Alumni Success Stories

CLI Fellows are already implementing new ideas in their respective communities, serving to engage Jews in new and different ways. Many of those ideas are featured on our Synagogue Innovation Blog. Below are several examples from each of the CLI Cohorts of alumni who have had some amazing success as a result of their CLI training.

Cohort 1

Lori Shapiro - The Open Temple, Venice, CA

Open Temple’s creation story is inextricably tied to the moment when Rabbi Lori first applied to the Clergy Leadership Incubator (CLI) with an idea about community organizing a spiritual start up in Venice, CA. Walking into the first day of Clergy Leadership Incubator (CLI), a sixth sense inspired Marty Linksy, the lead trainer for the adaptive leadership piece of the CLI program, to choose Rabbi Lori as his fall girl. Despite Lori’s stumbling, Professor Linsky’s Socratic method proved both brutal and helpful, a rabbit hole for the rabbi to walk through, filled with discovery.

There are times in our lives that define our self-transformation. The first retreat with CLI was a moment of personal self-transformation for Rabbi Lori. With colleagues in the first CLI cohort who were entrepreneurs of communities that entered into the “Jewish Emergent Network,” CLI helped Rabbi Lori build her entrepreneurial toolbox to become a recognized change maker in the Jewish innovation world.

The Los Angeles Jewish Journal ran a cover story about The Open Temple which you can read here.

And below is a featured cable tv story about The Open Temple from Jewish Life News.

Corey Helfand - Peninsula Sinai Congregation, Foster City, CA

Corey Helfand joined CLI just after he assumed the pulpit of Peninsula Sinai Congregation. Despite the conventional wisdom that suggests getting to know your constituency before you begin to make major changes, he inherited some practices related to how the synagogue raised money that struck him as harmful to the organizational culture that he wanted to create. Fortunately he had the support systems and training of CLI to navigate a tricky situation. He describes how he moved his congregation to a free will dues model in this article.

Lizzie Heydemann - Mishkan Chicago, Chicago, IL

Mishkan Chicago, an independent, inspired, down-to-earth spiritual community in Chicago, has benefitted greatly from its relationship with Rabbi Sid Schwarz. Mishkan’s founder, Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann, participating in the inaugural cohort of the Clergy Leadership Incubator (CLI) four years after Mishkan was founded. At the time, Mishkan was in transition and needed to scale. The combination of CLI’s community of practice with three of her colleagues, regular consultation with Rabbi Sid, and the adaptive leadership curriculum, really helped Rabbi Lizzi set realistic goals and approaches to scaling and growing the organization.

Since Rabbi Lizzi’s participation in CLI, Mishkan has grown from five to ten full-time staff, has begun a successful religious school, has undergone a strategic planning process to guide the organization into its next phase of growth and deepened its impact in engaging NextGen Jews and families in Chicago. Mishkan is one of seven congregations that are part of the Jewish Emergent Network, a national network of some of the most successful new spiritual communities in North America. This video provides some glimpse of what is so special about Mishkan Chicago.

Dan Kaiman - Congregation B’nai Emunah, Tulsa, OK

Rabbi Dan Kaiman was another member of CLI-Cohort 1. Serving as the assistant rabbi of Congregation B’nai Emunah in Tulsa, he knew that his scope of authority was more narrowly defined than some of the other members of the cohort. Yet CLI inspired Dan to combine his love for food and his love of Judaism to come up with a real out of the box innovation. He created the 17th Street Jewish Deli right inside the synagogue. Meeting once a month on Sunday nights, this kosher deli has become an overnight sensation, attracting not only congregants but a broader cross-section of people from all over Tulsa. Reservations for dinners need to be made in advance and, most months, the Deli is sold out. Given that the primary purpose of synagogues is to provide a place of gathering, Dan has found a way to reach Jews through their hearts, minds and stomachs.

Here is a story that appeared in the secular, Tulsa World.

My Jewish Learning did a feature on the best Jewish delis in each of the 50 states. Guess which one got listed for Oklahoma. You guessed it! The 17th Street Deli.

The 17th Street Deli even got featured on a website called Strong Towns which looks at urbanization and community resilience. In this case, it highlights how faith communities can lead to stronger overall communities.

Cohort 2

Rabbi Dan Horwitz - The Well, Detroit, MI

Here is a short video that shows a project introduced by Rabbi Dan Horwitz. It was then adopted by fellow CLI Fellow, Rabbi Michael Knopf at Temple Beth El in Richmond, VA.

Michael Knopf - Beth El, Richmond, VA

Michael Knopf was part of CLI-Cohort 2. The rabbi of one of the oldest congregations in Richmond, VA, he has breathed new life into the institution. His CLI innovation project was a Havurah Program that mixed different demographic groups in his congregation over shabbat dinners. It is still going strong well into its third year and has helped to strengthen the social capital within the congregation. Rabbi Michael has made a big impact on the larger Richmond community as he has sponsored public forums, interviewing major civic leaders in the area. This was one of several innovations that led a local newspaper to feature Michael as one of the “Top 40 Under 40 to Watch.”

