-ever Jewish cultural community center in the UAE, I was ecstatic. I was tasked with spearheading and building the entire programmatic strategy and curriculum for the center. Through the teachings of the fellowship, such as learning how to navigate and negotiate to reach the now, as well as my personal background in strategy, education, and relationship building, I felt well-equipped to tackle this challenge. While I’m still here and the work continues, I do know one thing for certain: that while there will be more successes, as well as moments of learning, this is a remarkable moment in the history of the Jewish people and I feel so grateful to be a part of it. 

Jessica Katz (RIG Fellow, 2019):  At the beginning of the fellowship, I asked myself,  “What am I going to do with this year? What’s my role? What opportunities exist?” By pushing myself to speak up, take chances, build my own path, and most of all be myself, my year became something incredible, loaded with learning and growth. Since the fellowship, I have had more confidence and sought opportunities to lead, listen, trust my gut, and better understand specific moments to push or be patient, all of which continues to allow me to recognize what is out of my own control. 

Josh Yudkin (RIG Fellow, 2020):A mentor once told me that leadership doesn’t happen on stage; rather, it is the way you conduct yourself off stage when no one is looking.  Having been based on the other side of the world during a novel pandemic in lockdown, there were many moments of uncertainty – from initial internet connectivity issues to celebrating Passover alone.  Yet it was in this moment, disconnected, I was able to lead, with confidence and trust.  Employing emun (faithfulness) and firgun (unselfish pleasure) with myself and those around me – we came out stronger, together.

At the end of each calendar year, the RIG fellowship comes to a close. But in reality, there is no end to our time as fellows. Instead, we go where the journey takes us. Despite each fellow having incredibly different experiences (especially between the three of us in 2019, 2020, and 2021), we’re still able to connect through our common lessons, values, and leadership skills learned. The core values of JDC, Ralph I. Goldman, and the Jewish communities we learned from, guide us throughout the year, and more importantly, in the years to come.

Sarah Tagger moderating an online panel about JDC’s work in Ethiopia related to women’s economic empowerment.

Sarah Tagger is this year’s Ralph I. Goldman (RIG) Fellow. A dedicated community builder, enthusiastic global traveler, and passionate storyteller, she received her B.A. Honors in Cultural Anthropology and Global Studies from UC Santa Barbara, and her MSc in International Relations from the London School of Economics. She has been steadfast in her commitment to empowering the Jewish future and enhancing Jewish education, serving in numerous community leadership positions.

 Jessica Katz is an experienced network weaver, educator, community builder, and coach. She has a B.A. in Sociology from Michigan State University and an M.Ed in Higher Education from Loyola University Chicago. As the 2019 RIG Fellow, she  spent her RIG Fellowship year engaging with Jewish communities in countries such as Ukraine, India and Dubai and used her background in Human Resources to conduct research for JDC on leadership programs across Europe.

Josh Yudkin is active with both local and international organizations focused on education, community building, and health outcomes. Josh holds an MPH, MA and BA from Washington University in St. Louis, and is completing his PhD in epidemiology at the University of Texas. Josh’s current research portfolio looks at sociocultural factors for cardiometabolic diseases. As the 2020 RIG Fellow, Josh took on the challenge of helping JDC regions, including JDC’s disaster response team and the Myers JDC Brookdale Institute, adapt to the global pandemic.

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