Raisa Koltun’s family immigrated to Milwaukee from the Soviet Union when she was just 9 years old. They were seeking to escape restrictions on Jews and to find a better future.
Koltun said this background inspires her to pursue the full range of possibilities presented by life in the United States. She cites her upbringing as pointing her in the right direction. “You’ve got to take advantage of these huge opportunities you have in this country,” she said.
Her position on the Jewish Federations of North America’s National Young Leadership Cabinet allows Koltun to do just that. Koltun serves on the executive leadership team for the cabinet and has participated in a virtual conversation with Jewish community members in Venezuela, in addition to other educational programs and activities. And she is just getting started.
The National Young Leadership Cabinet is a six-year program for Jewish volunteers ages 30 to 45 that “builds on a series of Jewish values,” including hineni (call to leadership) and achrayut (responsibility), to develop the participants personally and as leaders. According to its website, the cabinet, which is almost 60 years old, boasts 4,000 alumni and raises $2.6 million from members each year. Though the program has moved online during the pandemic, a normal cabinet term features leadership development programs and “premiere travel experiences that include hands-on service opportunities.”
Philanthropy is an important part of the cabinet’s mission. According to Koltun, the money raised by cabinet members is invested “entirely back to local communities.” The work supports the Milwaukee Jewish Federation Annual Campaign.
“I went to the Milwaukee Jewish Day School, my grandparents heavily relied on Jewish family services and I spent summers at the JCC,” Koltun said. “So, I have these deep connections with the Milwaukee institutions that — in the beginning — subsidized a lot of these experiences for me and really shaped who I am as a Jewish person and as a person in general. And now I’m in a place where I can give back, and that’s really meaningful and important to me.”
Koltun is the sole cabinet member from Milwaukee and she estimates that only 10 of the 4,000 alumni are from her city, a number she would love to see increase.
“I’m very actively trying to recruit people,” she said. Wisconsin is represented by a cabinet member from Madison, as well, Koltun said.
Even though Koltun is only in her first year in the cabinet, and it has been an entirely virtual experience thus far, she said she is already imagining how to bring what she has learned home to Milwaukee.