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OU’s inaugural executive fellows complete program with strong experience

Ten-month-long fellowship with the Orthodox Union introduced young talent to prospective careers in the Jewish community.

Orthodox Union executive fellows at Wall Street Grill with members of OU Kosher’s kashrut-education team. Credit: Courtesy.
Orthodox Union executive fellows at Wall Street Grill with members of OU Kosher’s kashrut-education team. Credit: Courtesy.

As graduates nationwide are marking the end of their studies, eight early-career professionals are celebrating their acquisition of invaluable professional skills and employment experience as participants in the inaugural cohort of the Orthodox Union’s executive fellowship, a program that nurtures talented young adults committed to long-term Jewish communal activism.

In August, the OU launched the executive fellowship to invest in future nonprofit leadership and promote a culture of service and responsibility among emerging Jewish leaders. The 10-month program for early-career professionals exposes fellows to all aspects of the Jewish nonprofit world and hones their workplace skills, enabling them to pursue meaningful and impactful careers of their choosing.

“The executive fellowship is part of the OU’s greater talent development strategy,” says OU’S chief human resources officer Josh Gottesman. “The OU is uniquely positioned to train future Jewish nonprofit leaders, and while we’d love for our fellows to stay at the OU long-term, our focus is on cultivating talented, quality leaders to work in the Jewish nonprofit sector in general.”

This year’s fellows stem from a variety of educational, religious, and geographic backgrounds. Based on their skills and interests, the fellows were matched with various OU departments, including NCSY, Yachad, OU Jewish Learning Initiative on Campus (JLIC), IT, human resources, marketing, synagogue initiatives, and community projects and partnerships. As OU employees, they spent 90% of their time working for their departments, where they were mentored by senior leadership and staff members.

OU executive fellowship director Ruthie Hollander notes that the mentorship enabled participants to cultivate relationships with OU leaders, whom they otherwise may never have met personally.

“Over the course of the year, the fellows interacted with almost all of the OU leaders who do profound work in different domains and communities, and who possess different skills and passions,” she says. “These relationships are generally very hard to come by this early in one’s career.”

Hollander is also proud that the fellows’ expanded their horizons beyond the OU, by gaining exposure to the broad Jewish landscape of communal work and engaging with diverse communities.

OU executive fellowship director Ruthie Hollander (third from left) with OU executive fellows (from left) Adina Peck, Chagit Bender, Marnie Weingarten and Ezra Emerson at the annual UJA Give Gala. Credit: Courtesy.

The cohort spent considerable time at organizations including Yeshiva University, OU JLIC at New York University and Columbia University, Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), Chabad Lubavitch World Headquarters, Agudath Israel of America and the Masbia soup kitchen, where they met with lay and professional leaders and learned about their organizations’ missions and services. Fellows also learned about the kashrut industry in-depth at OU Kosher, and attended a UJA-Federation New York gala where they interacted with a broad spectrum of Jews from other communities.

“I was so impressed with the clarity and caliber of fellows’ questions surrounding communal organizations’ work,” says Hollander. “The fellows looked at every organization we encountered with open-mindedness and generosity, and made a kiddush Hashem [santification of G-d’s name] wherever they went.”

In October, for example, the fellows participated in an OU relief mission to Florida where they worked alongside evangelical Christians to aid Fort Myers citizens affected by Hurricane Ian. At the March for Israel in Washington, D.C., in November, they distributed water bottles and prayer cards with Tehillim, Psalms, on them to 12,000 people as they stepped off buses near the National Mall.

OU Executive Fellows greeted thousands of people on their way to the March for Israel in Washington with smiles, snacks, political resources and prayer cards with the words of Psalms. Credit: Courtesy.

Hollander also marvels at how the OU executive fellowship experience helped many fellows to crystalize their plans for the coming year.

“At the beginning of the year, many didn’t know where they would be in the future,” she says. “Now, they are so much more definitive about their plans for next year; not just professionally, but in other life spheres. They’ve been able to find the answers they were looking for, which is truly the purpose of the program—to make fellows a stronger, more confident version of themselves. Some of our fellows are going to grad school, several are moving on to meaningful new positions within the Jewish community, and one, Ezra Emerson, is making aliyah.”

Emerson, 23, spent the duration of his fellowship in the OU’s marketing and communications department, under the mentorship of senior engineer of digital and streaming media Alex Cook.

“I developed strong skills in video editing and filming, whether for a podcast, a livestream or a conference,” says Emerson. “I also developed good time-management skills, as well as a healthy work-life balance. The fellowship experience has been something that I’m really grateful for. I have come out of the year with a great sense of work ethic, stronger onnections, and new friends.”

Emerson hopes to work in the marketing industry in Israel before transferring into animation.

Like Emerson, 24-year-old Adina Peck thoroughly enjoyed her time as a fellow in the OU’s Pepa and Rabbi Joseph Karasick Department of Synagogue Initiatives under the guidance of Rabbi Adir Posy. Over the course of her fellowship, she mastered web content management systems, practiced teamwork and strategic thinking, and honed skills in communications, digital design, public speaking, and time and task management.

“The fellowship experience was excellent,” says Peck, who will be joining the OU’s human resources department and coordinating next year’s fellowship program beginning in July alongside the OU’s assistant director of talent development, Shai Kopitnikoff. “The networking and professional development opportunities, and my departmental work, were really gratifying and meaningful. I had such a fulfilling experience in this fellowship, which is why I want to run it. I want to ensure that fellows next year have an equally meaningful experience, if not more so.”

While Peck is still contemplating her long-term career goals, working at the OU as an executive fellow opened her eyes to a possible career in human resources.

OU executive vice president Rabbi Josh Joseph addresses the executive fellows in a private seminar. Credit: Courtesy.

“I want to help people live more purposeful, fulfilling lives,” she says. “Prior to the fellowship, I had assumed that I would take a clinical approach, since I pursued psychology as an undergraduate student. But working at the OU gave me a bigger sense of how you can help people to lead more meaningful lives through their work, where they spend most of their days. Transitioning to this HR position at the OU and working specifically in talent development will be an opportunity for me to see how I can help people in a very practical, non-clinical way.”

Kopitnikoff says that although the executive fellowship benefits each OU department, the program’s objective is for fellows to make an impact far beyond the OU.

“While fellows contribute additional hands for projects and infuse fresh perspectives, new energy and ideas to each department, as Josh Gottesman says, ‘The OU isn’t running this program for the OU.’ We’re doing it for all Jewish nonprofits. By providing opportunities to appreciate the beauty and complexity of nonprofit work, the OU is investing in our collective future. The only way to ensure a thriving community is to systematically involve the next generation in klal [communal] work, and to foster their desire to make meaningful impacts within it.”

For more information, contact: Shai Kopitnikoff, assistant director of talent development, (212) 613-8119, kopitnikoffs@ou.org.

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Founded in 1898, the Orthodox Union (OU), or Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, serves as the voice of American Orthodox Jewry, with over 400 congregations in its synagogue network. As the umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry, the OU is at the forefront of advocacy work on both state and federal levels, outreach to Jewish teens and young professionals through NCSY, Israel Free Spirit Birthright, Yachad and OU Press, among many other divisions and programs.
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