At the Jewish Federation, young leaders have a long history: Chosen initially for their “potential,” young leaders tend to develop remarkable community work habits as fundraisers, volunteers, committee chairs, board members, mentors and role models.

Representing Federation’s NEXTGen at its very best, this year’s Young Leadership Award recipients are:

Amy Shefman:  Sylvia Simon Greenberg Award

David Kramer: Frank A. Wetsman Award

Ilana Liss:  Mark Family Young Leadership Award

We asked Amy, David and Ilana what it means to be a Young Leader in Jewish Detroit, and each responded in their own modest way.

Amy Shefman, stepping forward

Amy Shefman, recipient Sylvia Simon Greenberg Award
Amy Shefman, recipient Sylvia Simon Greenberg Award

Reflecting on receiving the Sylvia Simon Greenberg Award, which provides a stipend to attend the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in Jerusalem later this year, Amy shares, “I strongly believe in tikkun olam and giving back to the community. These are values my husband, Scott, and I  encourage our boys to uphold as well. For instance, every year, as a family, we participate in It’s a Mitzvah along with the TOV (Tikkun Olam Volunteer) packages programs to name just a few Federation community events.”

A newcomer to our community, Amy chose to get involved with Federation. Her affinity for Federation’s work, particularly in its support for the State of Israel, matches her own deep affection for the Jewish homeland, having spent summers with her grandparents who lived in Netanya.

Since 2007, Amy has assumed many Federation leadership roles within Women’s Philanthropy. Always willing to nurture and educate others, Amy has earned the respect of her co-workers in her service as Vice President of Women’s Philanthropy and as a strong solicitor for Federation’s Annual Campaign;  additionally she has served as co-chair, Community Connections and Community Services Division; currently she is co-chair, Food for Thought and is active in Tikkun Olam Volunteers, Shalom Family and It’s a Mitzvah.

In what ways will Amy stay involved?  She plans to continue her volunteer work with Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy, which empowers women to get involved and become educated about the many needs in our community.

“If we could all pitch in, even just a little bit,” says Amy, “our Jewish community can remain strong and vibrant.”  Naming role models in Women’s Philanthropy, Amy includes Susie Pappas, Susie Citrin, Marcie Orley and Lisa Lis, to name just a few.  “These women, along with many others, are truly inspirational,” Amy observes, “I’ve learned a lot from all of them along the way.”

Summing up her motivation as a community leader, Amy chooses the classic quote from the Diary of Anne Frank, “How wonderful it is that no one need wait a single moment to start to improve the world.”

David Kramer, giving back

David Kramer, recipient Frank A. Wetsman Award
David Kramer, recipient Frank A. Wetsman Award

Stating that he is “humbled to be recognized” and particularly honored to follow in the footsteps of many friends and mentors who have won the Wetsman Award, David mentioned that he draws inspiration from last year’s winner, Jeff Camienier, “whose legacy to the community will live on despite the fact that he is no longer with us.”

Driven by a strong need to give back to the community, David readily shares his story:

“Like many people in our community of my generation, I grew up in a comfortable environment and had the opportunity to attend good schools, go to camp and not want for anything.”

“My mother and her parents came to the U.S. after surviving the Holocaust and living in a Displaced Person’s camp in Germany. The Jewish community (the JDC in particular) sustained them after the war. Fifty years later, the Brown Center, part of JFS, gave my grandmother dignity in her last years on earth.”

“My father’s father came to the U.S. from Russia as a boy and was able to become financially successful, in part, because of a loan from Hebrew Free Loan. I know that many of us have similar stories. We owe it to our families and our community to recognize how the Jewish community has sustained us and to give back to the community that has given so much to us.”

With a desire to preserve and enhance the community services that were so critical to his family, David is Past President of Federation’s Young Adult Division (now NEXTGen). He is chair of the board of Orchards Children Services and a member of the board of Hebrew Free Loan (HFL).  He is a past member of the board of the Federation and Jewish Community Relation’s Council (JCRC). A participant on numerous Federation leadership missions, David recently has returned from the Detroit Mission to Cuba.

For David and his wife, Anessa, encouraging work in the community is a family priority. They are the proud parents of two young boys, whom they routinely involve in community volunteer work. Not surprisingly, Anessa was the 2010 Sylvia Simon Greenberg Awardee.

Ilana Liss,  a Detroit “returnee”

Ilana Liss, recipient Mark Family Young Leadership Award
Ilana Liss, recipient Mark Family Young Leadership Award

Chosen as the Mark Family Young Leadership Award recipient, Ilana stated that she was honored to have had the opportunity to work with so many past award recipients and count many as friends and mentors. “When I saw my name on that plaque in the Max M. Fisher Federation Building with so many great young leaders, so many of whom are thoughtful, articulate, caring and dynamic, I was humbled.”

Although Ilana moved to Chicago for a couple of years after college, she returned to Detroit in 2004 with her husband, Zachary. She took a job with Schechter Wealth Strategies where she now holds the position of Director of Solution Design. When she returned, she recognized that she was one of the young adults – growing in numbers – who now choose to make Detroit their home. And so she decided to join the ranks of  Federation’s young adults turning their attention to the challenge of revitalizing the city.

A Past President of Federation’s Young Adult Division (now NEXTGen), Ilana serves on the Federation Executive Committee as a member of the boards of both Federation and United Jewish Foundation. She has been chair of the Young Adult Campaign, a participant in the Kiev Exchange Program and a member of numerous committees.

Reflecting on the many people who have influenced her path within the Jewish community, Ilana credits the women in her immediate family.  “Both my mother-in-law’s ( Beverly Liss) years of dedication to Federation and the Detroit Jewish community and my mother’s (Belle Kohen) strong emphasis on the importance of a Jewish education and a Jewish home have shaped me as an adult and as a mother. I’m also blessed to be very close to my two grandmothers, Francis Fink and Sheri Kohen, who I count on for advice and guidance.”

Leaving town once again, (albeit temporarily) Ilana shares that receiving the Mark Family Award at this particular time is a “bittersweet moment” as she and her family are about to relocate to Cincinnati where Zachary will complete a fellowship at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.

“We have every intention of coming back and settling permanently in Detroit,” Ilana states, “In the next two years away from home, I’ll have the opportunity to reflect on all the things that make our community special. And I hope to find ample opportunities to borrow ideas from the Jewish community there and bring them home to Detroit.”