When she reflects on her success as a young leader, Jillian Manko, 30, attributes the influence her grandparents have had on her above all else.
Manko, originally from Baltimore, lives in Sparks. While studying in Israel, she befriended a group who worked at Young Judaea. She ended up working with them in Washington state. When she came home to Baltimore, she decided to work for Beth El Congregation where she helped open several of their satellite Hebrew schools. Now, she is the director of engagement at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, and is on the board of the Louise D. and Morton J. Macks Center for Education.
She lives with her husband Gene, her two daughters, Talia, 6, and Stella, 3, and her beloved coonhound.
How is work right now?
Everything, obviously, has shifted. Today [June 2] is actually, technically, my second
day. In January, I started part-timing at BHC. June 1 was supposed to be my first full-time
day, but everything changed in March.
The lay leaders have been calling at least one member of each household in Baltimore Hebrew to check in and see if there was anything we could do to help. Now we’re doing a second round of conversations, finding different ways of connecting with the community. Some members offer to get groceries, and some who are lonely just want to talk about weather or news and feel not alone. I like to make sure everyone feels included.
What I’ve learned is the clergy and staff are so incredibly in tune with each member, like 1,200 families. So we have about 80 people just calling. What I’m doing is checking those lists, making sure numbers and emails work.
I am really grateful to have started in January slowly, to start to see the culture. Whereas I think if I jumped right into it I’d be like, ‘What do you want me to do?’ and lost. But everyone has been very helpful.
You recently taught a class at 1 a.m.?
Rabbi Daniel Burg of Beth Am started this virtual gathering for Shavuot, and 19 organizations across Baltimore came together. I had a 1:30 post-midnight baking class. It was a lot of fun. A lot of classes were more serious, but I did a whole 45-minute
session on nourishing ourselves. So I started by checking on everyone, making sure everyone was drinking water.
There aren’t many Jewish families in Sparks, so as a connector I would meet different
families and have little Shabbat dinners for Jewish inclusion or help them find synagogues to affiliate with and provide some sort of programming for the north community outside of the Jewish bubble. So through the connectors we did this cooking course, so I took that and used it at the Shavuot class to do a cheese recipe. Then we did crepes in two minutes, and a healthy salad. We talked about vegetables for midnight snacking, and then at the end I pulled out a Ben & Jerry’s ice cream because there are no rules after midnight! That is rule No. 1.
What did you enjoy about studying at American Jewish University in Israel?
My grandparents had such a huge influence on me — making sure we had seder with them and grew up [Jewishly], so I always wanted to go to Israel. I was with a friend of mine who mentioned he was going, so I went on Young Judaea. It’s a nine-month semester abroad, broken into trimesters. I spent one trimester volunteering, one studying, and conned my way into a third trimester of volunteering.
It was September 2007, and we were volunteering at a school when all the teachers went on strike. We were supposed to be at the agricultural school to coach lacrosse, but here we were taking care of the school, milking cows, and cleaning horse stables.
What does it mean to be Jewish to you?
It is everything.
It’s the way I pause and wait to respond. It’s standing up for everyone, to anyone. It’s volunteering, donating time and money when I can. It’s making Judaism fun for kids and adults. It’s also an honor.