Robin Axelrod reflects on her experience at the JPRO19 Conference and the opportunities it brings for Jewish professionals.

By Robin Axelrod

JPRO Network, an organization that connects, educates, inspires and empowers professionals working in the Jewish community sector, sponsored an oversold conference, “JPRO19: What Connects Us,” at Cobo Arena Aug. 12-14.

Billed as the seminal conference for hundreds of Jewish communal professionals from across North America, JPRO19 challenged participants to connect and reimagine what thriving Jewish institutions will look like, who will lead them and what impact they will collectively have on the world in the 21st century.

Unlike most other professional conferences, JPRO19 brought together professionals who typically do not intersect — across generations, geography, organization types, roles and much more — to deepen connections, make progress on issues that are at the forefront of their collective work and strengthen their individual capacity to lead.

The conference afforded attendees the opportunity to participate in “immersive experiences” in spaces across the city of Detroit that highlight promising practices and complex scenarios. We were challenged and inspired to see what innovative leaders are doing with the Brightmoor neighborhood, Shinola’s design center, Rebel Nell, and the Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue, Eastern Market, RecoveryPark, dPOP and Repair the World.

Kari Alterman, senior program officer of the William Davidson Foundation, and Scott Kaufman, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit, kicked off the conference. With a view of the Detroit River and Windsor on its other shore, Detroit served as the perfect symbol of collective rebirth and vitality.

I was inspired by the words of JPRO award winners Arya Marvazy from Los Angeles-based JQ (Jewish Queers) International and Kate Belza O’Bannon from Repair the World who spoke of the importance of inclusivity and empowerment. And, like me, the crowd was wowed by the Jacob Mandelkorn Award winner and Wexner Foundation President Rabbi R. B. Elka Abrahamson and his challenge for us to exercise “holy chutzpah” in the work that we do.

I attended a variety of workshops including “#MeToo to #WeToo: Creating a Safe, Respectful and Equitable Jewish Community” and “Why Culture Matters — Now and in the Future,” both of which challenged us to deeply explore how we behave as professionals and why that is essential to institutional and communal wellbeing.

It was impossible to attend all of the sessions offered, but from pop-ups to wellness practices and from prayer services to walking tours, there was something for everyone. One such offering was WellAdvised, one of JPRO Network’s new programs, that paired professional coaches and advisers with other communal professionals for one-on-one advising.

JPRO19 closed with the plenary “Teams and Dreams: How Leadership Connects Us.” Two speakers’ remarks about strong leadership continue to resonate with me. Erika Rudin-Luria, president of the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, spoke about succeeding Steven Hoffman, a beloved leader who served the community for 35 years. Hoffman said to her: “I’ll be disappointed if you do things the way I did. It’s a different time and Cleveland is a different place now. You need to put your own stamp on this community.”

Darin McKeever, president and CEO of the William Davidson Foundation, spoke about the value of tzimtzum — the Kabbalistic principle of contracting in order to create space for others and their ideas. Excellent leaders must listen, act with humility and leave room for new generations of leaders to move our communities forward.

I do not know how future JPRO conferences could top what happened in Detroit, but I have no doubt that what lies ahead is not only exciting but also worth being a part of.

Read More: JPRO19 Empowers Jewish Professionals

Robin Axelrod is CEO of Axelrod Consulting Group and senior education specialist at the Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus.

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