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Meet the New York Millenials Invigorating WIZO

A unique group of young American leaders are shaping the future of a WIZO federation

February 21, 2017

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This past November, WIZO New York Young Leadership held its annual basketball tournament. Members and friends grouped into teams of three to play one another in a playful, yet competitive tournament chaired by Young Leadership’s Stephan Sakhai, Jonathan Friedman, Julian Hajibay, Joe Sutton, Jonathan Aghravi, Sophie Ghadamian, Oliver Hajibay, Daniella Sakhai, and Rachel Marcus. This unqiue WIZO event reflects the equally unique group of young Jewish millenials giving WIZO a breath of fresh air in New York.

In 2008, Lauren Abuaf Behfarin and Lauren Tetenbaum Dorman founded WIZO New York Young Leadership, a fundraising group aimed at people younger than the average age of a WIZO donor or volunteer, with the goals of attracting new communities to WIZO and cultivating the next generation of WIZO leaders and members.

Today, that group, which includes members ranging from 18-35 years old and coming from as wide a range of backgrounds and professional industries as New York could offer, make up one of WIZO’s most unique, innovative federation groups. “Young Leadership is creating true excitement in its age group,” says Gail Perl, Co-President of WIZO USA. “They are the future and their involvement is essential to the growth of WIZO USA.”

A modern outlook

What sets Young Leadership apart? From its inception, the group made a determined effort to break free of WIZO’s image as an “older ladies’ organization” and the cookie-cutter charity events common in New York City. Young Leadership concertedly created events that spoke explicitly to young people and their sensibilities. These now include cycling workout sessions, technology industry networking events, wine tastings and an annual basketball tournament, which stands out among WIZO events worldwide, both for its choice of sports and its inclusion of men as well. The tournament, now in its third year, attracts over 150 players and spectators. All of these events are not only unique and lucrative, but educational as well.

Arielle Krinick and Stephan Sakhai, the group’s current co-chairs, explain the reasoning behind all of this innovation, “Our goal is to educate younger people about WIZO’s core mission. Therefore, we include in every event a short information session on a specific WIZO institution or project. This makes our mission more tangible for people. We always encourage our members and event guests to visit a WIZO project when they’re in Israel, in order to make the whole experience more real. While we are committed to raising money, we first strive to educate and promote Israel to our generation.”

Young people have unique priorities and a proven desire for an intimacy as part of their altruism. Therefore, the Young Leadership group directs the funds it raises to specific projects under the WIZO USA umbrella, as chosen by its board. In terms of numbers, its work is as important and impactful as an entire small national federation. This year’s basketball tournament, when partnered with a matching donor, was able to fund a $100,000 playground renovation at the Meyerhoff Daycare Center in Rehovot.

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Not only fundraising

Young Leadership doesn’t stop at raising money, it is also on the forefront of pro-Israel diplomacy. At the end of May, 2016, the group took part in an event sponsored by prestigious groups like the Permanent Mission of Israel to the UN, the World Jewish Congress, UIA, Israel Bonds and Stand With Us at the United Nations, discussing and working to combat BDS and other anti-Israel initiatives. This is only one example of the group’s involvement with issues relevant and important to Israel and the local American Jewish community.

New York being what it is, chock-full of Jewish and Israel-related organizations looking for more and more funding, WIZO New York Young Leadership is not without its challenges. “There are many other young leadership committees, all promoting important causes. We are working on building a new platform, a little more intimate, to separate us from the crowd while still attracting young adults to learn about WIZO’s mission,” said Krinick and Sakhai.

It becomes clear that for Young Leadership, creativity and success mean trumping the last successful fundraising event and brainstorming a new, unique, even cooler idea while still conveying the movement’s valuable message. Coming up on the WIZO New York Young Leadership calendar are a networking “happy hour” event, a Beyonce-themed dance class, challah baking classes and of course, next year’s basketball tournament.

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