How did Judaism shape your early life? “I was raised Conservative in Syracuse. My high school had a small Jewish population, so to meet more Jewish teens and keep connected to my roots, I joined USY and stayed pretty active. I met kids from cities spanning from Buffalo all the way to Rutland, Vermont. Every summer we had a two-week Encampment get away held at a Ramah campsite. My parents were strong believers in dating Jewish. There were about five eligible bachelorettes in my high school, three of whom already had boyfriends from Camp Seneca Lake, so USY was my social connection. At Binghamton University, I ended up finding a nice Jewish girl from Rochester. I have three daughters: a sophomore who also goes to Binghamton U, and twins: seniors at Pittsford Sutherland who got heavily involved in USY and also went to Encampment. They’re following in my footsteps! They also have friends in many cities and States: Buffalo, Albany, and New York City, Connecticut, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Chicago. It’s exciting because I’m seeing them grow their network of future friends the way I did. With social media it’s easier. They’re talking to them constantly; and as they started to do college visits, they already had friends everywhere.”
How did the Federation’s Ramim program broaden your Jewish perspectives? “Ramim came along just when I was helping my kids establish their Jewish identity. I had only a rudimentary understanding of Israel, so I thought Ramim would be a good way to figure out what my homeland was all about. Studying for Ramim gave me a stronger understanding of what it meant to be displaced from your home. My ancestors were Russian and Polish and came here to America, to cities in the Northeast; but the ancestors of many modern-day Israelis went to a country that was our ancient homeland, fought to regain an identity, revised a dead language and used it to develop and discover modern concepts and innovations – from drip irrigation to INTEL chip technology. It made me proud to see we were a resilient, innovative people; and that’s how I see myself too – whether it’s making contraptions or fixing things in clever ways, ways that try to conserve resources or make the world a better place. Those are values my parents instilled in me. I’ve always been a math and science guy with an artsy flair. I’ve been resilient through the Rochester economy. I first worked as an automotive engineer; but when operations moved to Mexico, I had to redefine myself as a communications engineer. I feel that spirit of resilience and innovation is part of Rochester’s identity as well.
Yair, my professional partner during Ramim, is a computer science professor who is very skilled in robotics. We became close quickly. Just as I had no feel for Israel, he had no concept of what it was to be a Jew in the U.S. When he visited, my kids were post-Bat Mitzvah age, and American-style Judaism was a part of our weekly lives. We were able to share this with him. Ramim gave me a bigger picture of the world as well. Once the twins go to college, my wife and I will become empty-nesters overnight. So when the Federation asked if I would serve on committees and the board, I jumped at the chance.”
How do you connect your work with your life? “After 9-11, my employer donated communications systems to first responders in New York City, setting up a network for them when we realized the firemen and the police and other forces couldn’t easily talk to each other—from the stories we heard, it was like the Tower of Babel there. We recently did the same in Houston and Puerto Rico after the hurricanes. I view what we do as important to protecting our country and keeping the world safe and secure, by helping, for example, to maintain connectivity even when cellular networks go down. In my life I try to do the same: connect the circles of different groups of people so they’re intersecting. There is a parallel with how I felt as a child—being part of my different communities: school friends, sports friends, USY friends—and now. I have a community of friends in Modi’in through Ramim; my work community; and my community of friends here in Rochester, Jewish and non-Jewish. I try to find ways to integrate, not to segregate. When we saw white supremacy erupt in Pittsford, we stood up together. We must be open and welcoming to everyone. That is my mantra. My wife and I go to the Public Market downtown and see different cultures, different styles of dress. But everyone’s there shopping for veggies, listening to music, enjoying the weather, having fun. That makes me proud of Rochester and America.”
Any plans for the (Jewish) Near Year? “I’m on a planning board that thinks about what Ramim alumni should be doing. We want to figure out how to give back by being active at our temples, at the JCC, at the Federation, and for other good causes. We’re thinking about sending a team down to Texas later in the fall, spending three or four days in Houston’s Jewish communities, cleaning up and trying to rebuild after Hurricane Harvey. I truly enjoy rolling up my sleeves, putting on my boots, and getting dirty in my yard. So I’m ready to tackle the dirtiest jobs if that’s where I’m needed.”