Deb Radin: Beth Am Women President 2012-14
Deb Radin: Beth Am Women President 2012-14
Watch Deb's video interview or read the edited highlights from her interview below:
When you were growing up at Beth Am, in which activities did your family participate?
We moved here from Philadelphia when I was in kindergarten and joined Beth Am at that point as a family. So yes, I grew up here: I had a Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation here; my sister was married here—there’s lots of family history here. And I then moved to San Francisco, went back East for a few years, and when we came back and started our own family, we rejoined Beth Am.
My mother was very involved and one of her pleasures here was being a part of Rosh Chodesh. For her, it had a lot of meaning. There was a lot of spirituality and she was with other women that she enjoyed being with. Rosh Chodesh is the monthly celebration when Jewish women traditionally celebrate the new moon. The way we’ve done it here is to come together over different topics. It’s usually very intimate, a small group. My mom would, whenever possible, invite my sisters and me to join her. She always wanted to be a part of that, so for her, being a part of Rosh Chodesh and also the Women’s Dessert Seder was very important. I have a niece who is now 10 years old and she’s been coming to that Women’s Dessert Seder since my sister was pregnant with her. It became something that my sisters, my mother and I would do together.
What was the role of BAW during your presidency?
I felt it was very important to have a sisterhood because women didn’t always have a voice in Judaism. In the beginning here at Beth Am, the sisterhood was that voice of women. But over time, women became so integrated into the Beth Am community that the women’s voices changed and our need for women’s voices and a women’s organization changed as well.
For example, it became a community concern that there were so many women on the bimah and so many women in leadership positions at Beth Am that we didn’t want it to seem as if this is a woman’s organization and you men, we don’t need you anymore. So our voice was toned down for a while, I think to be sensitive to what was changing in our community—the influx of women. And the balance shifted so much that I think the sisterhood got used to being in the background and stopped integrating with the rest of the community quite as much. I think that we were at times such a separate organization that the Beth Am community didn’t really know what we did.
By the time that we were coming in—my predecessor Barb and I—it was almost a kind of a crisis of conscience … why are we here? Why are we still a sisterhood? Why are we a group of women and does having a separate women’s group still matter?
We came to the realization that absolutely it does. I was able to go back to the Beth Am Board and the Beth Am community and explain what we do and why a woman’s voice still has meaning. I showed the Beth Am Board all of the contributions that we’ve made and continue to make to the community: whether it’s supporting the confirmation class or the Bar and Bat Mitzvah students, the library fund, the Oneg Fund at Beth Am, or the broader Jewish community. We contribute regularly if there are emergencies around the world. It doesn’t even have to be the Jewish community. It became important to me that I could bridge that gap—what I felt was a gap.
What was most meaningful to you during your time as president of BAW?
It was wonderful to inherit a strong organization with lots of people who are excited to be part of the organization. It was a lot of responsibility as well, so for me it was actually a process of saying, “Barb did wonderful things. I don’t have to do exactly that because she did a great job and I can make my imprint slightly differently.” I feel I made my imprint by connecting through writing.
Beth Am Women has a monthly Cyberletter and the president gets an opportunity to write that letter. The Cyberletter began as a way to share information and it was really just that. But it became a way for me to express my wishes for the organization, where I was and how it reflected, perhaps, our community.
I found the president’s letters that I wrote in those Cyberletters caused people to email me or call me and contact me and want to talk about the letters. Often I reminded them to come up and introduce themselves to me. Meeting them one-on-one was the big connector. I could invite them to events like Rosh Chodesh or to some of the smaller gatherings that we had, so people could develop relationships and then follow up.
I started taking something that was happening in the Torah portion that we were reading that week or that month, and making it my own. And then I was able to express who I was or what the organization was based on my interpretation of that Torah portion.
For example, when I practiced Bikram Yoga, this just struck me. One of the instructors was trying to explain a pose and said to us, “Lead with your heart.” All of a sudden, I could visualize the pose and I could visualize my stance and where I was supposed to be and stand in that Bikram room, which is hot and uncomfortable and difficult and stressful on your body. Suddenly I was able to be calm and present and stand and stay in that pose.
So my president’s letter suddenly just clicked. As I was ending my presidency, I realized that’s what I had done in the last two years—I tried as much as I could to lead with my heart. That’s what I talked about in that letter, what it felt like being in the yoga room … being uncomfortable, but then just calming down and being present, and how that also is what I hoped I had done as president … that I had led with my heart, that I had been present, that I had made those connections as best I could.
And it doesn’t always happen, it doesn’t always work, but that’s what I was able to write about and it connected with people. They felt as if somebody that they knew was talking to them and connecting with them, so it was a very emotional connection. Luckily I was funny at other times—not always—but people could say they laughed or understood my family. They felt I was accessible; I wasn’t just a president. I was somebody that they could know and learn about.
What is your vision for the coming years?
I would like to see us continue to integrate, to be aware that serving the women of our community may also mean bringing in younger women or having events with men also. For example, Beth Am Men approached us to have a book club for men and women together. We’ve never done that before and it might be a nice thing to do. Serving the women of our congregation may also mean making some changes.
I would like our sisterhood to be open to change. I would like us to be open to trying new things, and I think that if we are open to that—to change and try new things, I think younger women naturally will be attracted. If we do things the exact same way we’ve done them every single year, I think we might be losing out on innovation and potentially younger members.