What is true leadership?
How does a leader influence and inspire others?
As the nation prepares to elect its next commander-in-chief, Jmore explores this topic by speaking with 18 leaders in the Greater Baltimore Jewish community. (Eighteen because of the number’s significance in Jewish numerology and its correspondence to the word chai, which means life.)
From business owners to academics, artists to activists, Jewish communal professionals to politicians, Jmore asked some of our most prominent influencers and thought leaders about how and why they lead, their aspirations for the Jewish community and for the broader Baltimore regional community.
President and CEO, FutureCare
“We’re a family business,” Attman says of his short-term rehabilitation and nursing home company, “and we try to treat all our employees like an extension of our family. Happy employees care about their jobs, and that leads to happy patients. People want to do their best, but they need tools to do that.
“I like to lead by empowering others. We hire great people, and then we turn them loose. We believe in the concept of ‘intrapreneuring’ — using creative ideas in your job and company that may be brought in from elsewhere.
“Humility is important. No one knows everything. I can learn something from every single person, including people I work with as well as the patients.”
Senior Managing Director of Arts and Culture, Gordon Center for Performing Arts, Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore
Four years ago when assuming her role, Benesch had big plans for growing the JCC and the Gordon Center’s arts and culture programming. Many of her plans have materialized, and others are in the works.
“It’s not enough just to plan a good season of performances at the Gordon Center. I’m always thinking about what’s next.”
Benesch says she feels inspired to continue to expand programming when she sees the impact of the programs offered by the JCC and Gordon Center.
“We’re blessed to be able to bring artists here to the Gordon Center for those who are able to come and afford our performances. But I want to find more ways to bring those artists out into the community. …
“I have a dream to make the JCC a second home for Baltimore’s Jewish artists. I want to find funding so that artists can apply to be part of a program where they can work with two leaders — one artistic and one spiritual. They will explore Jewish texts and be given a chance to discover how Judaism impacts their artistic process.”
Joan Grayson Cohen
Executive Director, Jewish Community Services of Baltimore
“Whether it’s creating a future, aging with dignity, building stronger relationships or reaching new heights, the services offered by JCS empower people to draw on their strengths in achieving their goals,” Cohen says. “JCS helps people build their best lives.”
The positive regard that Cohen enjoys across the community is based on sound clinical judgment and a broad base of practical knowledge, as well as her strong leadership skills.
“I don’t micro-manage,” says Cohen. “I like to provide people with opportunities to fulfill their roles, with support. I believe that people can excel that way.
“I also take pride in growing professionals. When you allow people to explore roles beyond their positions, they grow with the agency. Many people at JCS, including myself, have taken advantage of those opportunities. JCS is very good about offering those opportunities.”
Liz Minkin Friedman
Director of Development, Krieger Schechter Day School, Chair of Darrell D. Friedman Institute for Professional Development at the Weinberg Center
“I was taught by my parents to be a good citizen.” Friedman, an active lay leader, has been preparing for communal leadership for as long as she can remember.
“I was told, ‘Don’t wait on the sidelines, be part of the game and be part of the solution,’” she says.
Friedman says she feels fortunate to possess both the ability to think big as well as the ability to be detail-oriented.
“Being a strong leader means having a strong moral compass, being a great listener and being open-minded about hearing multiple truths,” she says. “Your truth is as valuable as my truth. Maybe the new truth is a combination of my truth and your truth. …
“Great leaders love people, love learning from them and have to be genuine, charismatic and passionate. I enjoy the mantle of leadership. It’s exciting and challenging, and it’s an opportunity to give to my community. I feel that’s a moral obligation.”
Rabbi Jessy Gross
Director, Charm City Tribe JCC Director of Jewish Learning and Life
“Some say you need to meet people where they are. I say meet them where they are and bring them on a journey,” Rabbi Gross says.
Since 2012, the 36-year-old rabbi has helped revive Jewish life among Baltimore’s millennials. Known for her unconventional means of making Judaism accessible to young adults, Rabbi Gross says she goes about her programming very methodically.
