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On Service, Philanthropy and Flexing our Leadership Muscles

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This story comes to us from Challah for Hunger, a not-for profit organization with over 75 active chapters around the globe, mostly based on university campuses, that bakes and sells challah bread and uses the proceeds to support social justice causes.

In March, Challah for Hunger students, alumni, lay volunteers and friends gathered in Austin, TX to celebrate the organization's 10th Anniversary. This celebration, which was one of many celebrations throughout the year, focused on honoring volunteer leadership. Challah for Hunger recognized several of it's board members, and honored Dana Baruch, a long-time board member and the organization's current Governance Chair who shares some thoughts below.

Dana Baruch is a professional life coach and community consultant, long-serving board member of Challah for Hunger and Shalom Austin, Founder of the Austin Jewish Academy, Co-Founder of JLead (Jewish leadership development program), Instructor in the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning, and Advisory Council member of the Schusterman Center of Jewish Studies at the University of Texas in Austin. She also loves to teach people how to make challah!

What attracts you most about Challah for Hunger? Why do you think this model has been so successful?

I continue to be inspired by the simple, yet powerful model of Challah for Hunger: College students coming together to “bake a difference”. The numbers tell the remarkable story. In the 10 years since Eli Winkelman started baking and selling challah at Scripps College, Challah for Hunger has grown to almost 80 chapters, with new inquiries coming every week. More than 7,000 student leaders and volunteers have baked close to 225,000 loaves of challah and raised and donated almost $750,000. Each chapter donates 50% of its proceeds to Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and 50% to a local non-profit that addresses hunger-related issues. Through this process, students gain real-life entrepreneurial, social justice advocacy, communications and leadership skills. They build (and flex) their philanthropic muscles, and they have a great time doing. It’s a perfect recipe for success!

What role do you see lay leadership playing in the future of the Jewish community?

The short answer to this question is “significant”. I live in Austin, TX—one of the fastest growing and youngest cities in the country. I spend a lot of time and energy working with our young adults to ensure they feel knowledgeable and confident with their community leadership skills. They will be instrumental not only in taking the mantle of leadership of existing Jewish communal organizations in the not-too-distant future, but more importantly, if they feel so empowered, they will define what their community agenda will be for their kids and grandkids. The critical relationship between excellent professional leadership and highly engaged “lay leadership” will, I believe, continue to be the cornerstone to successful Jewish communal organizations.

What do you think defines great leadership?

Great leadership is all about the ability to inspire and motivate others. Great leaders are effective when they act with honesty, integrity, vision, conviction, commitment, strong communication skills, positive attitude, authenticity, competence, and a healthy sense of humor. Great leaders are mindful, strategic thinkers and problem solvers, excellent at building relationships and care about developing others.

Service has long been a key component of Jewish tradition. What are some ways service and volunteerism are adapting to the growing needs of the 21st century?

I’m not sure I know how to fully define the needs of the 21st century. In many ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same. We will continue to have opportunities to fix what’s broken, as well as to build for the future. In my experience, people of all ages and stages, organizations, and even corporations are tuned in to the wisdom and benefits of service and volunteerism. I see families volunteering together, young adults spearheading fundraising efforts, retired people giving of their time and talent, technology being used to quickly share information and easily enable participation, and innovative efforts (like Challah for Hunger!) emerging in response to local and global needs.

In what ways has your Jewish identity influenced your leadership? Your service?

It’s really impossible for me to separate my Jewish identity from any other part of who I am. Related to questions of leadership and service, in addition to my parents, my “teachers” would be Hillel (“If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And when I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?”), Abraham Joshua Heschel (“Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”) and Rabbi Tarfon (“You are not obligated to finish the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.”). 

What advice would you give to young Jewish adults pursuing leadership roles on non-profit boards?

Do it! Effective non-profit boards need a healthy balance of seasoned and fresh perspectives in order to best serve their communities. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask to learn more about leadership opportunities. If you feel insecure or not quite ready for board service, consider engaging at the committee level. There’s plenty of “fixing” and “building” to do. Also (and this is something I feel very strongly about), if you see a need that isn’t being addressed by an existing organization or program, and if you feel inspired to act, then ACT!  Flex your creative leadership muscles, don’t be afraid to ask for help, and begin. If not you, who? If not now, when?

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.