The Cohen Family Leaders in Light Institute has two components, the first being a series of monthly seminars over an eight-month period, beginning in September 2023. Upon the completion of the seminars in May 2024, the second component will feature practical application of the seminar content, in which participants will leverage their learnings to enhance their own work, raise awareness and inspire action in their respective communities, and catalyze change. Both components of the institute (learning and application) will last through December 2024.
The Cohen Family Leaders in Light Institute is a group of diverse community leaders from across Cincinnati, bound together in propelling civility and strengthening democratic tradition. We connect to combat antisemitism, extremism, and hate, and inspire community change. We learn from the unique challenges and opportunities each of our communities face, and come together in education and action to build towards a stronger inclusive democracy. We leverage our extended networks to multiply influence and maximize impact, working together to create systemic change and empower positive outcomes.
The recent surge of extremism in the forms of antisemitism, racism, xenophobia, and other bigoted ideologies, and the migration of that extremist ideology from the fringes towards the center of our society demand that we identify new and innovative strategies to combat these forms of hate. Rising rates of antisemitism, the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, and an increasingly radical political landscape characterize these intersecting modes of hate as well as the potential for extremism to harm our democracy. It is now crucial, even necessary, that we develop a network of informed and skilled stewards of democratic engagement; leaders who are equipped with contemporary understanding and modern tools designed to help them steer their respective organizations and networks, as well as our collective community through these volatile, divisive, and polarized times. The Cohen Family Leaders in Light Institute is an investment in developing, connecting, and empowering community change makers to immunize their networks and serve as force multipliers, capable of rallying their respective constituencies and the often silenced center against the viruses of extremism and hate.
In April 2019, the Jewish Community Relations Council hosted a summit on combating antisemitism and hate where 153 organizations were represented. Overwhelmingly positive feedback from a wide spectrum of diverse and influential attendees clearly showed our community's leaders wanted deeper and more transformative opportunities to address extremism and strengthen civic engagement. Additionally, we learned where to focus next: invest in influencers and integrate education with action projects that exponentially multiply impact. The Cohen Family Leaders in Light Institute was born.
The Cohen Family Leaders in Light Institute has two components, the first being a series of monthly seminars over an eight-month period, beginning in September 2023. These seminars will feature nationally-recognized innovative experts and thought leaders, combined with participatory and relational learning that unpacks the relationship between extremism and inclusive democracy, with a focus on particularities of antisemitism and its connections to extremist threats to democracy. Seminars will explore drivers of extremism, such as conspiracy theory, trauma, and scarcity. Participants will unpack the challenges and opportunities of intersectionality, the power and pitfalls of populism, and the way value hierarchies influence differing worldviews and approaches. Participants will also learn critical tools that will transform their ability to lead their community in an environment of extreme polarization. The second component will be practical application, lasting approximately nine months, during which participants will leverage their learnings to catalyze community change.
Fellows will be asked to submit a $150 deposit, which will be returned upon completion of the learning component of the institute. Those working in media and elected officials are exempt from this requirement due to ethical concerns. Upon completion, fellows will also be awarded funding to compensate them for their time, and to support their plans to integrate their learnings into their work, raise awareness, and inspire action in their respective communities.
In year one of the program, the Cohen Family Leaders in Light Institute requires each fellow to commit to attending seven learning sessions over a period eight months, with intermittent small group and individualized work to develop plans for practical application of the learning. Participants must be able to commit to the full length of the institute. During the subsequent period of practical application in the community, participants will continue to meet online or in-person regularly for check-ins. In this portion of the program, participants will receive a stipend to bring this learning back into the communities they serve and catalyze community change. Both components of the institute (learning and application) will last through December 2024.
The goal of the practical application component is to leverage institute learnings in order to strengthen and enhance the existing work of each participant. Because each participant’s work and role in community is different, it’s hard to be prescriptive about exactly what each individual application project could look like. In order to identify the opportunities where learning meets individualized community need, each Institute participant will work alongside JCRC staff to process learning, identify opportunities for practical application, develop a practical application plan, and execute it.
An ideal Cohen Family Leaders in Light Institute cohort would be reflective of the diversity of the Greater Cincinnati area, and would include connected influencers in the business, religious, civic, arts, education, law enforcement, and nonprofit sectors, who have the credibility and reach to educate and inspire change within their own personal and professional networks. These influencers will be force multipliers for the work of combating antisemitism and other forms of extremism and stronger stewards of our democratic tradition and civil society. They will be bold and action-oriented, purposeful and persuasive, with the power to bring people together. They will be transformative, authentic, and thoughtful—and always leading and driving for lasting change.
Nearly three years of preparation and work led up to the first session of the Cohen Family Leaders in Light Institute. While the first meeting between our cohort, facilitators, and scholars-in-residence was virtual, the Cohen Family Leaders in Light Institute fulfilled the goal of one of its founding principles of connection, bringing together diverse leaders, thinkers, dreamers, and doers to drive systemic change.
A major component of the Cohen Family Leaders in Light Institute is discourse and dialogue. Scholar in Resident Yavilah McCoy joined former JCRC Director Jackie Congedo for an interview with WVXU's Lucy May on Cincinnati Edition to explore those themes in light of comments made by Whoopi Goldberg.
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Former JCRC Director Jackie Congedo speaks with WLWT's Courtis Fuller on how the Leaders in Light Institute and its cohort is working to end violence, hate and extremism.
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Our scholars in residence, Dr. Arie Kruglanski and Shannon Foley Martinez sit down with facilitator Sherri Goren Slovin at Union Terminal to discuss the rise in violent extremism.