How Jewish Detroit Develops Leaders
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
June 29, 2017
What do you do when the Detroit Jewish Federation calls? There are many who choose not to answer. But for some, the call resounds . . . more as a calling than a request.
It’s been 16 years since Robert Aronson – Senior Development Advisor at Federation and former CEO – called upon James and Nancy Grosfeld to create the Grosfeld Leadership Program with the goal to develop Jewish Detroit’s next generation of leaders. Scott Kaufman – Federation CEO since 2009 – also played a pivotal role in launching the initiative and was a participant in the program in its inaugural year.
By invitation, peer-to-peer
The Grosfeld Leadership program is built around a mission – a journey of discovery where participants are encouraged to explore and enhance their Jewish identities and gain insight into their own potential as communal leaders. Participants are called upon – invited based on their volunteer or professional roles in the community, their demonstrated influence among friends and peers, as well as their capacity for future engagement.
As the years have gone by, each Grosfeld Mission has had its own distinction and number – “G1” through “G12.” Due to the intifada in Israel in 2002 and 2003, the first two groups visited Poland and Ukraine; thereafter Grosfeld Missions have all launched from Detroit to Poland and on to Israel.
Conceivably, the most impactful leadership program the Detroit Federation as ever launched – and now a national model – the Grosfeld Leadership Program has proven to be a game-changer – both on a personal and communal level for all of its participants.
According to its founders, the Grosfeld Leadership Program remains as one of the most meaningful things they have set in motion in the Jewish community. “Its impact has been profound,” says Nancy Grosfeld. “Scott Kaufman was an amazing lay leader for the early years of the program, and he just took the ball and ran with it. And the stats that have come out of the program are just phenomenal. As of 2017, Grosfeld Mission participants now hold more than 90 seats on Jewish community boards and 50 seats on Jewish Federation committees; 15 are recipients of Young Leadership Awards; they comprise 10% of the present Federation Board – several as Federation Officers; and 10 have served as Agency Board Presidents.
In their words
They call it a “spark,” a gift, an opportunity to pay it forward. Sharing their insights into the profound ways Federation‘s Grosfeld Program has touched and changed their lives, here are some reflections of four exemplary “grads:”
- Lee Hurwitz, President, Broder & Sachse Real Estate, (G2 ‘03 Mission to Ukraine and Israel, Chair G6, ’07); Past President JVS; Board Member: Jewish Federation, United Jewish Foundation, JVS; Past Board Member, Jewish Senior Life
- Carolyn Bellinson, Incoming President, Hebrew Free Loan, (G8 ‘09 Mission to Poland and Israel, Chair G11 ’13); Participant, Sherman Campaign Leadership Program; Member, Israel and Overseas Committee and Mission Lab; Fellow, Wexner Heritage Program
- Darren Findling, Partner, The Probate Pro, PLC, (G2 ’03, Chair G5 ’06, Advisor G13 ‘17); Past President, Tamarack Camps; Board Member, Jewish Federation; Fellow, Wexner Heritage Program
- Kristen Gross, Attorney, Owner, Kristen R. Gross, P.C. (G9 ’10, Chair G12 ’15); Board Member, Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit and Vice Chair JVS; Fellow, Wexner Heritage Program
myJewishDetroit: What prompted your invitation to the Grosfeld program?
Darren: Prior to being involved in the Grosfeld Mission, my philanthropic experience was in the non-Jewish space. Upon being invited to the program, I learned what extraordinary work the Jewish community was doing not only in Detroit – but also in Europe and in Israel – and I realized how my talents and skills would be best utilized in the Jewish space. A result of the mission, most of my efforts have been focused in the Detroit Jewish community in leadership roles.
Carolyn: My husband, Jim, who is 7 years older than I, has been involved with Federation for many years. He was on the Young Adult Board long ago and, ever since, he has been active with Federation. As a couple, we’d attend Federation events and support the campaign – but Grosfeld is really the first time that Federation personally reached me at a time that I was ready and open and looking for some way to become a bigger part of the community. The Grosfeld Mission experience was amazing and really it was the first time that I thought of myself as part of the new generation of leadership in the Jewish community here.
