1. What does being Jewish mean to you?
“I grew up in Syracuse, where my parents founded a synagogue with their friends. They were looking for a small, homey Conservative synagogue that was family-focused. So I had a strong connection to my synagogue, the building itself and the people. My parents were incredibly involved and I’m proud because they’ve left as their legacy a sustainable congregation with around 400 families. We were one of the first Conservative synagogues to have women on the bimah, and to have bat mitzvahs—we were progressive in those ways. My values and connection to Judaism came from there and from Camp Seneca Lake. I started there when I was 8 and attended each summer through college; then I went back twice. I met my husband there: he was the Mohawk Unit Head, I was the Senior Camp Unit Head. We became a camp couple that married three years later. At both my synagogue and CSL, I loved being in places that felt warm and comfortable, where I was surrounded by other Jewish people who loved and cared about me.”
2. How have Jewish values guided your life and career?
“I decided I wanted to be an elementary school teacher after I graduated SUNY Binghamton. I went to graduate school in elementary education, taught second grade in Fairfax County, Virginia, for three years, and then taught at Lehrman Community Day School, a private Jewish school in Miami, for four years during my husband’s residency. I loved connecting Judaism with teaching. When we moved to upstate New York, I almost immediately became involved in the JCC’s Early Childhood Committee at the Wolk Center where my kids were in nursery school. I became chair of that committee and started to connect being a mother with being a teacher. Even now, in supervising student teachers at Nazareth, I pull from both my education background and my parenting background. Being a parent makes you a different kind of teacher, one who brings in family values and understands the best ways to interact with the parents of your students. I often feel like a mother toward my student-teachers; I want them to be successful but also want to support and protect them. I feel the same way about those in the Jewish community. This is the model my parents set for me: ‘You are lucky enough to be born into this community; so you’re responsible for taking care of it.’ Fortunately my husband grew up with the same model. It’s our privilege and responsibility to be active participants. He’s on the board of the JCC and Jewish Family Service; between the two of us, we have almost every agency covered.”
“When I was first asked to join the committee I chair, it was just known as the Education committee. Then it evolved and expanded; there was a name change at the national level to Education and Engagement. We now cover PJ Library and PJ Connect; youth and teen programs, like the Rochester Jewish Teen Initiative; and we’re feeling out what we can do with adult education. We also have a section on inclusion, the Jewish Family Navigator. About 18 months ago I brought in my co-chair, Emily Krohn, because our committee’s purpose and breadth had grown tremendously. With my teaching background and her social work background, she and I are good partners.”
4. Can you share some interesting things about yourself?
“I’ve had a passion for theatre my whole life—watching and performing. In college I minored in musical theatre. I joined the board of MJT Stages after my daughter took part in their shows because it is a warm, accepting and menschy place. Even though it’s not Jewish per se, it reminded me of camp. Another interesting thing about me: I’m crazy about animals. I love dogs as much as I love people. If I had loads of money, I would save every rescue dog there was.”