By Rachel F. Goldberg
Laurie Strongin traveled a path no parent should have to take. She did everything she could to help her son who was diagnosed at 2-weeks-old with a fatal illness. But she took her personal experience, faith and Jewishness to found and run Hope for Henry Foundation, an organization that cares for seriously ill children through innovative programs.
Strongin, who was named one of Jewish Women International’s Women to Watch 2018, and nine others, told their stories last week of bringing change to the world through a Jewish lens.
Jews should choose to bring their Jewishness into relationships with non-Jews, speakers said at the annual JWI Symposium.
“Non-Jews paint us as ‘other’ and can’t think of us as people,” Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann, of Mishkan Chicago, said. “One of the most powerful things we can do is form very grass roots relationships with people as Jews, otherwise we’re denying [non-Jews] an opportunity…to know that their fears are baseless,” she said.
A self-described “unapologetic Jew,” Logan Levkoff, of New York, said, “Everything I do comes from the Jewish values I’ve gotten my whole life.”
She encouraged attendees to counter anti-Semitism.
“Sometimes in progressive circles we learn about it and it is our responsibility to call it out, on both sides [of the aisle],” she said.
Jenny Abramson, of Rethink Impact, in Washington, said that in the face of hate — whether against Jews or others — Jews should “stand up with the same level of emotion and power” that the Jewish community showed after Pittsburgh.
Social media can be a platform to “find a way to have more compassionate conversation to understand what is happening on the other side,” said Mackenzie Barth, of New York. She cautioned that it is easy to “get stuck in an echo chamber” where our friends share a single perspective.
But because of social media and its around-the-clock nature, busy women can access the dialogue in a way that hasn’t been possible previously, Abramson said.
But use it cautiously, said Linda Youngentob of Bethesda. “Social media is made to suck you in.”
She said that she sees families in restaurants using electronic devices and parents on their phones at the park who are missing opportunities to interact with their children, have family conversations and build relationships.
Along with family, sports offer lessons that translate to professional life.
“You are only as strong as your weakest link so you have to work together,” Strongin said.
Jill Saxon, from Randolph, N.J., said she learned to leave her problems outside meetings from leaving her concerns outside the soccer field as a student athlete.
Playing on a team taught Abramson “how to encourage people when things don’t go your way,” an essential management skill.
Beth Chartoff Spector’s ballet studies taught her to have stage presence and to carry on no matter what. “You have to work through problems quickly, pick yourself up and move on,” she said.
The benefits of diversity are also apparent but they can only be had when people can be themselves, Spector said.
“Why wouldn’t we be our authentic self when it matters most?” Levkoff said. Women can multi-task with everything and are amazing workers, she said.
Wendy Feldman Block, senior managing director of the real estate services firm Savills Studley in Washington, said that she has “always been very open about trying to juggle work, motherhood and life. They are part of who I am and it’s OK to be open about that.”
Strongin attributed her strength and courage to faith. “Faith gave us a tremendous amount of strength and hope and energy to face things that seemed impossible to face,” she said. “Motherhood gave that courage, too.”
Rachel F. Goldberg is a Washington-area writer.