So far, so good . . . Michigan winters and Detroit drivers haven’t bothered Tomer Moked, not a bit. “Driving in Michigan is a little like driving in Israel,” he says, “Everyone is in a rush, but they know where they want to go.” Moving from Israel to Michigan into the heart of the Detroit Jewish community, Tomer maintains that he’s found “a dream come true” in his new position as Federation’s Director of NEXTGen Detroit.
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
February 3, 2020
A bridge to the generations: At 40, Tomer is well established in Jewish Detroit, with friends and colleagues who span a generation of Tamarack campers coming of age as well as their parents – and grandparents. A certified career and life coach, Tomer spent 12 summers working at Tamarack Camps, responsible for counselor training and coaching, as well as the hiring and management of all international staff.
A multi-talented Jewish educator and an avid student of human nature, Tomer has degrees in Acting, Directing and Theater Education from the Kibbutzim College in Tel Aviv and Beit Zvi College of Performing Arts, Israel. Additionally, he is a member of the Cornerstone Faculty of the Foundation for Jewish Camp and the AVI CHAI Foundation and holds a diploma of Positive Psychology studies from IDC Herzliya.
“It may seem like a huge leap for me to leave Israel and come here,” says Tomer, “However, the transition has been remarkably easy. Since moving to Birmingham in November, I feel very lucky and humbled — finding so many people in NEXTGen eager to get to know me and start working with me. I also have amazing circles of support. There are many families in the community who have ‘adopted me’ — The Ketais, the Applebaums, the Ruskins, the Weinstocks, the Aronovitzes, the Trepecks — to name a few.”
What next? In conversation with Tomer Moked
On coming to Detroit
myJewishDetroit: While it’s true that you’ve only just begun your work with Federation, you had many colleagues in town rooting for you to join the staff. Describe how you made your decision: why Detroit, why now?
Tomer: I’m going to answer that question with a little background. I’m a lifelong student, and through my studies, I have continued to learn my strengths: First in acting school, then in earning my degrees in theater and education; and, after that, getting my certification in life and career coaching, and finally, a diploma in Positive Psychology.
I believe in pushing myself to take on challenges, to be open to change and eager to take new career paths. For the past ten years I’ve had the opportunity to combine my creative talent and coaching skills in conducting workshops and staff training for both corporate and nonprofit organizations, and I’ve learned what it takes to be a good listener, a leader and a mentor. All that experience – both in Israel and at Tamarack – now translates to working here with NEXTGen Detroit – a new opportunity that combines everything I love to do.
For me, moving to Michigan was an easy decision. At the time, Scott Kaufman was still Federation CEO. A master of community building, Scott had been mentoring me quietly from the sidelines and inspired me with his vision for a vibrant NEXTGen. Scott has lived up to his promise to re-imagine our community for the next generation. I believe my job today is to keep that promise and help envision our next steps.
I can’t say now what the future will hold for me in the next three, 10, 20 years . . . but I know I want to lay the groundwork for new work that continues to attract and maintain young leaders and to motivate them to keep building the vibrant Jewish community that we have promised.
Essentially, I see my role as a NEXTGen leadership developer, mentoring NEXTGen Detroiters. I think about that as a goal, and it starts with the NEXTGen Board, those who are giving so generously of their time, their energy and their skills to the community.
After the first NEXTGen Board meeting I attended, I turned to the Marketing Department and requested a large poster putting together the names and faces of every member of my NEXTGen Board. I keep that poster on prominent display in my office as my reminder of what our community leaders do for us every day, all the ways they count on me and why I’m here working for them.
On coming from Israel
myJewishDetroit: The staff at Federation – particularly in collaboration with Tamarack Camps – have led the way in building strong family relationships in Israel. In your position of influence now, is it an advantage that you are Israeli?
Tomer: I ask myself the same question. I think it’s an advantage that I come from the outside. That certainly gives me a healthy perspective, but I also realize that Israel is a touch point for controversy. People feel very strongly in support . . . and they also come to me with questions and lots of feedback over the conflict in Israel.
In that respect, my role becomes something of an ambassador here. I believe I represent about 75% of the community in Israel – the people who can acknowledge both sides of the struggle and seek the best ways forward. I also represent a unique kind of Israeli: I prefer not to “talk politics” but love to listen to people and to hear what they are feeling. I think everyone’s feelings are valid. But facts matter. In difficult conversations, I ask how much do we want to learn what’s really going on in Israel?
myJewishDetroit: What does it mean that you are a unique Israeli?
Tomer: As someone coming from theater and the arts, and as a gay man, I would say that I am very liberal, open, diverse and accepting. As a life coach and practitioner of Positive Psychology, my profession is working with people from all fields: to take them wherever they are in life or in their careers, to help them find and define their strengths, and to move them five steps ahead.
I love the concept of finding the best in people—that’s my talent. Not many people think of Israelis as open and sensitive. We often come off as very direct (which I am) and even aggressive (which I admit I can be sometimes). But I’m here to listen, to learn, to explore possibilities, build relationships . . . and make lasting friendships.
myJewishDetroit: What drew you to theater?
Tomer: Starting around the age of three, and every year after when I was just a kid, I would blow out the candles on a birthday cake with exactly two wishes: to be an actor and to go to Disneyland.
I studied theater in high school, always engaged with theater and drama classes. And when I finished the army, it was as clear as the sky to me that I was going to acting school. Although my parents felt that I should get a “real” profession, I was keen on accomplishing my dream. In 2002, I went to acting school . . . and then to Orlando to see Disneyworld! I’ll admit, I’m still a big fan of Disney and their business approach.
myJewishDetroit: Do you enjoy being on stage?
