Michael Sapperstein, Cohort 1, ACCELERATE

Mike Sapperstein grew up with Judaism as part of his life: he was a Bar Mitzvah, went with his family to Israel for his sister’s Bat Mitzvah and enjoyed Sapperstein celebrations of Jewish holidays. When he arrived at Indiana University, he joined a Jewish fraternity, although it was not because he was specifically looking for a Jewish fraternity. But it wasn’t until a few years after college that he went on a Birthright trip and “fell in love with the people” that he started to develop a pride for Jewish culture, Judaism, and (“for certain”) Israel. A few years after he returned from his Birthright trip, he participated in the Associated’s Young Leadership Council “to kickstart my journey toward developing as a leader in the Jewish community, and from there, it’s just grown.”

He currently serves as assistant treasurer on the board of Jewish Community Services (JCS) and was selected to become part of the first cohort of ACCELERATE, Na’aleh’s new immersive program for rising leaders to explore concepts of adaptive leadership while engaged in hands-on leadership learning. “My feeling is (that) I’m not a finished product, which means (one) can improve and here’s an opportunity for me to get involved in a leadership program…why not?”

When asked what strength he wants to continue to develop along his leadership journey, Mike easily said his “emotional intelligence, the ability to step back and think about a challenge and not be triggered into a reaction.”

He has benefitted from “many” mentoring relationships, “the majority have been considerably older than I am,” and mainly in his work environment. “The most eye-opening gift of a mentor is honesty. It’s not a mentor’s job to be your friend. It’s a mentor’s job to tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear,” and some of the most meaningful advice he was given by a mentor was the value of humility. When mentoring new associates and interns at work, he noted that a person has to want to be mentored and thus must take the initiative to seek out a mentor.

Mike’s service on the JCS board throughout the Covid pandemic has provided a front seat at an organization that employed adaptive leadership to continue to provide its vital services. Because the mission of JCS is to support families and individuals in meeting basic needs for economic sufficiency, Covid hit recipients of the agency’s services hard. JCS is a Jewish human services agency that serves both the Jewish community and the general community, and its board intentionally endeavors to span its broad community commitment. “Joan (Grayson Cohen, Executive Director) and her team are fantastic…We were able to more or less continue to offer what we had always offered, and I know that I’m incredibly proud and other members of the board are incredibly proud to be associated with this organization (JCS) that was able to pivot and figure this thing out.”

Pivoting also was necessary to balance work and family this past 18 months. Mike, a CPA with a Masters Degree in Accounting and Business Advisory Services, was on video or phone calls “almost 11 hours every day and working virtually 15 hours a day for nearly 4 months,” advising his clients on the numerous pandemic relief programs, some that changed almost daily. “At the time, my wife had taken the year off teaching because we had a newborn son. I was down in the basement working and the kids were upstairs, and you take a step on the main level, and it sounds like an elephant walking on the floor! It was very stressful!”

He and his wife, Caroline, have two boys, Mac, 4 years old, and Keegan, who is 2. Mike and Caroline are a “dual faith” marriage and are raising their sons with appreciation for Judaism and Catholicism, Caroline’s faith. “You know, there are not a lot of resources for families of dual faith.” “Every Friday we are at my parent’s house for Shabbat dinner with the cousins and my parents…every Sunday we’re at my mother-in law’s and we’ll say grace.” One of the biggest challenges to the Jewish community is “how do we keep younger people involved in the religion?” He said, “there are so many (other) things people can do…it is not as easy as it used to be (in our parent’s generation).” So Mike and Caroline are focusing on the values inherent in their faith traditions and ensuring these traditions are nurtured and developed as part of the weekly cycle of Sapperstein family life.