Rabbi Michael has also made news in the national Jewish community with his outspoken advocacy of a more open attitude to intermarriage within the Conservative Movement. His efforts were featured in the Forward.

Michael has said about his CLI experience:

“I became a rabbi to reveal the enduring relevance of Torah and to harness our tradition as a force for justice and peace. But while I knew what I wanted to do as a rabbi and why I wanted to do it, I didn’t always know how to get it done. Through deep learning, serious mentorship, and engagement with an extraordinary community of colleagues, CLI provided me the practical skills I needed to actualize my rabbinic purpose and vision.”

Maharat Rachel Kohl Finegold - Shaar Hashomayim, Montreal, Canada

Among the changes taking place in the rabbinate in recent years is the ordination of Orthodox women by Yeshivat Maharat Taking the title of Maharat, Rabba or Rabbi, these women are literal pathbreakers and three have participated in CLI. The first was Rachel Kohl Finegold, who is serving one of the oldest and largest Orthodox synagogues in North America, Shaar Hashomayim in Montreal. Rachel’s innovation project was to engage in some intensive outreach to young Jewish professionals in their 20’s and 30’s who rarely attended worship or other activities at “the Shaar”. Nor were they engaged in any leadership roles in the congregation.

During her two years in the CLI program, Maharat Rachel launched a large array of programs under the branding “YP@the Shaar”. It included shabbat dinners at the synagogue; home study groups; a mindfulness program on shabbat mornings; film screenings; and social events. The demographic was young Jews between the ages of 25-35, both singles and young couples. The program was a huge success. Average attendance was over 50 people and shabbat dinners regularly attracted over 70 people. The synagogue now regularly sees young faces in the building and many under-affiliated young professionals have been drawn to the YP@the Shaar events. Some of the leaders of the initiative have now been put on the board of the congregation, helping to insure a bright future for the community.

Here are a few comments made by participants about the impact of the program:

“The clergy involved in YP events are very welcoming and down to earth. Their presence is not intimidating which I’ve found in past experiences with synagogue related events has been the biggest challenge…My involvement in YP @ the Shaar activities has allowed me to meet other like-minded Jews. It strengthens my link to the community where I felt it was lacking.”

-Laura

“The YP events help me appreciate why the Shaar is one of the leading congregations in Montreal and in Canada, more generally its ability to reach out to various demographics and provide an inclusive and warm environment is a pivotal importance, particularly in an age where assimilation rates are on the rise.”

-Jon

“Being a part of YP @ the Shaar has made me feel a huge part of the Shaar community. I literally walk in the building and feel it’s like home. It has also allowed me to get involved in other synagogue groups/committees and attend several programs which I might not otherwise have attended. … I feel that I am now connected with a greater institution/organization here in the city – and one that I am so proud to be a part of. It has also contributed to me establishing my own roots here in Montreal (rather than those of my parents, who grew up here).”

-Emily

Cohort 3

Sarah Bassin - Temple Emanuel, Beverly Hills, CA

Sarah Bassin serves as the assistant rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, CA but prior to that post, Sarah was the founding executive director of New Ground: A Muslim-Jewish Partnership for Change based in Los Angeles. For her CLI innovation project, she used her extensive network of contacts in both the interfaith community of LA as well as in the Jewish community to collect clothing, food and medical supplies for the children of war-torn Syria. The “BigFill” (filling a full-sized shipping container to be sent to Syria) resulted in 2.5 tons worth of supplies going to Syria. This short video clip tells the story.

Rabbi Jen Lader - Temple Israel, West Bloomfield, MI

Rabbi Jen Lader’s portfolio is youth but she wanted to develop a project that might galvanize adult members of the congregation to higher levels of engagement. Jen regularly plans and leads trips to Israel and to Europe for her teens. In conversation with several women members whose teens have participated on these trips, Jen was asked if she might consider doing such a trip for adult women. Their kids had just returned from a trip and were so excited, engaged, and inspired by the experience. The moms began questioning if perhaps there was a way for Jen to bring that level of enthusiasm to their generation through similar programming. Instead of adult education in their living rooms to build community and inspire Jewish engagement, they wanted a meaningful ‘youth group-style’ trip – something that wasn’t currently being offered for adults. They also felt strongly about a women-only space, where they could feel safe with each other, and really focus on connecting, learning, and growing. Thus the Women’s Mission to Eastern Europe planned for women in their 30s-50s. The itinerary included Krakow, Warsaw, Budapest and Vienna. Not only did the trip prove to be a highly emotional and bonding experience for the 25 women participants but Jen is now using that experience to get both the women and their husbands more engaged in the life and program of Temple Israel. You can read a stirring account of the Mission here.

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