Lee: Kudos for the most part to Scott Kaufman for having the vision to pitch this to the Grosfelds and making it happen. And even more kudos to the Grosfelds for continuing to support it . . . and knowing how productive the return has been for their investment.
I met David Contorer, the Federation professional leading this trip at that time, and Scott Kaufman later. I think it was insightful of both of them to describe the significance of the mission and the benefit I would get as a participant. My son had just been born, and I was starting to think about the legacy I would leave in the community for my children and what an incredible opportunity I had been given to turn on the light of my Jewish identity and deepen my connections to the community.
Kristen: I knew nothing about Grosfeld prior to my invitation – I was not engaged in Federation at all. Growing up in New Jersey, I moved here for law school at the age of 21. Initially, I knew nothing about Federation and the deep connections of the Jewish community here. It was Susie Schechter, a good friend of mine, who called me, and asked me to join G9. It was an opportunity I was ready for and immediately, I said “yes.”
What was most memorable about your Grosfeld Mission?
Darren: The most memorable part was our visit to Poland, participating as a group at Auschwitz Birkenau where my grandmother perished. My grandfather, too, was murdered in a mass grave in Poland. My father is a survivor.
Carolyn: So many memories: the most vivid, powerful and poignant experience was traveling with a Holocaust survivor by the name of Eli (Eliezer Alayon, z”l). He took us to Plaszów – one of five concentration camps where he managed to survive. The place is just a field off a highway right now—it looks like nothing but a commemorative statue. An amazing storyteller, Eli shared his memories of life in the camps, and in conclusion, we all sang Am Yisrael Chai. Standing there, at a place that almost killed him, there we were 60 years later, singing. . . thriving. I will always remember that.
Lee: There were two moving parts for me: On the first Grosfeld trip, we were in the Ukraine, visiting people who only recently had discovered their Judaism, having their religion suppressed for years in the Communist regime. And we met a woman in her tiny home in a shtetl called Korostyshiv many miles outside any major city. Her meals and care – the necessities of life – were being provided by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC). She spoke with us through a translator, and when she told us how her government pension was 20 dollars a month, I cannot tell you how quickly the seven of us with her in this little apartment reached into our wallets, literally throwing money at her. Right there, I realized the impact we had on so many lives like hers, through Federation’s support of the JDC. For me that was – the simple spark that clued me in on why I had to be engaged, why I had to give.
And the second part was Grosfeld 6: I didn’t fully understand my role as chair, until I got off the plane and it dawned on me that I had to shape and tell the story that I just told you – and help the 20 participants on that mission each find their own passion, develop their story and find their own meaningful ways to contribute in the community.
And that was the most purposeful thing I think I’ve done in the community – being able to connect on a one-on-one basis.
Kristen: Most memorable experience? Meeting Eli Ayalon during our G9 Mission. To hear what he endured and how he survived. In Auschwitz, Eli could point to the barrack where he slept, tell us what it was like to get food – and share his feelings of perpetual hunger. We were in tears for much of his story. He had such a wonderful presence and powerful effect on us. My greatest take-away was his resilience. Whatever adversity I have faced in my life, it can’t hold a candle to what Eli lived through, all while maintaining such a positive outlook on life. I have reflected on this experience when facing my own personal challenges. Historically, speaking, we went from the darkest part of our history in Auschwitz to the light of Israel when we flew with Eli to Tel Aviv. It was beautiful to make the journey with him.
MyJewishDetroit: how has the program motivated or informed your leadership in the Jewish community?
Darren: Specific areas of my involvement primarily have been with Tamarack. I have also participated in a fellowship with the JDC – called Interface – that studied philanthropy around the world. And I’m now part of the Wexner Heritage Program.
The beauty of the program is that it takes a spark within the individual, and allows the flame to be fully realized. My role now – as it related to the program—is serving as the lay advisor to the program itself—participating in this year’s program.
