Tomorrow's Visionary Leaders from Nativ

by Richard Skolnick

Having recently celebrated the festival of Shavuot, which commemorates matan Torah – the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people – I know that it is a gift to be handed inspiration that extends the afterglow of this beautiful festival.

For me, inspiration arrived in the form of feedback about the stellar achievements of our Nativ program in Israel (, which has been creating a cadre of college leaders for the past 31 years. This program, which has trained more than 1,000 remarkable young people, garnered the highest ratings from a recent independent Jewish Agency-sponsored evaluation aimed at examining all long-term Masa-funded study/volunteer programs in Israel. (Masa is an organization that connects young Jews with programs in Israel.) Nativ’s impressive graduates provide our movement with the human resources necessary for charting a bold new course for the new millennium.

The latest crop of Bogrei Nativ – Nativ graduates – have hit the ground running, charged with the formidable challenge of reinvigorating our kehillot in North America and reinventing the Conservative movement for a new generation. Visionary and cutting edge, their influence is critical to the vitality of our movement.

Meet some of our recent Bogrei Nativ.

Rabbi David Goldberg Russo, Nativ 23

David, from Hamilton, Ontario, was an active member of ECRUSY, and in 2003 he was USY’s international president. Ordained at JTS this spring, David has taken a position as rabbi at Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago. He met his wife, Rebecca Russo, when they both were international USY officers, and she also was on Nativ 23. Rebecca is the director of engagement at Hillel of Northwestern University.

“Nativ provided me with the unique opportunity to explore Israel, study at an incredibly high level, develop critical leadership skills, all in the context of a fun, social experience. Many of the relationships that I developed on Nativ are still ones that I rely on today, both personally and professionally. My experiences studying in the Conservative Yeshiva and the opportunities that I had to explore my Jewish identity certainly helped me on my path toward becoming a rabbi.”

Aliza Sebert, Nativ 27

Aliza is from New York City, where her father is the rabbi of the Town and Village Synagogue in lower Manhattan. In her last year at Brandeis University, she is president of Hillel’s theater group and executive musical director of Ba’note, the Jewish women’s a cappella group. For the last two summers she has been a division head at Camp Ramah in the Berkshires.

“Nativ was an experience that I will never forget. It is an amazing program that allowed me to grow, learn about myself, and gain independence before going off to college. It gave me a greater level of appreciation and love for the land of Israel, and allowed me to create friendships that have already strengthened and will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Maya Dolgin, Nativ 25

Maya, from Huntington, New York, was a student at Solomon Schechter High School of Long Island. After Nativ, she graduated from Wellesley College, where she was president of Hillel. She has worked at Camp Ramah in Nyack for the last seven summers, and this summer she will be division head and coordinator of the Israeli staff. Maya was on the staff for the Nativ 30 kibbutz group. Last year she made aliyah, and now lives in Jerusalem, where she is Nativ’s assistant director.

“My year on Nativ 25 set me on a path that has been immensely fulfilling. It helped to strengthen the skills and values that I learned during my years studying at Solomon Schechter and working at Ramah Day Camp in Nyack. On Nativ I strengthened my love for Israel and Judaism, and learned how to translate this passion into something accessible to others, which led me to return to Israel in 2010 as a madricha – counselor – for Nativ 30. My year of staffing Nativ allowed me to gain yet another perspective on Israel. I was able to see the country through the eyes of a group of young Jewish leaders who were living in Israel for the first time and wrestling with the same issues that face Israelis and diaspora Jews on a regular basis. I hope that I continued facilitating this growth in others this year as the Nativ assistant director. I will forever be grateful for all that I have learned over the years of my involvement with Nativ, most importantly the understanding that all Jewish journeys are intertwined and neverending.”

Aaron Sherman, Nativ 26

Aaron is from Santa Rosa, California. While he was on Nativ he was in the Hebrew University – Yerucham track, and afterward he went to the University of California at Davis. There, Aaron was involved with the Israel student group, and he spent a semester interning for Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in Washington, DC. Aaron has spent every summer since Nativ staffing USY Eastern Europe/Israel Pilgrimage, first as a counselor and then as a group leader. After graduating from UC-Davis, he staffed Nativ 30’s Yerucham group, and now he is the communications/speechwriting intern at Obama for America’s headquarters in Chicago.

“Nativ not only gave me experiences of a lifetime, but it taught me how to live my life. From what I love about davening to my thankfulness for Shabbat each week, almost everything about how I live a Jewish life I either learned, built upon, or discovered while on Nativ. Without Nativ, I wouldn’t be the educated, passionate, committed Jewish young adult I am today.”

A wholehearted yashir koach goes to Nativ’s director, Yossi Garr, and his incredible staff, who work tirelessly throughout the year to educate our students in such an outstanding manner. Nativ graduates are our bridge to the future, our inspiration, and our most precious resource.

Richard Skolnik is the international president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

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