“I start by thinking of who are Baltimore’s great business people and partner with them,” says Rabbi Gross. “That’s how we got Union Craft Brewery to make us an etrog-flavored and Chanukah gelt-flavored beer. …
“I have the support, funding and access that the whole Jewish community offers, without the obligation to follow the same rules that other rabbis have.”
President, Jewish Community Center of Greater Baltimore
“Building Jewish community is about building relationships.”
Hermann says he doesn’t believe in reinventing the wheel. Since his arrival in Baltimore four years ago, he has focused on “developing partnerships based on meaningful collaborations.”
“We want to make the JCC an open, relevant and innovative marketplace where people of all ages and levels of [religious] practice can explore and experience a variety of meaningful Jewish interactions.”
By collaborating with other organizations with missions similar to the JCC’s, Hermann says he hopes to “maximize the volume of people who visit our campuses, and to engage and strengthen their connection to the Jewish community. …
“We look for talented professionals, lay leaders and partners who are focused on inspiring and empowering Jewish journeys,” he says. “I like to say that JCC is an acronym for ‘Just Connect and Collaborate,’ and great outcomes for the community will happen.”
Del. Shelly Hettleman
Sometimes, Hettleman admits, she just can’t believe her eyes. “As I watch what’s going on in national politics, I feel as if I am watching a reality show,” she says.
Hettleman says she hopes Baltimore can be better.
“There’s a real frustration and real experiences that people are having that makes [some of] them feel left behind. Different parties will have different ways of addressing the problems, but they do have to be addressed. I think that government is part of the way we address them.”
Hettleman says she wants to be part of the solution.
“My role as an elected official is to listen to constituents and to understand the struggles in their lives, and to think creatively about how policy and government can address them.”
Rebecca Alban Hoffberger
Director and Founder, American Visionary Art Museum
Since its inception in 1995, the AVAM, which exhibits the work of “outsider artists,” has become a lightning rod for national and international discourse on artistic, humanistic and cultural conversations.
It also provides deeply moving experiences for its visitors.
“During the run of the ‘Big Hope’ show [in 2015-2016], I met a couple at the museum,” Hoffberger says. “Their young daughter was dying, and they had come to see the show after dropping off their daughter at BWI. She was going on a trip to Disney World.
“I saw the father sitting on a bench with his wife. I went over to him and asked if this was their first time at the museum. He told me his story and said, ‘We can’t believe what a healing experience this is. It’s taken us out of our grief and worry and spoken directly to us.’
“Their daughter died seven weeks later. It’s a privilege when you can help people. … I had a vision for a place that would communally embrace people of all ages and backgrounds and make them think, feel, celebrate and deepen each other under one roof.
“It has worked beyond my wildest dreams.”
Chair, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore
It was on a trip to Israel when she was 15 that Hurwitz dedicated herself to bettering the lives of her fellow Jews.
“I was in Israel and I met a girl who I would never see again,” she recalls. “But we shared an instant connection. She was getting off a plane from Russia, and we looked exactly alike. We hugged and kissed. I was wearing a ring I had received as a bat mitzvah present two years earlier. I took it off my finger and put it on her finger.
“It was a defining moment. I knew that I wanted to live my life for every Jew.”
In the years since, Hurwitz has been a passionate supporter of the local, national and international Jewish communities. She is the immediate past national campaign chair of the Jewish Federations of North America and former president and past chair of National Women’s Philanthropy, and also 2009 chair of The Associated campaign.
“When I travel to other federations, people often say, ‘Oh you’re from Baltimore! Baltimore has such a great reputation.’ And we’ve earned it. The professionals do their jobs way beyond their paychecks, and the volunteers feel it in their kishkes [guts]. Everyone does it for the right reasons.
“We’re special because of the people, the traditions and the love for the infrastructure.”
Owner, Charles Levine Caterers, and Citron
Levine says that the catering business has changed significantly since he started his career at the old Pimlico Hotel in the 1980s.
“These days, people are more knowledgeable about what they want,” Levine says. “Catering has changed, and it keeps changing. It’s not only about food. It’s about entertaining. We’ve had to be very responsive, and we’ve had to maintain strong relationships.”
With his latest venture Citron, a contemporary full-service restaurant in Quarry Lake at Greenspring, Levine will have an opportunity to wine and dine Baltimoreans in a setting and style informed by his three decades in the business.
