As Weinstein fellows, we are at the beginning of our journey

The George Weinstein Fellowship is the leadership development program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. The latest Weinstein Fellowship group returned from Israel on March 12, having enjoyed a week of learning, touring, relationship building and fun.

What does it mean to be Jewish? What does it mean to be a leader?

For the past eight months, more than a dozen Jewish leaders from Milwaukee have gathered under the guidance of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation to participate in the George Weinstein Fellowship. The Weinstein Fellowship brings together a diverse group of young professional leaders to help us cultivate the leadership skills necessary to become active leaders and decision-makers in the Milwaukee Jewish community. Each fellow is beginning a promising career in various fields — education, law, healthcare, government, finance, non-profit sectors and business. In spite of our diverse professional and community backgrounds, we are asking, and trying to answer, the fundamental questions about Jewish identity and leadership together.

This is the 6th cohort of the George Weinstein Fellowship. They were in Israel March 4-11. The trip to Israel is a key part of their leadership curriculum in which Fellows meet with peers in our Partnership2Gether region, Sovev-Kinneret, as well as tour and learn about leadership through an Israeli lens. Back row from left to right: Daniel Riemer, Daniel Kerns, Evan Primakow, Derek Goodman, Mitch Nelles, Greg Parrish, Max Seigle, Marni Pollack. Front row from left to right: Jessica Primakow, Rebekah Pogwizd, Jordan Yanow, Leah Fiasca, Jessica Parrish, Lauren Berger.

We are fortunate to have leaders in the Milwaukee Jewish community to show us the way. Isaac Newton said that we “stand on the shoulders of giants.” That could certainly be said of the young Jewish leaders in Milwaukee. As part of the Weinstein Fellowship, we have explored Milwaukee’s Jewish history with Jewish Museum Milwaukee Education Director Ellie Gettinger. We have learned about the kinds of challenges facing the Milwaukee Jewish community that Elana Kahn, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, deals with on a daily basis. Fellows have learned more about the potential and pitfalls that the Jewish Federation confronts as it addresses the opportunities and challenges of the Milwaukee Jewish community.

We are also blessed to have Jewish wisdom to guide us as we try to answer these vital questions. It is fitting, following Passover, to contemplate how Moses, raised as an Egyptian, who fled to Arabia where he raised his family, struggled with his Jewish identity and the burdens of leadership. Moses is not alone. Joseph, Daniel, Esther and Mordecai were all tasked with leading the Jewish people in countries without a Jewish majority to prosperity and peace. More recently, Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elana Kagan, Mayors Rahm Emmanuel and Michael Bloomberg, and Senators Kohl and Feingold confronted the same dilemmas.

To strengthen our understanding of Jewish identity and our leadership potential, we went to Israel. On our trip to Israel we visited kibbutzim and schools in the partner region near Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee). In Jerusalem we had dinner with the Weinstein family, to affirm our commitment to investing in the future leadership of Jewish Milwaukee. In Israel we tasted fresh shakshuka in Yafo, we smelled fresh oranges in the kibbutz vineyards of the Galilee, we listened to the sounds of the Yehuda Market in Jerusalem, we bore witness to the names of Holocaust victims at Yad Vashem and the graves of fallen soldiers at Mount Herzl, and we touched the Western Wall.

Few exemplify the spirit of the Weinstein Fellowship better than Greg Parrish. In addition to being a Weinstein Fellow in our class, Greg is a psychiatric healthcare professional in Milwaukee. In Israel, and throughout the Fellowship, Greg continues to ask probing questions and attempts to discover root causes of the challenges facing our local leaders and Israeli cousins. Greg recently ran for local office in Fox Point, committing not just in word, but in deed, to local service. Greg embodies the spirit of service that all Weinstein fellows are striving toward.

Milwaukee has produced great Jewish leaders for generations: Golda Meir, who grew up in Milwaukee, was the first woman to serve as Prime Minister of Israel; Gene Wilder, the funniest man in Hollywood, was a Washington High School graduate; Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, remains a Milwaukee leader involved in a number of important causes. The Weinstein Fellows hope to follow in their big footsteps, and the big footsteps of other Milwaukee Jewish leaders.

Weinstein Fellows are at the beginning of our journey and yet are poised to continue our service to Milwaukee’s Jewish community. Despite having different professions, ages and personalities we have formed a strong connection and built a small community among us. Thanks, in large part, to the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and the Weinstein Family, we are impassioned, individually and collectively to take on leadership roles and know we can lean on each other, and others who have guided us throughout this fellowship, to progress our Jewish community and position it for success for generations to come.

Milwaukee native Leah Fiasca is the chair of TEMPO EWL’s membership committee and curator of the Milwaukee Global Shapers. Rep. Daniel Riemer represents Wisconsin’s 7th Assembly District. He serves residents of Milwaukee, West Allis, Greenfield and West Milwaukee.