Congregation B'nai Israel

2710 Park Avenue, Bridgeport, CT 06604 | (203) 336-1858 | |

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Is Your Son or Daughter the next Jim Abraham Fellow?

by Ira Wise, September 2017/Elul 5777-Tishrei 5778

A little over three years ago we announced the establishment of the Jim Abraham Jewish Leadership Fellowship. It was established to assist in the development of potential, future synagogue leaders through their participation in educational programs and opportunities. The ultimate goal is to assure the perpetuation, continued growth, and vitality of Reform Judaism locally, regionally, nationally and internationally.

Jim Abraham was a past president of B’nai Israel. He was involved in the Union for Reform Judaism, Teach for America, served in the U.S. Army and worked most of his life as a leader and mentor in human resources at G.E. And Jim served as a mentor to me and to a great many of the men and women who have led this congregation over the years. He was a strong advocate for being involved in the Jewish community in general and in the congregation and the Reform Movement in particular.

The Fellowship is designed to support young adults (late teens – twenties) who display significant interest and seriousness in their approach to Jewish values and education as well as who show leadership potential as demonstrated by their academic ability, and/or active involvement in Reform Jewish programs and activities. 

Fellowships are awarded to partially subsidize participation of worthy candidates in programs that promote the development of Jewish leadership skills. Programs may include: Judaic High School Programs (not including Merkaz), leadership academies, conferences, song leading institutes and Israel programs of academic merit offered by Hebrew Union College, The Union for Reform Judaism, the North American Federation of Temple Youth or similar institutions committed to the perpetuation of liberal Jewish values. 

Our current fellow is Elena Smith, daughter of Scott Smith and Susan Zweibaum Smith. Elena graduated from Fairfield Warde High School this past June and has chosen to take a gap year before beginning her undergraduate studies. And what a gap year it will be! Elena is participating in Young Judaea’s Year Course.

Israel will be her classroom as she earns college credits while learning Hebrew, participating in life changing volunteer activities, and living with peers from the United States, Israel, and around the world. I was a recruiter for this program before going to graduate school, and a few members of our congregation participated in Year Course some years ago. One is a teacher today. The other is a rabbi with a familiar last name. So we are very excited about our Jim Abraham Fellow this year.

The fellowship can follow many different paths. Elena is the first fellow to pursue a gap year in Israel. Do you have a high school or college student that is interested in pursuing a role as a Jewish leader? We are not talking about rabbis, cantors and educators – although we could. We are talking about people who will become involved in synagogues, federations, agencies and Jewish organizations that may not even exist – YET. They may create one. We invite you to encourage the young people in your life to explore becoming a Fellow. Talk to me or one of our rabbis.

To apply be a Jim Abraham Jewish Leadership Fellow, go to and download the application. Complete it and send it in the Education Center, attention Jim Abraham Fellowship.