“It’s been a lifetime of work,” he says. “You have to want to listen and learn, make friends and try to have a little fun.”
Executive Director, Pearlstone Center
It was at a Hillel conference during his freshman year in college when Manela first heard his calling.
“Someone had just gotten up to give a speech on the state of the Jewish environmental movement, and all of a sudden a door opens and this group of young Jewish adults with guitars barge in singing and dancing,” he says. “Everyone spontaneously got up and joined in. It was so vibrant, inspiring and alive.
“Here was this movement founded on joy and community and ruach [spirit]. I thought, ‘I love these people. These are my people!’”
Manela’s enthusiasm for the Jewish environmental movement continued to grow during the conference as he learned about global warming, its impact on the Earth and the Jewish obligation to be a steward of the Earth. He’s been building the movement ever since.
“The response from our community has been instrumental in our success,” says Manela. “We’ve got a unique recipe here! Our work is not just a flash in the pan, but an enduring source of strength and commitment.“
Rachel Garbow Monroe
President and CEO, Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation
Monroe has been leading people for decades, including stints as chief operating officer at The Associated and marketing manager for the JCCs of Chicago.
“I believe that change often has nothing to do with money,” she says. “Money is a tool, but it is not necessarily the power of change. Driving real change, in my experience, relies upon fundamental, intangible qualities including recognition of opportunities, building a powerful team to create and act upon a vision, and empowering others to act on that vision.
“Whether one looks at the Baltimore Library Project, the Journey Home (an international workforce development initiative involving the Jewish Funders Network), or our support of affordable housing for people with disabilities, the Weinberg Foundation, alone, could never be as effective without amazing partners and a commitment to collaboration.”
Dr. Jay A. Perman
President, University of Maryland, Baltimore
Despite his many administrative responsibilities, Perman finds time to treat patients and teach students from UMB’s six professional schools at his weekly President’s Clinic.
Perman says his main reason for doing so is a “selfish one. It makes me happy. My roots are as a pediatrician. I’ve been doing it for 30 years. The second reason why I do this is because it literally keeps me in touch with our learners.”
In his work with graduate students, Perman stresses the need to be cognizant of the social determinants of patients’ lives.
“It’s all well and good to say I diagnosed them and gave them a prescription. But you have to understand the person in terms of their environment. Whether a kid gets better may depend upon his landlord as much as his doctor. It is so critical to be a good listener.”
Tikkun olam, the Jewish principle of repairing the world, drives much of Perman’s work and mission.
“Many of our patients and clients come from our immediate community, and we are part of the community,” says Perman, who recently returned from a mission to Israel with Gov. Larry Hogan. “As a result, we have taken many initiatives in the areas of health care, work development and education.
“If we can prepare kids in West Baltimore to have better opportunities for jobs, these will be the kids who will do the research and treatment to eliminate health disparities in their neighborhood.”
CEO and Founder, Art With A Heart
“I am hopeful about Baltimore,” says Pupkin.
Pupkin’s optimism, in the face of the many challenges faced by the city, comes from real-life experiences.
Since the former litigator founded Art With A Heart Inc. 16 years ago, she has seen firsthand that real change is possible when people come together to participate in innovative programming that engages their creativity and humanity.
Art With A Heart’s leadership program brings together 10th and 11th-grade students from Baltimore’s independent and public schools in an attempt to break down racial and socioeconomic barriers, and to encourage authentic, productive conversations.
As part of the training, students receive a tour of Baltimore that includes parts of the city that some students have never seen.
“Some of the kids, when they think of going downtown, they think of the Inner Harbor,” says Pupkin. “They didn’t know these other parts of the city existed.”
Jay Wolf Schlossberg -Cohen
Internationally Known Artist
For the past couple of decades, Schlossberg-Cohen has been creating community through his public art projects. His community works include murals in schools, JCCs, housing sites, hospitals, summer camps and nonprofit organizations.
“Through art, we get people to sit down to talk to each other,” he says. “With art, we can explore the most difficult and the most joyful subjects. The process is more important than the project.”
One of Schlossberg-Cohen’s favorite works is the sukkah he and Temple Emanuel congregants built, rebuilt and redecorated for many years.
