What do you appreciate about being Jewish? “When religion does when it’s supposed to do, it gives meaning and purpose to your life. What are we here for; what is important; how do we allocate our time and resources in meaningful, purposeful ways? I read a quote by Mark Twain that says the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why. ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ is a lousy question to ask students. A better question is, ‘What kind of person do you want to be?’ Make sure the person the world sees is the same that’s on the inside. Any gap creates a lot of hypocrisy, and I believe a lot of mental health tension. Now that I’m retired, I don’t have to work to make money; but I still have a need to work to make a difference.”
How have you practiced Jewish values in your life? “As a psychologist for Wayne/Finger Lakes BOCES for over 30 years, I was fortunate to have a career that made a monumental difference in the lives of kids. Many had severe behavioral challenges: explosive behavior, anger issues. One thing I tried to do was to help separate their feelings from their behavior. I also worked with kids with autism and their families. My involvement with the Education Bridge of Federation's Partnership2Gether, and the Rochester Jewish Coalition for Literacy in the Rochester City School District, comes out of the social-action belief that we’re here to make the world a better place. Tom Perez, the former Secretary of Labor, said the real problem in our country is that for many kids, their zip code determines their future. I grew up in 14621, Remington Street. It was Orthodox then; but nowadays, maybe a third to half of males will be incarcerated for something a white suburban kid in ‘14618’ wouldn’t be. Part of my work in the Rochester schools is to make sure these kids are not defined by their zip code, so they can have the same opportunities my children and grandchildren have. My approach is engaging people to take ownership of their situation, so emotions don’t overflow into behavior; so we deal with conflict to solve problems in healthy ways and overcome the ‘lumps and bumps.’ How can I help people who see things differently come to a consensus? They are what people call ‘soft skills’ and people often don’t value them until they need them. But I would tell you soft social skills are what make the world go round, the lubricant of our society.”
“At Federation, our Partnership2gether partners people in Rochester with people in Modi'in, Israel. That includes RAMIM, Journey For Identity and Education Bridge, where I got started: pairing schools and teachers in Israel and here. Our outlook is we want Israel to be a special country. If you go to Italy, you step off the plane and you’re excited, but you’re not going home. In Israel there’s a different emotional experience. For us, our motherland isn’t Belarus or Minsk. It’s Israel. The Journey for Identity tackles the issue of how we get the next generation engaged. I joined the Jewish Education & Engagement Committee to make sure our communities are inclusive, that we support families who have special needs. All of us if we live long enough will have special needs so we need to create a society that’s receptive to them.”
Can you share something interesting about yourself?
“When I turned 60 and my son Josh turned 30 in 2012, we ran the Jerusalem Marathon together. We pictured Jerusalem being warm so we brought shorts and T-shirts. It was 37 degrees, cold windy and rainy; and it’s hillier than you could ever imagine.”