In 1994, I moved to the Baltimore area to attend dental school. Aware of the large active Jewish community in Baltimore, I longed to become involved, but as a student I had limited free time. I promised myself that I would, when time allowed, make involvement in Jewish organizations a priority. It was not until I got married and had a family of my own that I fulfilled the promise I made to myself.
I moved to Howard County in 2005. At that time I was still searching for a way to get involved. As a busy working mother with young children, I suppose I was looking for an opportunity to find myself rather than seeking an avenue for participation. It was at that time that I learned about Dor Tikvah, a women’s leadership program under the auspices of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. The program, which “takes its inspiration from the Jewish traditions of tzedakah and tikkun olam,” was designed for women just like me. I was able to explore my Jewish identity and learn how to get involved in the programs The Associated offered.
I made it a point to take away something from each monthly meeting that would help me become a better leader, both personally and professionally. At the end of the two-year program, when asked how I wanted to get involved at the next level, my first thought was I wanted to do something in Howard County.
I knew that there were many people like me who were just looking for an outlet to get involved. Quite honestly, for nine years I had lived in Howard County and yet I still did not feel connected to the Jewish community there. Inspired by my experience, I wanted to find a way to use the leadership skills and motivation I received from Dor Tikvah to become involved with the Jewish Federation of Howard County.
During the next year I was approached by the federation to work on a leadership program called jLeads: Jewish Leadership Education and Development Series. It seemed like the perfect avenue to contribute in a meaningful way. I was excited to set up a program that allows adults between the ages of 22 and 45 to learn more about their Jewish identity and find a connection as Jewish leaders in Howard County.
The jLEADS program began in January 2014. At our first meeting each participant shared the stories that made up his or her own Jewish journey and explained why he or she had chosen to participate. Again I was inspired.
Our group is made up of lawyers, a teacher, a marketing professional and even a chef, and all of us are looking for ways to get involved in our community and bring Judaism into our lives. The Jewish community in Howard County is growing and thriving, and it is evident that there are many people who are looking for ways to help unite the community and find ways to stay connected to Judaism.
I hope all young adults in Howard County will step forward with me. Donate. Participate. Volunteer. You can make a difference!
Rachael Simon is chair of jLEADS: Jewish Leadership Education and Development Series at the Jewish Federation of Howard County.