Baltimore’s Anne Neuberger was recently selected as one of the Top 10 Orthodox Jews in 2013 by the New York-based organization Jew in the City (JITC). Neuberger serves as director of the National Security Agency’s Commercial Solutions Center and heads the nonprofit organization Sister to Sister.
“If there’s one religious girl out there who says to herself, ‘I’d love to have a home and be part of my religious community but I also dream of using my skills in some way’ I didn’t have any models like that … it’s always easier if you can look at someone who’s already done the balance,” Neuberger said.
This is the second year of the JITC’s Top 10 list. The initiative was started by Allison Josephs.
Josephs told the JT that she was raised to believe Orthodox Jews were extreme, reclusive and crazy. After soul-searching at the age of 8 because of an existential crisis — a classmate was shot by her own father — she began asking, “How can this happen? What are we here for?”
Her parents, who always had answers for anything regarding education, boys and social concerns didn’t seem to have an answer for this.
When Josephs was 16, she was sent to a school for Jewish learning, not for education but to meet “nice Jewish boys.” She was drawn to a class that compared Taoism and the Talmud, which was taught by an Orthodox rabbi. She was shocked to discover her very own religion had some of the answers she had been seeking. She embraced Orthodoxy and hasn’t looked back.
But she knew about the labels that non-traditional Jews and non-Jews put on Orthodoxy and that they rejected Orthodox views without bothering to understand them; she had been one of those people.
She became tired of being stereotyped.
Her desire to change people’s thinking conveniently coincided with a rise in social media. She saw the power to communicate through a small screen and began creating videos that confronted myths and allowed Orthodox Jews to speak in their own words. She didn’t have a plan, but she had a driving desire to change people’s knowledge about something she cared for deeply. That was six years ago, and Jew in the City was born.
To gain more visibility and also prove that it’s possible to be an observant Jew without sacrificing a career, Josephs launched the Orthodox Jewish All Stars list last year, which included then-Senator Joseph Lieberman and author Faye Kellerman in its Top 10.
“Collaborating with big names takes it to the next level,” said Josephs. “There were people out there who could better express what I wanted to explain, that the sky’s the limit when it comes to Orthodox Jews. We admit in the video, you can’t do every last job, but people should know there are many.”
Josephs continued, “To show (both non-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews) this list and that these people followed their dreams, they didn’t have to give anything up, and they really have the whole package. They have the spirituality, and they have their careers. Their professional goals have been met. It lets people know it’s possible.”
Neuberger is a shining example.
“Because I get so much sipuk (satisfaction) from my job, I never feel that it depletes me, although obviously there are times when I am tired,” Neuberger said in an interview with Jewish Action magazine in November 2012. “I need to arrive at my desk early in the morning, so my husband gets the kids out to school before leaving for his job (he’s a lawyer). I shop for Shabbos on Wednesday and split the cooking with my husband. … I devote Shabbos and Sunday to spending time with the kids. While our son is in yeshivah in the morning, I’ll go for a walk with my daughter or paint pottery or engage in some other activity with her. In the afternoon, we generally have a family activity. I have a Blackberry, but I try not to answer it when the kids are around; I’m not reachable 24/6.”
Neuberger noted about JITC: “It’s nice to see an organization that conveys that message, that there’s nothing a frum woman can’t do in a secular world.”
Prior to joining NSA, Neuberger served as the Navy’s deputy chief management officer and a special adviser to the secretary of the Navy, with responsibility for guiding the Navy’s enterprise IT programs.
Josephs said she has received a handful of comments such as, “This isn’t a woman’s place” and “It isn’t being modest.” But citing the story of Moses and Korach, who challenged Moshe’s leadership style, Josephs said, “Leadership doesn’t come without dissent.”
She continued: “We got a call from an Orthodox mother watching [the All Stars video] who said, ‘I’m watching this video with tears in my eyes, as I see what these people have done.’ She said, ‘I can show this to my kids now and tell them you don’t have to give up on your dreams.’”
See the complete list of Orthodox All Stars at Jewinthecity.com.
Melissa Gerr is JT senior staff reporter and digital media editor — firstname.lastname@example.org