“Being a leader isn’t about being up front all the time and being visible all the time…it’s so much more about who follows and how you get them to follow…”
Diana Goldsmith, Program Manager, Repair the World Baltimore
“I did not make a conscious choice to go into Jewish communal work, and I never thought I’d be in Jewish communal life professionally when I was in school …it was serendipity!” Her father, Michael, a graduate of what was Baltimore Hebrew University (now BHI), called her attention to a job listing in the BHU Alumni newsletter for a position with Repair the World. He said it seemed consistent with her passions, “…so I applied, and the rest is history!” Repair the World mobilizes Jews in 13 communities across the US to take action to pursue a just world, igniting a lifelong commitment to service.
“I stayed in it (with Repair) because… it really squares with my values…what I was brought up with as a Jewish young person, and I live those out in my work now…it is really important to me.” When she began her work with Repair, the organization had a partnership with The Associated (Jewish Volunteer Connection), and she describes her work as a “good fit” because it was a concentrated effort to engage young people in their 20s and 30s
In 2018-2019, Repair became an independent entity from the Associated, and Rabbi Jessy Dressin joined Repair the World Baltimore to lead its efforts. A Fellowship Program and the infrastructure to support the program was soon launched, and Diana earned a promotion as Program Manager and now supervises the organization’s Fellows. “I am responsible for carrying on all of the scaffolding that starts with the Fellows’ orientation, for stewarding their success.” She explained, “a lot of success building includes the skills of community organizing, event planning; then throughout the year we host weekly Arc of Learning sessions, which are a mix of professional development and learning about issue areas in which they are working: food justice and education equity.” She then added “I help them develop good communication skills, story-telling (how you’re developing your own story and using it to bring others in), dealing with the transition from college to the work force, dealing with burn out that comes very quickly especially in the non-profit world
This year, because of COVID-19, a lot of training and orientation was done virtually. Asked how this has shifted her leadership style, she said she likes to describe this past year as a case of, “We’re not all in the same boat but we’re all in the same storm.” She starts each meeting with acknowledging and asking people where they are; “that kind of small talk that might have happened organically at the start of a meeting or an event hasn’t happened in the virtual space. Just giving people the chance to be as vulnerable as they choose to be at the start of a meeting is not small talk, it sometimes goes deeper than that.” She’s tried to model that: being vulnerable and honest about the fact that not every day is a good day.
Diana says she has learned that, “Being a leader isn’t about being up front all the time and being visible all the time…it’s so much more about who follows and how you get them to follow…it’s so much about who is present and who’s being stifled for one reason or another or interrupted…and lifting up others as opposed to always being the one to be the conduit…it’s sometimes being at the back of the room and empowering or advocating for someone else to step up into that role.”
When asked what motivates her when she wakes up in the morning, she grows pensive, takes a deep breath, and says she is deeply reflective about how far as a society we have to go in terms of equity. “Thinking about that, if I feel that way as a white person …(voice cracking with emotion), I just can’t begin to imagine what people who have oppressed identities feel, and that if I feel exhausted fighting for it just how drained our whole community must feel. I have a lot of places I draw strength from but sometimes it’s easier than other times.”
She is very intentional about finding a balance between work and the rest of her life. “I feel well supported by my organization in doing that; it’s been challenging for everybody in this new iteration of lots of working from home; for me… routine is very important, finding time during the day to step away and reset.” She noted that “there are many offerings in the Jewish community that I’d like to participate but I feel can’t because it would just be overload; I’m still pretty active in my university’s honor college alumni association and Students Helping Honduras, Showing Up For Racial Justice Baltimore…and books, movies, TV.” Recent reading has included, Between the World and Me (Ta-Nahesi Coates), Men Explain Things to Me (Rebecca Solnit), Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective (Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor) and How to be an Anti-Racist (Ibram X. Kendi).
Closing thoughts for rising leaders: “I’ve thought a lot about this notion of trauma and resilience, and how each of us as individuals is expected to reckon with our own trauma and build our own resilience and come into the workspace with that ‘ready to go,’ and that’s not always possible! So, what does it look like for leaders of organizations to model that vulnerability and to encourage staff and lay leaders to show up in their fullest selves and to be able to collectively care for one another?”
As we emerge from these times of collective trauma, individual leaders and their organizations wise enough to ask this question and seek answers will find the resilience that has inspired Klal Yisrael through the millennia.