Carolyn: Since Grosfeld, I have participated in the Sherman Leadership Program. I was a board member of Hebrew Free Loan (HFL) before I left for the trip, but I consider Grosfeld one of the contributing factors to taking the step to move up the ladder in that organization.
I was a recipient of a Hebrew Free Loan in college – so the agency has always been on my radar, and once I was in the position to give back, that was the first organization on my list that was meaningful to me.
Other areas? My husband Jim and I started a non-profit two and a half years ago called Brilliant Detroit—a nonprofit that seeks to address education and literacy in underserved populations in the city – and we are deeply involved in the operations and programming in three homes in Detroit.
Lee: I think the secret recipe of the Grosfeld Mission is that the way the trip is put together and the autonomy that you have, when you come back from the trip, to discover what is important to you.
The path I chose after Grosfeld was a leadership role at JVS, and that’s the agency where I’ve found the most success in leveraging relationships from the Grosfeld Program.
Having served as an agency president, I’ve found that it’s most beneficial to have close friendships “across the boards” of Federation’s partner agencies.
I think the fact that there’s this common thread among Grosfeld grads – you can call it a fraternity or sorority — if you are a graduate, there’s an unending support that you’ll have from any other Grosfeld graduate. I feel like that bond is so strong regardless of what trip you were on – the olive branch is always and universally extended for a member.
Kristen: Had I not been asked to participate, I’m absolutely certain that I would not be as involved with the community as I am today. The Grosfeld Leadership Program is all about finding one’s own strengths, assets and connections. As Chair of G12, along with Geoff Kretchmer, we recruited a really bright, interesting group of people and as a result, they have become really engaged in communal work themselves. In reflection, the fact that I was seen as a leader has made me one. Grosfeld may have been part of the impetus that gave me the courage to start my own practice in 2012.
myJewishDetroit: What advice would you give others who might be invited to enter the program?
Darren: Say yes! I believe the Grosfeld Leadership Program provides great clarity to best understand your place among the Jewish people and within the Jewish philanthropic space. Specifically, it gives you an opportunity to embark in Jewish leadership opportunities within the community. Just letting people know you have participated in the Mission opens doors for you to placement on our Jewish communal boards.
Carolyn: Don’t think twice. Grab it. It’s such a great opportunity for personal growth as well as professional growth. Obviously, it’s what you make of it, but if you’re ready for it, it’s a gift this community gives you.
Lee: Go into the opportunity willing to learn. Find your purpose. And when you get home, find a mentor; be willing to share. When you find your passion, stay true to it. You’ll find a place among friends and colleagues of like-mind, who are equally excited to work together to make a difference.
Kristen: Be open. It takes a very big time commitment – 12 days away from your family, your work and other obligations. But if you can it make happen, do it. The idea of going away and being your own person, not necessarily with a spouse, forces you out of your comfort zone, and that can be a life-changer. It was for me.
myJewishDetroit: What’s next for you?
Darren: I’m serving as the Advisor to G13 – the Grosfeld Leadership Mission in October 2017 – to ensure that the program continues to deliver the success stories of the past. Beyond that, I’m focusing on social entrepreneurship to invest in social concepts that will be transformative to communities in need.
Carolyn: I’ve just been installed as the President of Hebrew Free Loan. And. one more thing on my calendar for next year is the Wexner Heritage Program.
Lee: I started young and have been deeply engaged in Federation and agency work for many years. At JVS, I am focused on advising and helping solve the big issues and challenges that the Agency faces. Now serving on the Federation Executive Committee, I’m able to bring my prior leadership experience and add my professional expertise as a real estate practitioner to other pressing issues as needed in our community. Community service is not a spring, rather a marathon, and I have a long runway in front of me. As time moves on, I’ll see what’s next.
Kristen: I’m still very engaged with JVS as I serve on the Executive Committee and I hope to become more engaged with Federation. Additionally, this year, along with Darren and Carolyn, I’ll be a Fellow in the Wexner Heritage Program.