If there is anyone who can play a mean game of basketball while simultaneously having the sensitivity and leadership skills of bringing inclusion to all team players, Naomi Gofine, a native of Toronto and graduate of Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women, has made both possible. Ms. Gofine, a former captain of Stern College’s NCAA’s Division III basketball team, has been selected to serve as one of three Fellows in Yachad’s new Jewish Communal Leadership Fellowship (YJCLF) for the 2014-2015 programmatic year.
There were 38 applicants coming from all over North America. The other Fellows include Stephanie Weprin from Holliswood, New York, graduate of Queens College; and Robert Grad from Livingston, New Jersey, graduate of Yeshiva College.
The program will enable the Fellows to learn, grow and contribute to Yachad and its role as a dynamic human rights organization promoting disability Inclusion. The fellowship will be supervised by Eli Hagler, Associate Director of Yachad, and Deborah Berman, LCSW, Director of Social Work at Yachad.
Yachad, the flagship program of the Orthodox Union’s National Jewish Council for Disabilities (NJCD), provides unique social, educational and recreational programs for individuals with learning, developmental and physical disabilities with the goal of their inclusion in the total life of the Jewish community.
The Fellows will function as full members of Yachad’s staff, working out of its national headquarters in Lower Manhattan and will be assigned a primary mentor — a staff member under whose tutelage and guidance they will directly carry out their diverse range of duties within the agency. Additional mentors will provide integrated training and experiential opportunities in other areas as needed. Together, the mentoring team will offer opportunities for the Fellows to acquire proficiency in disability culture and Jewish organizational leadership. Each Fellow, with supervisory support, will be responsible to begin or continue a special project, or to research a topic of interest.
Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman, International Director of Yachad, explained, “Yachad has been at the forefront of educating and facilitating today’s youth to become tomorrow’s leaders, ensuring that all individuals are included in the Jewish community. There is no question that Yachad has come a long way in educating the community about the abilities of our members, but there is still a long way to go. We hope that the Yachad Fellows will quickly become an integral part of the Yachad team going into the 2014-2015 programmatic year. We are hopeful that Naomi will go on to a successful career in law and will always remember her time at Yachad as an important step in her professional advancement and development.”
Ms. Gofine recounted how her experience serving as captain of Stern College’s basketball team had given her the necessary leadership skills for fostering Yachad’s mission. “Inclusion extended beyond simply being on the basketball team; it meant cultivating a feeling of belonging, and ensuring that each member of the team felt like her contribution mattered,” she said. “As a YJCLF Fellow, I will incorporate these lessons to work as part of a team creating an atmosphere of inclusion, in which individuals feel the importance and value of their presence and contribution.”
Ms. Gofine’s involvement in Yachad began in her formative years in high school. “When I found out about the Jewish Communal Leadership Fellowship at Yachad, I was immediately drawn to the program,” she explained. “Having been involved in Yachad through Ulpanat Orot, a Bnei Akiva high school in Toronto, I knew what a unique and important organization Yachad is, and the life-changing impact it has on its members and those when it serves in modeling what inclusivity really means. I was attracted to the Fellowship because I personally identify with Yachad’s mission of inclusion, and its warm and nurturing environment was a significant allure.”
Majoring in political science, Ms. Gofine’s ultimate ambition is to attend law school. “As a political science major at Stern College, I gained critical thinking and writing skills that complimented the Fellowship’s administrative and policy-oriented aspects. I intend to contribute to Yachad by using these skills and experiences to further the mission of Yachad – including people with special needs in all aspects of community life. Upon completion of the Fellowship, I plan to pursue a joint degree in law and social work. I hope to learn more about the interplay between these two fields through my Fellowship at Yachad. I can’t wait to join the Yachad team!”