After 20 years away, Shoshanna Schechter returned to Maryland in June to become the
director of Jewish life at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville. An alumna of the school herself, Schechter, 39, reflects on her passions and interests — including Jewish education, writing and even mindfulness.
You’ve been in Jewish education for a long time. Did you also teach or have you mostly been in administrative positions?
I’ve been both. I started out in teaching — well everybody teaches Hebrew school, right? It’s always a good gig. So I started out really thinking that I was going to be in the informal ed world. I love Jewish camping. Jewish nonprofit kind of hit me in the face when I was working overseas for my year in Romania, because that was where I got exposed to the fundraising side and how you work with donors.
So I started with teaching. I’ve taught every age, a lot of higher [education].
What is it about a classroom that draws you to teaching?
One of the reasons I was interested in this job [at JDS] was because it was engagement, you know, working with students directly, faculty directly, people directly. I think you’re born with it. I mean, I come from a family of educators.
What do you do in your spare time?
I have three daughters. I finished my coursework, I’m now in the dissertation mode for a doctorate in Jewish education from the Jewish Theological Seminary.
Other than your studies, what do you like to do?
Yoga, meditation. I didn’t really connect with that world and understand the whole mind-body connection and the healing that can come from that and from Eastern wisdom. So once I started practicing that and incorporating that into my life, I found that it really calmed me down a lot. And meditation is something I’m a huge fan of — mindfulness practice is something I’m a huge fan of.
I write a lot. I started with the Times of Israel in 2014. And I found it really powerful. But I only write when I have something that I really have to say … to the world.
What do you write about?
I was in Charlottesville when the Nazis showed up, and there were not a lot of Jews there. I got published really quickly on that one. The article is titled, “When the Nazis Come to Your Backyard – It is time to SHOW UP.” And when things like that happen, as a writer, [it builds] up in your stomach and then like, you have to just spit it out. And those are my best pieces, I think.
I wrote a piece about modesty about ultra-Orthodox women. It came from, my girls were in summer camp … One of my twins came home one day, I think she was eight at the time, and she said something about how the counselors made her cover up her bathing suit when they were going to the pool. And she asked them why and they said, “So the boys shouldn’t see you.” So they’re oversexualizing this little girl.
I’ve written about losing 160 pounds and what it’s like to be in two different bodies.
What is it like to be in two different bodies?
I had my weight-loss surgery nine years ago. It changes everything to lose that much weight. Even though I’m back in town and back where I grew up, and people have known me since I was a fetus — when I see people, they don’t know who I am, and you have to introduce yourself because you’re that different.
That yo-yo in your head of the negotiation, of “Well if I eat this…” That’s all gone for me, all that’s gone. But in terms of like, obesity bias, that’s huge. And I didn’t even know how bad it was until I lost all the weight.
So what does it feel like coming back to Maryland and JDS where you went to school?
A lot of seeing how things have changed, and a curiosity that comes with that … and yeah, there’s definitely nostalgia. How could there not be?
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