Mayim Bialik Wants You, Ordinary Person

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Mayim Bialik wants you.

That’s right. If you’re a young (19-25) Jewish leader living in North America or Israel, the actress who plays a geeky character of The Big Bang Theory wants you to apply to be one of 36 fellows at Core18 Leaders Lab, a $1 million initiative to cultivate and empower the next generation of Jewish leaders. (Applications are due October 15).

“There’s more to life than what we see on the surface and to do great things in the world, we have to seek greatness in ourselves,” said Bialik, 37, who first rose to fame in the 1990s show Blossom and now plays Amy Farrah Fowler, Sheldon’s sort-of-girlfriend on the hit CBS show. She also was a vocal advocate for attachment parenting (which played no part in her recent divorce, she had told Good Morning America).

Although Bialik became observant later in life, she has long been involved in Jewish causes.

Bialik is one of three co-chairmen of the project. Another is Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Emeritus Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth. The third is Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, author of “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Fulfillment,” (2007) and a former lecturer at Harvard University, where he taught courses on “Positive Psychology” and “The Psychology of Leadership”—with more than 1,400 students.

“My personal journey has led me to engage more actively with Jewish texts,” Bialik says. Israelite biblical leaders were just “ordinary people who were ultimately able to accomplish extraordinary things that changed the world,” she says: Now she hopes to help train ordinary people to be future leaders.

When is too early?

Numerous programs have sprung up in the Jewish community in recent years to connect with the next generation and create “young leaders”, as studies show that increasing assimilation, intermarriage and interest in Israel - and in Judaism - is waning.

“There’s a huge need for developing the next generation of leaders,” says Rhoda Weisman, a leadership coach and founding executive director of the Professional Leaders’ Project, an organization that, from 2003-2009, built a network of 500-plus young Jewish leaders.

But she suspects the Core18 Leaders Lab is targeting too young an age group. “When you’re younger, you still have to finish college, figure out what you’re doing next, whether it’s graduate school or professional life,” she said. She feels it's better to train people when "they’re more set up,” - when they can apply what they learn in the field. PLP’s trainees were at least two years out of college, ranging from 24-30.

In January, Core18 Lab Leaders begins its program for college kids aged 19 to 25, who will study remotely via webinars. For five months the fellows will learn about subjects such as the ethics of leadership to achieving personal excellence to contemporary Jewish issues. They will also interact with leaders in the business, policy and Jewish world.

Then they’ll go to Israel for seven weeks for a business or non-profit internship and study leadership and business /social Entrepreneurship at the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya.

“Charisma alone doesn’t produce great leaders,” Bialik said. What does? Qualities such as moral integrity and emotional health, for instance, which they hope to teach students to become great people and great Jewish leaders who “can make a meaningful impact for Israel and the world and beyond.”

Bialik is not quite sure how she will contribute to the program, given her busy schedule. But it is important to her, she says. “I get asked to do a ton of things, especially in the Jewish community, and it’s a real blessing, and it’s also difficult that I have to choose,” she said. Her colleagues asked her if she could really take on something else. “That shows how much I believe in it and am happy to be part of it.”

Actress Mayim Bialik at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences' Performers Peer Group Reception in Los Angeles in August 2012.Credit: AP