In the late 1980s, Howard Herman left the organized Jewish community. But he missed what had been an important part of his life, and being connected.
Jon Tandler was enjoying a thriving law practice but wanted to volunteer in the Jewish community in a different field.
Laura Heller Lauder, just getting involved with the Jewish community, was ready to investigate deeper commitments.
Federation Fellows, a leadership training program sponsored by the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, provided an opportunity for them to pursue their goals.
The two-year, three-part program included leadership education seminars, placement as an intern on the governing board of one of the JCF's locally based constituent agencies and service on a JCF committee.
JCF created Federation Fellows to strengthen the leadership skills of people who might one day head the Jewish community's network of nonprofit human services.
The seminars provide an overview of the organized Jewish community, the agencies it serves and relationships between professional staff and lay leaders.
"Even before they go to their first meeting, we give participants background to help them understand how the boards of nonprofit agencies function," said Cindy Rogoway, federation human resource development director.
Now a board member of Stanford Hillel as well as JCF, Lauder enjoyed her internship on the board of the Hebrew Free Loan Association, which "gave me an idea of…the responsibilities that go with being a board member."
For Tandler, who recently chaired a federation Young Adults Division singles mission to Israel, getting involved with a federation beneficiary organization provided a chance to see the needs at home.
In 1991, when his internship with the recently merged Mount Zion Health Systems was over, he took up the invitation to become a board member. Five years later, he is in his second year as president. Tandler now leads an organization that funds and participates in programs at Mount Zion Medical Center, particularly in such areas as emigre assistance and research.
"The internship got me started," he said. "I went to executive committee meetings, saw how people relate to one another, learned how to deal with the knotty issues and how the board depends on the expertise of the staff."
Like Tandler, Herman is also now president of the board he joined as a Federation Fellow. He said the program offered a possibility for "re-entry into mainstream Jewish life."
In his high school, college and early post-college years, Jewish activities were a significant part of Herman's life. Camp Swig, youth group president, religious school teacher — he did them all.
But as a young attorney during the '80s, he found the organized Jewish community embracing views about Israel that he disagreed with and he opted out. The alienation left a big gap in his life, he said.
In 1989, he was approached by "a good, old friend" who was then-chair of the Federation Fellows, to participate in the program. Herman accepted — with one condition.
"I wanted to be placed on the board of either the Jewish Film Festival or the Jewish Community Relations Council, two agencies with political outlooks that were palatable to me," he said.
"The program worked really well for me and others in my group in matching participants with the right agencies. But equally important, it provided an introduction and, in fact, an `in,'" said Tandler, who now serves as president of the board of the Jewish Film Festival.
"I never would have known how to approach the Festival in the right way. Federation Fellows provided the impetus."