Turning Tradition Upside Down

runyan_josh_otIt takes a special someone to challenge the status quo, to fight against accepted norms and to succeed in the process. Perhaps that’s why there’s so few really great politicians, the committed public servants whose contributions to society are justly rewarded at the ballot box. Maybe that’s why we honor the Bill Gateses and Steve Jobses of the world, the self-made geniuses who had an idea and ran with it.

But it’s also why people throughout the country last week took time to honor their mothers, the courageous many whose success frequently is judged only by their effects, whether their children be morally sound, ethically committed, financially secure, religiously grounded or, as in the case of what the first Mother’s Day 100 years ago was intended to honor — mothers of those lost in World War I — self-sacrificing.

In this week’s JT, reporter Melissa Gerr turned to another aspect of successful women breaking through barriers to make their own contributions to the world. While many of those gathered at the second annual convention of the Jewish Woman Entrepreneur, an organization begun by Baltimorean Chaya Appel Fishman, happened to be mothers, what was unique about this group of business-minded females was how committed they were to charting a new course for their current and future families. Undeterred by conventional wisdom and what many perceive as communal custom — that Judaism’s traditional gender roles preclude a financially lucrative business occupation on the part of a wife or mother — these women have sought to turn tradition on its head. As it turns out, this growing group of headstrong entrepreneurs likely feel just as comfortable on a segregated side of a mechitza as they do leading a boardroom meeting, even if that boardroom might be an Internet-ready dining room.

Ultimately, entrepreneurship, as opposed to the day-in, day-out grind of traditional labor, gives one the ability to create new realities. Law school and motherhood and business mentoring? Absolutely! Computing power at your fingertips while commuting to work? Why not?!

It’s the entrepreneurs of the world who sho­w the rest of us what it means to use every available second, every fiber of one’s being to the completion of a goal. That also happens to be a very Jewish way of living: When faced with a choice between doing nothing and doing something, our tradition practically screams, “Do something!” That’s why the Midrash extols the virtues of Nachshon ben Aminidav, the leader of the Tribe of Judah who, when the rest of the Jewish people were wondering what to do in the face of a yet-to-be-split Sea of Reeds as the Egyptian Army mounted its pursuit, jumped first into the sea. In the merit of his can-do spirit, the Midrash teaches, the waters finally parted.

Next Monday, May 19, I will be moderating a debate between two successful and socially minded citizens, whose own entrepreneurship has led them to choose the hard-slog world of politics over the ease of anonymity.

The 8 p.m. matchup between incumbent Baltimore County councilwoman Vicki Almond (D-District 2) and primary challenger Jon Herbst takes place at the North Oaks retirement community. Because seating is limited and RSVPs are required, please call 410-484-7300 to attend. I hope to see you there.



  1. Chuck says

    Thank you for hosting an excellent debate Joshua! After hearing both passionate candidates, I have to say that as a Jewish resident, I’m much more confident in Jon Herbst ability to make Pikesville the best community that it can be. I’m worried that Miss Almond is too “in” with the big, rich developers that sent her on a Vegas Vacation for Foundry Row. It’s clear that she’s more concerned with making than happy than taking care of the family-owned business people of Pikesville and District 2.


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