Yesod Europe: Serving Jewish Professionals, Strengthening Jewish Communities

As the director of Yesod, Dani Serlin is empowering the best and brightest professionals to lead Jewish Europe into the future.

By Dani Serlin - Director of Yesod | October 28, 2021

As the director of Yesod, Dani Serlin has worked to strengthen Jewish professional development and communal leadership all across Europe.

Strong communities need strong leaders.And these leaders need resources, like workshops, communities of practice, and seminars. No one knows this more than Dani Serlin. Serlin is the director of Yesod, an organization dedicated to strengthening Jewish Europe by investing in Jewish community professionals and educators. In this reflection, Serlin discusses why Jewish professional development is important, and how Yesod is empowering the best and brightest professionals to lead Jewish Europe boldly into the future. 

I’m a European Jewish community professional, and proud to be so.

Though this was not my intended career path, from a young age the writing was on the wall. At 16, I was a peer madricha (counselor) for a pluralist youth movement in London. At 18, I was a camp counsellor in Poughkeepsie (shoutout to Camp Sprout Lake!). And at 20, I served as head of a winter camp back in the UK, where I first saw myself dreaming of planning seminars and leading others  — a job I didn’t even know existed in the Jewish community.

I discovered that dream job at Limmud International, where I set up a global volunteer development program. The job came to me by chance, at a Limmud summer festival, when I overheard some staff talk about the role. Before I joined Limmud, I asked myself some questions: Could I do the job with the project-management skills I’d gained in the non-profit sector? Yes. Did I want to help Limmud volunteers around the world build diverse Jewish learning communities? Yes. Could I afford a pay cut (a story for another time)? Just about.

My story raises larger questions for Jewish community professionals everywhere: How do we recruit and retain the best and brightest to lead our communities? To develop careers where our insights and experience have long-term benefits for the community? Where we are valued and remunerated for our contributions?

This is where Yesod Europe comes in. At Yesod, we aim to transform the culture and perception of Jewish community work as a viable career choice for talented professionals. Trusting in a new collaborative approach, JDC, Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies recognized the need to invest in the learning, development, and connection of Jewish community professionals across Europe, and to create a comprehensive and integrated platform to achieve this goal. 

We believe that Jewish community professionals and educators can make a greater impact when we equip them with broader and deeper knowledge, skills, and confidence. Yesod takes a personalized approach to professional development. We start with a one-on-one conversation to better understand the individual’s needs, help managers plan ongoing development for their team, or identify an appropriate course of action. This may include training, coaching, mentoring, joining a community of practice, or applying for funding to take part in external training.

Yesod turns to Judaism in its broadest sense as a guiding force for values-driven Jewish community work and life. 

A key component of our work is strengthening the “Jewish” in “Jewish community professional.” This is not about Jewish ritual practice or adhering to a particular stream of Judaism; we serve all community professionals, regardless of their religious identity or beliefs. Yesod turns to Judaism in its broadest sense as a guiding force for values-driven Jewish community work and life. We support community professionals through Jewish learning consultations and a learning fund, and these resources help our clients feel connected to Judaism, weaving Jewish values into their community work. 

The Professional Development Fund (PDF) is an example of this. PDF is a Yesod initiative that, to date, has allocated more than 100 learning and development micro-grants to Jewish professionals. PDF aims to empower Jewish professionals to identify ways that they can grow, enabling them to then achieve these professional goals. PDF has conducted virtual and in-person training courses (pre-COVID) for Jewish professionals in their local language, reaching as wide an audience as possible. The pandemic has inspired many more requests for one-on-one coaching in topics such as strategic thinking and planning, managing staff, fundraising, or communications skills. I’m proud that PDF has been able to help so many people. 

For many of us, COVID-19 has brought challenges and opportunities. The pandemic coincided with our plans to host regular virtual trainings and networking opportunities on a European-wide platform, rather than just in-person seminars. The demand for our monthly virtual workshops — on topics like emotional intelligence and change management — was higher than we expected. As a result, we ran these workshops twice. 

This enthusiasm pushed us to develop more opportunities for camping professionals, Jewish educators, and a senior professionals forum, creating a space for people from similar industries to share ideas, learn together, and build a targeted network. Our alumni aren’t just strengthening their communities; they’re taking our investment and paying it forward as mentors to other Jewish community professionals.

But we couldn’t have done any of this without JDC. Through their on-the-ground partnerships with Jewish communities in Europe, JDC’s country directors and liaisons are able to provide valuable context and connections to the field. As key members of the Yesod mini-board, JDC provides invaluable guidance and is a critical thought-partner, helping us integrate Yesod Europe into JDC’s broader work and mission.

Reflecting on the past five years, I am proud to see the growth in confidence and skills of the more than 500 community professionals we have worked with in over 30 European countries. More and more, professionals are keen to develop themselves, and their employers are recognizing the value of these experiences and offering their support. As we try to live with COVID-19 and move past its emergencies, we will continue to play a key role in serving and connecting the Jewish professional world — those who, each day, strengthen their communities.

A lifelong Jewish community professional, Dani Serlin is now the director of Yesod, a partnership between the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe, and JDC. Yesod invests in key individual Jewish communal professionals, and educators to strengthen Jewish life in Europe through professional development and Jewish learning opportunities. Dani has a BA in Modern History and Political Science and an MA in Mediterranean Studies. She lives in London.

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