On Its 5th Anniversary, Na’aleh Looks Forward and Back


Na’aleh: The Hub for Leadership Learning celebrated their five-year anniversary on June 6 at their annual event, Na’aleh Celebrates V, at Beth El Congregation.

At the annual event on June 6, Na’aleh presented professional awards to, from left: Annie Shimanovich, Howard Reznick, Miriam Golob and Sara Shalva.
(Courtesy of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore)

The organization, which was formerly three distinct programs that merged together, has spent the past several years offering resources and fellowships to support up-and-coming community and lay leaders in the Baltimore area.

As an agency of The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore, Na’aleh aims to help Jewish people cultivate their leadership skills and take a more active role in their community. Na’aleh provides networking opportunities to its participants, workshops to develop skills like building work relationships and social responsibility, and fellowships that provide hands-on opportunities to work with nonprofit organizations and lead in a specifically Jewish context.

“One of our biggest principles is that anyone can lead, and anyone can learn to be better,” said Bill Robinson, Na’aleh’s executive director. The former dean of the William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education at the Jewish Theological Seminary, he has been Na’aleh’s director for almost four years. “We believe that leadership does not depend on where you sit at the table. It simply means working together with others to make a difference.”

Originally, Na’aleh was three separate, unaffiliated groups — ACHARAI: The Shoshana S. Cardin Jewish Leadership Institute, The Darrell D. Friedman Institute for Professional Development and The Associated’s Center for Community Engagement and Leadership. The organizations made plans to merge after a conversation between their leadership at an ACHARAI-hosted fellowship.

While Robinson was not working with Na’aleh at the time, he imagined their discussion as, “We had these three separate organizations that did leadership development among professionals and lay leaders. They said, ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing to bring them together and capitalize on their different strengths, and to build something where the sum was greater than its parts?’ We now use our knowledge and understanding of the different audiences our component organizations previously worked with to help us design programs for everyone.”

Na’aleh has grown significantly from its conception. Originally, the organizations that made up Na’aleh only offered two different fellowships for their participants. Now, they have four, with more on the way. Some of the fellowships currently offered by the organization focus on female leadership, collaborative work and how Jewish thought can inform leadership skills. They also hold symposiums focusing on specific topics — they hold a dedicated leadership symposium in September of each year, with last year’s being about storytelling as a leadership practice.

“There is something magical that happens when you provide the space for leaders of different synagogues, agencies and Jewish organizations to share their dreams and their dilemmas,” said Debra Weinberg, the chair of Na’aleh’s board. “They collaborate and work out solutions to shared and unique issues.”

Robinson said that Na’aleh designs its programs with socialization and relationship-building in mind to encourage people to get more involved.

“When you have a great experience with others at a Na’aleh event, it makes you want to come back and be a part of it,” he explained. “We also send out emails and do other outreach, but what works the best is engaging people and spreading awareness of our work directly.”

Like many other organizations, Na’aleh had to adapt and change its approach to continue operating during the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of their programming was moved online, and they still hold virtual programs to this day as well as having many of their leadership resources available online. They also incorporated a new program called Frontline Wisdom, which was about how frontline workers, Jewish organizations and synagogues in Baltimore were meeting the challenges of the pandemic and what aspiring leaders could take away from their responses.

Now that Na’aleh is celebrating its fifth anniversary, its leaders are looking toward the future. In addition to expanding their programming and continuing to offer more classes and fellowships, Robinson said one of their primary goals is to create a more diverse and inclusive environment.

“It is essential that we embrace the diversity of this community,” he said. “No single person or group of people has all the answers, because no one has a full perspective and might not have the diversity of talent necessary to address the challenges ahead. For a community to succeed, it needs to bring everyone together.”

One of the ways Na’aleh is planning to fill that gap is with an upcoming series of programs meant to spotlight diverse groups of people, so their participants have the opportunity to create dialogues with people they may not have met otherwise.

The organization has no plans to rest on its laurels and is dedicated to continually improving itself, so it can cultivate a new generation of Jewish leaders.

“As a community, we face more and more challenges each year,” Robinson added. “But we’re not going to stop, whether the problems we face are health-related, economic, ecological, political, spiritual or generational shifts. The community will rise up together to face these challenges.”
Weinberg added that there is no concern about leaders “outgrowing” Na’aleh, stating that good leaders replace themselves by continuing to teach others how to lead.
“My hope is that we expand the forums where lay and professionals can come together, leadership labs where we reimagine the future of our organizations and solving the most difficult communal issues, together,” she said.

Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here