“It was a rallying point for the congregation that included students in the religious school and individuals and families in the congregation. Over the years, we discovered this was very powerful for everyone. It’s a painting of our journey as a congregation. The voice of the community is in the art.”
Recently, Schlossberg-Cohen was asked to work on a project with Jews and Catholics at a JCC in the Polish city of Krakow. “It was extraordinary,” he says, “to see Jews and Catholics working together to rebuild Jewish life there.”
Marc B. Terrill
President, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore
Terrill’s eureka moment came when he was 25.
“I had the privilege of meeting a planeload of emigrants from Moldova at Ben-Gurion Airport at 2 a.m,” recalls Terrill. “Seeing the sheer excitement and appreciation on the faces of the young and old was simply indescribable, and the worldwide Jewish community made it happen. It was awesome and awe-inspiring. I was hooked from that moment on.”
Under the stewardship of Terrill, The Associated is nationally recognized as one of the strongest Jewish federations in North America.
Terrill, who has led the organization since 2003, says the secret of The Associated’s success can be explained by the community’s willingness “to change, take risks and to dare to dream.”
“In large measure, the reason for the sustenance of Jewish life in Baltimore has shifted from one based predominantly on anti-Semitism and Israel’s fragility to one more connected to Jewish values and identification, and by extension, how values and identity impact individual, family and communal pursuits,” says Terrill.
“In essence, it’s somewhat of a renaissance in Judaism. Today, we’re focused on engagement, learning and connection. It’s much healthier.”
In the coming decade, Terrill envisions “a community powered by individuals who embrace our proud tradition, are respectful of diversity of opinion and supportive of those who need a helping hand or a lift up, and one engaged with us in the work in progress that is our wonderful Israel.
“Our community understands that in order to have all this, everyone has to play an active role.”
Former Howard County Executive and president of Margrave Strategies
As the youngest Howard County executive in history, Ulman served two terms before leaving government to form Margrave Strategies. Margrave is a consulting company that works with clients – primarily the University of Maryland, College Park, and recently Towson University – to create “great innovational eco-systems in and around the universities.”
Currently, Ulman is chief strategy officer for economic development for both universities.
Recently, Money Magazine named Columbia the best place to live in the country, so clearly Ulman and other Howard County leaders are doing something right. Ulman attributes his leadership success to his tendencies to “dream big and to hire the most talented people I can find to execute my vision. We never settle for mediocrity.
“When people say to me, ‘Really, you’re going to be like Ann Arbor, Palo Alto, Chapel Hill?’ I say, ‘No, we’re going to be better. We are building the greatest university towns in the country.’ ”
What inspires Ulman? “I see so much potential. I enjoy looking at the world as a glass half full,” he says. “ We can build on our strengths.”
Debra S. “Debs” Weinberg
Chair, Planning and Allocations Committee, The Associated
Growing up with parents who were deeply involved in the inner workings of the Jewish community, Weinberg says she has leadership in her blood.
“My mother, Sandra Silberman, was chair of Levindale [Geriatric Center and Hospital], and my late father, Eugene Silberman, was chair of the Baltimore Zionist District. They were a big influence, and there was always an expectation that I would be involved in the Jewish community,” says Weinberg, former executive director of Acharai: The Shoshana S. Cardin Jewish Leadership Institute and the Darrell D. Friedman Institute for Professional Development at the Weinberg Center.
“Leaders who are trained to lead have a greater impact. Leaders who are intentional — about making change, looking to the future and continue their Jewish learning — are better able to find solutions.”
The best leaders, she adds, “are good listeners, open to learning and willing to change their opinions. Passion is also crucial for leadership. … Our community will only grow and thrive through leadership. It’s our greatest asset.”
More In News
- Har Sinai-Oheb Shalom's new spiritual leader comes from a diverse pastoral and academic background. read more
- A career intelligence officer, Anne Neuberger will serve as deputy national security adviser for cybersecurity in the National Security Council. read more
- The Jewish Maryland legislator set up a fund to honor the memory of his son. read more
- Over the past year, Baltimore's Jewish community grappled with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the closing of another local deli, a contentious presidential election, and more. Here's a look … read more