A few weeks before my cabinet retreat, I griped to my mother, "Why do I always have to be the one to organize and plan everything?" She simply replied, "Courtney, there are leaders and followers. You are a leader."
I hung up the phone and tucked her sage wisdom away while I binged on reality TV. Cabinet was fast approaching and the early jitters settled in.
I landed in the sauna that was Scottsdale. I retired to my room to change and unpack. I shot one last glance in the mirror and placed my trusty name tag over my head. I sauntered into the first-year dinner with zero expectations. I said, "Courtney, just be friendly and open."
The cabinet leaders began with a statement I carried with me the entire week, "You are not normal. You pick up and leave for a week to the middle of nowhere, leave your family, your jobs, and your entire life behind to simply be part of something bigger than yourself. WE ARE NOT NORMAL!" Guess what, normal is boring. I've never aspired to be ordinary. Different is cool. In fact, it's a hidden superpower.
Over the course of the next several days, I found many people shared similar values, ambitions, and passions for the Jewish community in their respective cities. An added bonus some were pop culture fanatics as well. This was an esteemed collection of accomplished individuals, and I considered myself lucky to be in their company. Being surrounded by nearly 200 of these exceptional cabinet members, albeit at times if I'm being perfectly honest was majorly overwhelming, I soaked it all in because it made me incredibly hopeful for our future.
Overall, this entire experience reminded me of summer camp and pledging a sorority in college. I was meeting new people, playing Jewish geography, and, most importantly, forging friendships I have a sneaking suspicion will last a lifetime.
We engaged in icebreakers, local volunteer work, channeled our inner emotional intelligence, and heard interesting panel speakers discuss the importance and relevance of JUF.
Ironically, what occurred in the world outside our retreat added fuel to our fire. The atrocity and desecration in Charlottesville -- which erupted the weekend of the cabinet retreat -- only heightened our mission to spread messages of love and encourage the Jewish people in their communities to take a stand. We take care of our own and that's not only remarkable, but also extremely powerful. As Jews, it's in our DNA to protect and defend. We rise. We fall. We fight. We rebuild. And, ultimately, we triumph.
The theme of the week was to "Bring It Home" to your own city. Here's what I brought home (along with four extra pounds in my already overweight luggage the skycap refused to budge on, but that's neither here nor there):
1. You can always make new friends and it's even more fun later in life when you're not as nervous about kickball teams and monkey bar lines.
2. Be bold and dare to step outside of your comfort zone for it will mark the beginning of many grand adventures on your journey.
3. My mother is always right. I am a leader.
Scratch that. WE are leaders. And -- THIS IS CABINET!
National Young Leadership (NYL) Cabinet is the premier leadership philanthropic program of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). The program is designed for dedicated men and women, ages 30 to 45, from across the U.S. and Canada who are deeply committed to building a strong, vibrant future for the Jewish people. There are 26 Cabinet members here in Chicago. Below, one member sheds light on her Cabinet experience.To learn more about National Young Leadership Cabinet, email SallyPreminger@juf.org.
Courtney Joy Anixter is a writer and runs her own company, Consult Courtney. She was on the YLD Board for four years, serving as an Executive Board member for two. She joined JFNA's National Young Leadership Cabinet this year.