Marlene Belstock: Beth Am Women President 1995-97
Marlene Belstock: Beth Am Women President 1995-97
Watch Marlene's video interview or read the edited highlights from her interview below:
Tell us about your presidency: what was your mission?
I think the most important thing was to institute the vision that I had for Beth Am Women—it was Beth Am Sisterhood at the time—and to provide a comfortable place to continue tikkun olam, for women to study, to learn, to grow, to be able to worship and integrate the traditional Jewish policies and traditions that we have into our modern-day lifestyles and the way that we live our lives to make it a more effective place. It was mainly to be a safe, warm place where you could grow and develop as a leader.
How has your experience as president affected you personally?
It has impacted my life tremendously. It has changed the way I do things and provided me the means to connect with a wonderful community of Jewish women and Jewish people. I have been fortunate enough to grow as a leader by serving on our national WRJ Board for seventeen years, which was extraordinary. It has made me aware of what’s going on around me and how I could focus my interests. I’ve stepped out of the box. For example, I am now interested in social action activities and in development and fund-raising for different organizations, things that I never did prior to coming into a leadership role at Beth Am Women.
What were some of the leadership challenges you faced?
I like to delegate and it was hard sometimes to get people to go with you. You had to inspire them, and lead them by the hand and tell them step-by-step. That experience was fruitful for me. For example we have a Rosh Chodesh group that Cherie Half founded. In the year that I first became president, it was a time of change. Cherie had relinquished her job organizing the group and we chose Amy Asin and Ellen Stromberg to succeed her. Little did we know that when I asked Amy to do this that it would change our lives so much. Fast forward to nearly three years ago when she gave a presentation to the Women of Reform Judaism about her role doing an assessment for the WRJ, she thanked me for giving her her start, [as she is now a Vice President at the Union for Reform Judaism]. I was just completely flabbergasted because I had no idea that I had had such an impact on her life. It is things like that that make it special.
What were the personal moments for you that were touched by the sisterhood?
When my mother-in-law passed away from Alzheimer’s, a most horrible disease, we had a service back in Denver, where she lived and where my husband is from. We returned here and had a service at our house and the entire BAW Board and all of our friends were there. People who I didn’t even expect would come, came; and it was that feeling of community. And it goes on with illnesses and that kind of thing, when people ask—“What can we do to help you? We’re there for you; just reach out.” In fact, I’ve gotten in trouble a couple of times when I haven’t reached out, and I said something about what had happened, and they’d ask, “Well, why didn’t you say something?”
What do you think is important about Beth Am Women?
I can start out by saying one of the quotes I remember from Eric Yoffie at [a WRJ] convention. He is now the past president of the Union for Reform Judaism. He in essence said that if you want to get it done, let the women do it: that the women and the sisterhood are the heart and soul of the congregation. And that’s been something that I think has played itself out over and over again.
When our congregation needs anything, they come to the women because they know that we are able to make a substantial difference, if not do the whole project. For example, we’ve re-done the kitchen next to the Social Hall. Another recent example is the Meditation Garden. It’s a beautiful little garden where there are benches and a water treatment. All the plants in that garden are mentioned in the Bible. It’s a quiet place where you can go and relax. Some of the teachers take their children there to go and study. Beth Am Women gave a substantial amount for this project.
Why would you tell a new member to join Beth Am Women?
I think one of the most important things I would say is if she is new to the congregation, it’s a means of connection and meeting other women who are Jewish. There is something here for everybody, almost 24/7. By becoming a part of Beth Am Women, she builds a community where she can feel comfortable, where she can make friends, where she can ask questions, where she can seek guidance. And then, from there, it’s an area in which she can reach out to the rest of the congregation. Beth Am has over fifteen hundred families and our biggest concern is making sure it is a warm community.
What is your heartfelt wish for the continuation of Beth Am Women?
I think they’re on the right path, keeping an open mind. In the future, you have to be flexible. You don’t know what it’s going to bring and if we’re going to survive, we have to be flexible, be approachable and amenable to new ideas, new directions, and new social issues—things that the people need in our community to meet those needs, whatever they may be. If we continue to do that, I think we’re on the right path and it will be a very viable organization.