- This past year (and longer!), you were heavily invested in the Religious School’s programming and initiatives. Why is this a passion project? What makes it so near and dear to your heart?
Religious School has always been important to me because my Jewish education was critical in shaping my own Jewish identity, and I wanted to make sure that my kids had that education too. RS is only one component of that, but I especially want to make sure that they – and other young people in our community – have a strong level of comfort with Judaism and feel truly at home at TBE. Knowledge can always come later, but to teach our kids to love being Jewish, the earlier we start the better. I’m grateful my parents gave me that gift consistently, starting with my Jewish preschool education and continuing with some level of Jewish education until I went to college.
- How long have you been a volunteer?
We’ve been members since 2001, but until this past August when we bought a house in Birmingham, we lived full-time in Tuscaloosa. My volunteer efforts at TBE have always been somewhat based on what I could handle from afar. I first joined the TBE board in 2014 and also have served on the Temple’s Board of Education and on various other committees.
- Part 2 of question 2: What inspires you to volunteer in any capacity at the shul and why?
I grew up with four grandparents all very involved in shul life, and a mother who was a Jewish professional, a Hebrew School PTA president, and a volunteer with both NCJW and Hadassah. So, to me, this is just a natural part of being a Jewish community member.
I enjoy serving the community and helping with issues I am passionate about – which aside from education includes a commitment to the environment and the arts, women’s rights, and striving for racial justice in our broader community.
- You’ve played a significant role in the Religious School, social action programs, environmentalism, et al. What’s been your favorite volunteer role out of all that you’ve filled and why?
Well, it’s hard to pick, but I’m very proud of the Shabbat lessons program, which has evolved into being part of Family Shabbat. It is a win-win proposition when we get to model for our children what it looks like for adults to enjoy being at Beth El. We show them that we are here to participate in services, learn in small groups, have impassioned conversations in the hallways, and enjoy breakfast or lunch together.
For years, as much I loved going to shul, it was really hard to get to from Tuscaloosa to Birmingham two weekend days in a row (for Shabbat services and Sunday School) and when I did make the trip on back-to-back days it was exhausting, which took some of the enjoyment away. I realized that even for people who didn’t have to drive an hour to shul, it can be very difficult for busy families to commit both days of the weekend to synagogue attendance. So, somewhat selfishly, I asked “Wouldn’t it be great if we could go to shul, spend time with the TBE community, AND have my kids learn at the same time?” It was unrealistic at the time to move all Religious School programming to Saturdays, so we started small, and the first year we had about a half-dozen Shabbat Lessons. The second year it was exciting to expand that. We coordinated with Tot Shabbat so that at least one Saturday a month, we would have a critical mass of families with kids of all ages in the building, enjoying Shabbat together. The program wasn’t without challenges – and this Spring, even more than usual – but I hope we can continue this program in the future and watch it grow.
- When it comes to giving back to the synagogue, you are so generous with your time. How do you think this plays a role in your connection to Jewish values?
As I mentioned before, it’s the way my own family modeled Jewish involvement for me, so that’s what I hope to do for my kids. And, I love that there are so many different ways to be a part of the TBE community, even now.
- Where do you find you’re most deeply connected to the shul, spiritually? What’s most enriching for you?
First, I should note that I really love Conservative Judaism. I grew up attending a huge Modern Orthodox congregation in Baltimore, but when I discovered Conservative Judaism in my mid-20s I felt like it was a perfect fit for me. I am very comfortable with the more traditional liturgy, and I also find the egalitarian aspects of Conservative Judaism non-negotiable. So much so that electing more women to public office has been a focus of my outside-of-shul community work, and I find that I approach those efforts, too, with a Jewish lens.
But back to the original question: observing Shabbat has become very important to me. We usually (in the pre-pandemic world, anyway) have dinner at home or with friends on Friday night and then attend services on Saturday morning. For about a decade now, I have aimed for “Shabbat offline” and tried to stay off the computer and my phone, which helps the day feel different and special. I love to spend Shabbat attending shul, staying for a leisurely lunch with friends and family, being outside, reading, and then sharing Havdala with Josh and Ben and Abby. Each of these things individually is lovely, but as a package, it has made Shabbat transformative for me. I know that the rules of Shabbat can seem like a burden, but in the past few years, I’ve started to see this break from the rest of the world as a gift and I look forward to it all week. The ability to recharge on Shabbat is a big part of how I am able to work, be a parent, and be an effective advocate for other causes. And as recent events have highlighted, the need for Tikkun Olam–while certainly not new–has never been greater. There is a lot of work to do in our community, and in our world.
- What would you like to see happen in the future at Beth El?
I would like to see a specific plan and commitment to environmental action at TBE, which would include an educational component as well as a reduction in our dependence on single-use plastics. I am also excited to already see a broad commitment to collaboration with the greater community, both Jewish and beyond, and I’d like to see that include youth programming as well. Kids being together with their friends is a huge part of what makes them feel like a part of our Jewish community, and now that my daughter is at NEMJDS, I’ve seen even more the importance of helping kids foster these community connections.
- Anything else you’d like to the congregation to know about your love of the shul and your commitment to TBE?
Well, after years of considering how to improve Jewish education, I actually now think we ought to be asking a slightly different question. Instead of “How do we run an effective religious school,” we might think more about “How do we instill a love of Judaism in our kids?” And there are a lot of answers: Jewish Day School, Jewish summer camp, take your kids to Israel, celebrate Shabbat at home, participate in vibrant youth groups (I chaperoned two USY conventions this year and was just blown away by the ruach and commitment of the teens), promote Jewish friendships within our communities, bring your kids to shul. It doesn’t even have to be every week – even once in a while is a great place to start. Religious school is just one piece of a much larger pie.
I think I’ve about covered it! Thanks so much for this honor. I am truly humbled and I appreciate all of the lay leaders and staff who work so hard to make Temple Beth El a very special community.