Marla Friedman, Career Jewish Agency Professional and Life-Long Community Lay Leader

Born and raised within the small, historic Jewish enclave in Harrisburg, PA, Marla attended the Yeshiva Academy of Harrisburg (now The Silver Academy) through the age of 14 and then left behind all that was familiar to attend high school as a boarding student at the Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington (DC), now the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy. Thus began a journey that took her to Israel for eighteen months of study after high school, then to New York City to attend Stern College for Women, and finally, to Baltimore, where she completed her final year of undergraduate studies at Towson University, earning a B.S. degree in Deaf Studies following her marriage to Dr. Kenneth (Kenny) Friedman.

Her first job, a week after graduation was with VSP, a workforce development arm of Sinai Hospital/LifeBridge Health Partners. Nearly 20 years later, her professional leadership journey has been within the same organization, advancing through many roles, leading to her current position as the Vocational Services Manager. “I was lucky to have this opportunity. When I started as a youth counselor, my goal was not to become a manager. I just wanted to learn. Over time, I kept growing in my knowledge of workforce development, which led to promotions and more responsibility.” While working and starting a family, Marla earned her master’s degree from McDaniel College in Education, Curriculum and Instruction. In addition to her job responsibilities, Marla has been a member of the LifeBridge Diversity and Inclusion Council for the past ten years and has co-chaired the Council for the past two years.

That’s Marla, the career Jewish agency professional. But while on a pathway professionally in the Jewish community, she also has been on a life-long pathway of volunteerism in the Jewish community. Starting with community service hours as a pre-teen through her Jewish day school, NCSY through her synagogue, and continuing through her time as a Shoresh camper and camp counselor, her early years filled Marla with great memories of community service. As an adult, she has been active in her synagogue, Congregation Shomrei Emunah, but it was not until Iris Miller, President of Levindale Auxiliary, asked Marla to join the Auxiliary Board about 2 years ago, that her “lay leadership journey” at a Board level began. “I was pleasantly surprised when Iris asked me to join the Board. I had wanted to be a part of the Levindale Auxiliary Board, so I was excited and honored when she asked me to become a member.”

Some of the same skills that she developed as a professional have served her as she became involved as a lay leader on the Levindale Auxiliary and Shoresh boards. These include the ability to multitask and take on more responsibilities, mastering computer technology needed in an increasingly complex work and volunteer world, and the ability to handle change. As a member of Na’aleh’s first ACCELERATE cohort, she has learned that the Leadership Middot with which she most closely identifies are Compassion, Integrity and Gratitude. Her professional development has been on-going through the many leadership learning offerings of LifeBridge and through mentors, particularly David Shegan, former Director of VSP. As a new employee, the adjustment from intern to fulltime employee was challenging. “Dave said to me, ‘I want you to stop by my office every day and give me an update.’ His guidance really meant a lot to me. It made me feel accepted and that someone cared. I did as he asked, and in a matter of time, I found my friends here and felt comfortable in my new environment.” Under Dave’s leadership, the VSP team played a role in Sinai Hospital being selected by the National Fund for Workforce Solutions as a Young Adult Employer Champion, one of only 11 employers nationwide to earn this recognition.

Marla has been deeply inspired by her grandmother, with whom she lovingly has studied Pirkei Avot throughout the years and remembers specifically all of the times these learnings influenced her: “Who is wise? He who learns from every person” (Psalms 119:99) and “there are three crowns: the crown of Torah, the crown of priesthood, and the crown of royalty, but the crown of a good name supersedes them all” (Pirkei Avot 4:13). Her parents and her in-laws have also been great inspirations to her, providing guidance and encouragement at key decision points in her life. But above all, her husband, Kenny, has by example shown her the intrinsic rewards of community service, currently as President of the Board of Trustees of Congregation Shomrei Emunah, as a Board member of both the Jewish Cemetery Association and Jewish Volunteer Connection and serving on the Associated’s Life and Legacy Committee. The Friedman family has been in the Baltimore area since the 1890s, so his volunteer involvement in numerous community organizations over the years comes naturally.

The Friedmans have “four wonderful children ages 10-18, who attend Bais Yaakov and the Talmudical Academy.” So with her full plate professionally and as a lay leader engaged in Board service, how does Marla find balance between work and play? “Family is very important to me. I enjoy my down time with my family. We like to sing together. Shabbos is always a treat, with the ability simply to be able to be together.”