Dinah Winnick just completed the second cohort of ACCELERATE and is very excited to continue her leadership journey as a part of the Bolton Street Synagogue. In this Spotlight she talks about her leadership journey and what she is looking forward to.

Tell us about your leadership journey.

A sense of belonging has played an important role in my experience – both finding communities where I can belong and contribute, and supporting a culture of belonging for others. I’ve lived in Baltimore for almost 15 years, but my family and I first came to Bolton Street Synagogue about seven years ago.  We had gone through a bunch of congregations, and nothing seemed to fit.  Then, we tried out Bolton Street because we heard it was a really welcoming community, and I had a conversation with Rabbi Gordon.  I explained that my family practices Humanistic Judaism and described how, over the years, we’ve built our own sense of Jewish identity and Jewish practice.  We have a very Jewish life, but it doesn’t revolve around the idea of God – it’s about the role people have in helping each other and building communities.

He listened and was very thoughtful.  We ended up coming back for the kids’ High Holiday service, and it was one of the most humanist services I had ever been to.  It was absolutely beautiful!  Afterwards, I talked with him, and he told me that he had thought about our conversation, and he wanted the service to be a warm and welcoming place for everyone who was there. He adjusted his approach for the day because he wanted it to be an inclusive space. And I thought, how many rabbis would take God out of a High Holiday service (albeit a kids’ service) and find another way for it to be incredibly meaningful just because we had a conversation. 

Since then, we’ve attended many more services. Sometimes they align with our beliefs and sometimes they don’t, but they are always welcoming, thoughtful, and meaningful, which I greatly value.

After that, my kids started attending religious school at Bolton Street and I joined a discussion and creative writing group focused on rethinking liturgy. Later, I helped launch a project to help synagogue members feel better connected (following COVID) and I joined the temple board.

All these experiences gave me a sense of being part of the community and made me think more actively about what I wanted to contribute, so others could have that experience.  You become enmeshed.  You develop relationships with people, and you care about them deeply.  And, then you want to be able to help move everyone forward toward a shared vision.

What’s the most important thing you learned from a mentor? 

Leadership can look very different with different people.  There is no one right way or wrong way to do it.  It’s very helpful to have a wide range of models of people leading.  There’s always something you can learn from different approaches.  I’ve had mentors who are authoritative, and also mentors who are very intentional, but aren’t a booming voice at the front of the room.  And whatever your leadership style is, a lot of times effectiveness as a leader is about building relationships over very long periods of time.  

Tell us how your Masters in Anthropology has helped you in your work and volunteer leadership?

My training in anthropology has shaped how I tackle questions and problems, and how I think about the world.  It helps me understand that everyone is coming from a perspective that I can never fully grasp, and that the most important thing is to try to understand the way they are looking at the world.   

A lot of the work I have done across different jobs is creating spaces for others to tell their story and share their ideas, and to feel valued and seen and honored for the ideas they have.  That’s a big part of my current work as the Assistant Vice President for Communications at Planned Parenthood of Metro Washington, DC, as it was in my prior work leading communications at a university.

In telling people’s stories, I realized that providing a broader context of how people got to where they are, or how they’ve struggled, or the ways they failed before they succeeded, is essential to showing the whole picture.  If you eliminate those details to suggest some perfect, clear, linear progression of a life without challenges, that’s not just inauthentic, it can also shut others down because, of course, that feels unrealistic and unattainable.  People need to be able to see a path for themselves, and it helps if, in telling our stories, we embrace talking about the messiness of our journeys. 

What leadership strength do you bring to address your challenges?

Active listening.  A lot of times, challenges emerge when organizations are trying to move forward because people are not taking the time to listen to other perspectives. People sometimes assume conflict even when there is not really conflict, because they’re not speaking with the same words or the same frames of reference, or they don’t share the same motivations.  Not everything has to be by consensus, but if a leader can make sure that everyone who’s involved sees themselves in the work and is valued and feels heard, that can help us resolve conflicts and find solutions. And it can help folks feel invested in the outcome, because they themselves are part of it.

What are you reading now?

Dahlia Lithwick – Lady Justice

What motivates you to wake up in the morning?

I just want to make things better.  The world is on fire right now, and it’s very upsetting.  There is this one silent prayer we have in our prayer book at Bolton Street.  It’s about being thankful for being disturbed from peace when things aren’t right in the world; to be thankful that we are able to see the harm and injustice around us. And, in seeing the problems, to then feel compelled to fix them.  It’s a hard place to be in, but I have gratitude for that.