Although Heidi Brodsky and Jill Granader both grew up in Potomac, it took the sharing of a few of the same friends, as well as a dorm at the University of Pennsylvania, for them to meet. They’ve more than made up for that late start with their close friendship during the three decades since.
That friendship includes a collection of uncanny similarities between them. For instance, there’s the birthday they share. Or the way their husbands also share a birthday.
And then there’s this: A few years ago, Brodsky was asked if she’d consider chairing the board of the Bender Jewish Community Center of Greater Washington, in Rockville. She immediately sought advice from her good friend Jill.
Granader said she could actually use the same advice. She’d just been asked to become president of the board of the Edlavitch DC Jewish Community Center.
Both women said yes, and their installations occurred two weeks apart in the summer of 2017, with each attending the other’s ceremony. Brodsky, 52, and Granader, 51, have frequent opportunities to seek in-person advice from the other, often as they walk their dogs. They live a mile apart from each other
“We can talk about things such as leadership styles,” Granader says. “Each step of the way, we’ve been figuring it out together.”
Both women are attorneys. Both are drawn to the needs and rights of children. When their own were small, they registered as a political action committee, in order to “raise money for candidates who would be supportive of young children,” Brodsky says. “It was a good experience, but it wasn’t the impact we wanted to have. It involved fundraising and politics. We wanted to work more with the people.”
Both subsequently offered their skills to the DC Volunteer Lawyers Project, providing pro bono legal services to children and victims of domestic violence. For 10 years, Granader served as a court-appointed special advocate with Voices for Children, Montgomery County, representing the interests of children in the foster-care system.
Now, as the two friends helm their respective JCC boards, coincidences relating to that challenge are not limited to the simultaneous launches of their tenures. There’s also a match between the major renovations each organization is undertaking. In both cases, the changes affect everything from lobbies to pools.
In the case of the Bender JCC, renovations have been spread out over four years, which has allowed the building to remain open. The Edlavitch DCJCC chose to take about nine months to complete everything by closing the building entirely. But both institutions plan to complete the work as the warmer weather arrives.
The two-year terms of both women will be ending then as well, but Granader has been asked, and agreed, to extend her term by a year.
Both women agree that the move from being a member of the board to serving at its head was a sizeable leap, one that not even the year that preceded it, during which the board leader-to-be was mentored by the outgoing one, prepared them for the increase in responsibility and time. Now, besides speaking before groups, attending even more of the array of JCC events than before, “you’re a lay partner with the chief executive officer, to lead the center,” Granader says.
Michael Feinstein, president and CEO of the Bender JCC, concurs. “Heidi and I made a commitment early on to have open and honest communication, respect each other’s roles and work together as partners.”
He has observed how the friendship between Brodsky and Granader benefits both JCCs:
“I have been incredibly impressed by the way Heidi and Jill have supported each other in public by attending the events of both organizations,” Feinstein said. “They have really modelled the idea of sister organizations.”
At Granader’s home recently, the two friends reflected on their acceptance of the same kind of challenging role, at the same time and in the same area.
“I think we’re both pleased that we did it.”
“Yes!” Brodsky agreed, then added, “I think it’s lucky we have each other. This paralleling, having a sounding board, it encourages you to lead. I think I’d have done this anyway, but this way, it was so much better.”
Marji Yablom is a Washington-area writer.