My Leadership Journey: Sisterhood Is Always With Me
By Becky Markowitz
I was sitting on the bimah looking out at my two sons, family, friends and supportive congregants. This was the Shabbat I was installed as the President of my congregation. Excited and a little scared about the road ahead, I felt confident I could handle the challenge. I stood before the ark and spoke to the congregation. I felt I could serve the congregation and encourage others to do the same. Armed with a positive attitude, clear goals, and drive I knew anything is possible!
My leadership journey began at a youth group weekend where my dedication and passion as a Jewish leader ignited. The weekend was inspirational, thought provoking and fun. The kids were friendly and welcoming, the services were meaningful and the music was awesome. Debbie Friedman was the song leader! I realized that faith was important to me and I wanted Judaism to be a part of my life.
Congregations I have joined provided great opportunities for leadership and personal connections with great people. Sisterhood skills and lessons helped me become a successful leader. When my sons were going into 1st and 10th grades we moved to Newtown, a suburb of Philadelphia. Initially this was a very hard transition but Sisterhood and the synagogue kept me on track. Three women from WRJ made sure I was welcomed, and had a “job” to do when I arrived. My younger son was consecrated and my older son confirmed our first year there. We were treated like family. I joined the synagogue board and then the executive board, and continued to be very active with WRJ.
In 2008 my friend and the Executive VP of my congregation invited me to lunch. I had a feeling I knew why. She asked me if I would be interested in being the next Executive VP. I thought she would be good to work with and I would be well prepared to become President. The timing was right. Although I was very involved with Sisterhood and WRJ and a working mom, I decided to step back a little from WRJ so that I could learn as much as I could in preparation for the presidency and still be home as much as possible during my younger son’s last years of high school.
Sisterhood gives me so much. No matter how much I give I get more back. It was during a district biennial in Pittsburgh that I met Lynn Magid Lazar, Rosanne Selfon and Helene Waranch, three WRJ Presidents. They asked me to help during that weekend. From that moment on, not only Sisterhood, but also Women of Reform Judaism became very important in my life.
Sisterhood taught me that everyone is important to the whole, everyone can contribute, and everyone wants to feel appreciated and welcome. The little things matter – a note, a hug, a phone call, a smile. Sisterhood taught me to listen very carefully and talk less and that what we see on the outside does not always match what is inside. Sometimes we forget that leaders come in very different packages. I know how to run a meeting, speak in front of people, analyze budgets, understand lines of communication, resolve conflict and help people achieve more than they thought they could.
The High Holy days after my installation as Executive VP filled me with goals, ideas and the realization of the huge responsibility I would have. The Rabbi announced at High Holiday services that a B’nai Mitzvah class would be starting in the fall – a 2-year commitment. I thought, “The timing is not right. I work full time and will be preparing to be President. I don’t think so.” My son looked down my row and his eyes said, “Do it!” I signed up for the class. It was one of the most difficult, challenging and rewarding things I’ve ever done. When I was called to the Torah a month after my installation as President I was reminded that when we believe in something and work hard we can achieve anything, a lesson I learned from my earliest days in Sisterhood. I am part of a bigger picture and together we can achieve things we could not do alone.
There were great challenges, wonderful experiences and opportunities as Congregational President. I joined the ranks of many women who are leaders in sisterhood/WRJ and, leaders, sometimes presidents, in their congregations. As in Sisterhood, it was the communication and connections with people that sustained me during those two years as congregation president. I learned the most from celebrating the good times and sharing some of life’s hardest moments with congregants. These are the memories that stick with me.
As I look back on my days as president I will remember the morning the Torah was brought to our synagogue by members leaving their congregational home to join ours. I will remember sitting on the bimah for so many occasions, watching faces of pre-school students as they moved to the next level, or the confirmands who had achieved an important goal. I will remember the feeling of holding someone’s hand when they needed my strength. No words, just connection. I will never forget these experiences.
My ties to WRJ guide me and center me. WRJ women are there for you. They care. They make sure you know the work you do is worthwhile and makes a difference. As Women of Reform Judaism and the URJ get ready for our Centennial Celebration at the Assembly in San Diego, I know that our work is far from done. I know the lessons we have learned through sisterhood, congregational leadership and the WRJ will guide us into the future.
I am a past, present and future leader of Women of Reform Judaism. May we all remember that there are many kinds of leaders, and that we are truly stronger together.
Becky Markowitz is a Past President of Shir Ami Congregation in Newtown, PA and has served on the WRJ Board of Directors. She has been on the board of WRJ Atlantic District for the past 15 years and is currently the 1st VP. She is a member of Women of Shir Ami and has served in many capacities. She is currently on the Sisterhood board, and chair of the Women’s Seder.
The WRJ Ten Minutes of Torah series is sponsored by the Blumstein Family Fund and by Sandi and Mike Firsel and Temple Chai Sisterhood.