Alex Shapero, 38, is program director of MyZuzah, which partners with Jewish organizations with the lofty goal of placing a kosher, fair trade mezuzah on the doorpost of every Jewish home in the world. Schooled in management, Shapero has advised nonprofit organizations on strategy, research and fundraising. He lives in Columbia Heights with two boys, Jake, 4, Etan, 1, and his wife, Orly. A member of Kesher Israel, Shapero describes himself as Orthodox in orientation and Conservative in practice.
What do you love about mezuzahs?
Even though I haven’t always been a mezuzah professional, I’ve always loved mezuzahs for the mark they make on a home. I grew up with a standard carved Jerusalem stone case on the front door, but in my travels I’ve enjoyed picking up more as gifts and for my doorways. I’m a sucker for Gary Rosenthal pieces. MyZuzah actually commissioned him to make a custom series for us. Through my work, I’ve discovered even more cool options like one made from an old bourbon barrel stave by the Bourbon Rabbi. As Gary Rosenthal himself has said, “Thank God you need more than one mezuzah!”
You are from Bangor, Maine. What is your favorite Jewish childhood memory?
I’ll say it is Kiddush at the synagogue after Shabbat morning services. The older men would be making Kiddush over shots of whisky. The knishes and chicken wings made them the most robust kiddishes I’ve ever experienced. You would be hard pressed to find a good match anywhere.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
I’m the father of two young boys and, with my wife, we’re trying to build them up as good people and good Jews. Professionally, I’ll say that probably helping some of the organizations where I have worked, get dug out of some pretty deep holes. I came in when they were having some serious challenges and problems and was able to rebuild reputations and relationships and position organizations for much greater success than before.
What motivates you to work hard?
Where I grew up, being part of the community was very much defined as part of my identity. My understanding of what makes a person a person is the warmth and the importance and strength of a community. This MyZuzah project is really about helping people see how they fit into the Jewish community at large, where they can go with that and what they can give and what they can build into the future. Helping people realize that and develop and grow is really what makes me get up and jump into the work every day.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I’ve learned that as optimistic and hopeful as we all can be, some things in people we actually can’t change. So it’s important to be able to figure out how we can work around obstacles as well as trying to overcome them.
What question do you wish people would ask you?
Why don’t more people like smoked fish?
Who is your hero?
I try not to do too much idol worship because every person has some idealized portions, but they’re also human and fallible. So I really try to take the best I can from all sorts of different people and cobble together the best parts.
So you believe the mezuzah can change the world?
I think that people can change the world and that mezuzahs can certainly change people, which is why we work so hard to open people’s eyes to all the interesting stuff that they can learn and be inspired through having a mezuzah and thinking about it.