Tomer: I love being on stage. I studied that as a profession. I also love directing — seeing the bigger picture — to take all the skills and talents that go into the set, the lights, the scripts and the acting, take everyone together and compose something new.
In many ways, I feel I’m doing much of the same thing now in a different field. To be a great director, you need to know and study the talents around you, how to move them to get the best results . . . to me, it’s still an art.
On creative opportunities
myJewishDetroit: So, let’s talk about your first impressions on the job and first goals.
Tomer: Right now, I’m averaging a 12-hour day in meetings, mostly listening and learning. For me, that’s the smartest thing to do to understand the terrain before setting out.
One thing I’m thinking about is building a NEXTGen life cycle approach. When you consider the current age range of what we call NEXTGen, 21 to 45 is a broad description that defines very little. But it does suggest the niches involved – the young singles, 21 to 30; the newly married couples and those starting careers and families, 30 to 45. What I envision is building the NEXTGen community, connecting people by their interests and needs, and engaging them by providing as many options as possible under the Federation tent.
myJewishDetroit: What has been your greatest challenge so far?
Tomer: I would say it’s been the learning curve. There are so many more people I need to get to know to make the job more personal. It’s a big adjustment. And it will take time.
That said, I have a great network of support and people looking out for me. Lee Trepeck has been a great booster and mentor. And Julie Tepperman is an amazing supervisor. She’s very wise in leading the way while leaving plenty of room to ask questions, bring my ideas to the table and make decisions. And also, she’s very smart, bringing me back on track.
myJewishDetroit: What’s the biggest surprise since taking on the job?
Tomer: Trader Joe’s on Telegraph! Costco! Thanksgiving! America is amazing!
Seriously, I had no idea how much I was going to like it here. My first week here felt like a honeymoon. I woke up every morning, and to my surprise, I was the happiest I’ve been since acting school. To outsiders, Federation may seem to be a massive and complex organization, but when you see how vibrant and fun it is to be here, you want everyone to know about it. I’m here to share our stories and to put a face on what we do.
myJewishDetroit: So, what’s on your plate now?
Tomer: It’s EPIC. Of all the fundraising events that I’ve been invited to and involved with, this one is nothing short of its name: EPIC. The culture of fundraising in Jewish Detroit amazes me and inspires me. In Israel, the notion of giving back — that deep connection to a Jewish community fund – is not necessarily something in our culture the way it is here. We pay taxes and consider that our contribution to Jewish life; people here support Federation to help support the social needs, health, education, well-being and greater good of Jewish Detroit and Jewish communities around the world.
It’s incredible to me, and the more I see the bigger picture here, the more I realize how lucky I am to be here.
myJewishDetroit: We’ve touched just briefly on your background; let’s talk about your family and life in Israel.
Tomer: My parents live and own property in Beit Arye – a community of about 5,000 people 20 miles north of Jerusalem and 15 miles east of Tel Aviv. At my parents’ urging, I built a house there when the community opened a new area intended for development by the next generation.
Both my parents were born in Israel: my dad’s parents came from Greece before WWII. Mocatta was the family name, and he changed it to the Hebrew Moked – meaning “hearth” or the center of the home. My mother’s parents came from Egypt and Yemen through France – in moves that took three years before they got to Israel.
My younger sister married an Israeli about five years ago. They moved to Berlin to start a new life. It may come as a surprise to many here, but there is an estimated population of 10,000 Israelis who have moved to Berlin over the past decade. I am the proud uncle of two nephews, twin boys, 9 months old . . . and I’ll be the first to tell you how much I miss my family.
Life in Israel is very demanding. And I think part of the reason my sister left is that it’s so expensive to live in Israel and to actually establish yourself without the support of the family.
Here it’s different. And in many ways for me, leaving home, moving here, has been a reboot. I thought I was set: I had a beautiful house, a beautiful company, a circle of friends I loved being with. But I just turned 40. I’m starting to think about next steps, thinking about the next generation and what makes sense for me: a single guy with a life mission to have a child? (And don’t get me started on the complexity of the laws in Israel on same-sex marriage and surrogate parenting). I hope to start my own family some day soon, and as much as my mom would love to see it happen (sooner than later), she’ll just have to wait a little longer.
Restaurants: Social for brunch and Phoenicia for dinner in Birmingham.
Buildings in the Detroit skyline: Thanks to Jim and Sherri Ketai, I’ve fallen in love with the city. The Ketais have made a habit of taking me downtown to dinner, and whenever we can find the time, Jim takes me on a quick tour, a walk around or inside the buildings and all the developments of Bedrock and Rock Ventures.
Places to take visitors in Israel: Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Jezreel Valley
Places in Michigan to take kids/visitors: Downtown Detroit, Birmingham, up north to Petoskey with my friend Carly Weinstock.
Sports: I love to watch hockey and American football. And I invite people to meet me at Equinox, a great place to workout next door to Federation.
Israeli Food: Mom’s home cooking (Iraqi, Yemeni and Mediterranean dishes)
American food: Hamburgers (Best at Union and Red Coat Tavern)
Holiday: Thanksgiving and Chanukah: it’s food, friends . . . shopping! What’s not to love?
Watching now: The Crown, Stranger Things, and When They See Us
Never leave home without (besides your phone): My coat!!
Reading now (in Hebrew): Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Professor Yual Harari
Words to live by: What are they thinking?