Dana Sheanin is the CEO of Jewish LearningWorks.
Dana Sheanin is the CEO of Jewish LearningWorks.

Jewish life, Covid-19 and the rebuilding power of women

When I accepted the position of CEO at Jewish LearningWorks, I never could have foreseen that my first year would coincide with the first year of a global pandemic and a long overdue racial reckoning in the United States.

Whatever notions I had about what the job would be like were quickly dispelled after I started last July.

Over the past year, I’ve pondered questions such as: How can a team stay connected and motivated when we never see each other in person? Should we keep our office space? How can I get to know our donors better when I can’t meet them for lunch, or shmooze with them at communal gatherings? What is the best way to support a staff of working parents juggling increased child care and family responsibilities? How do you meaningfully engage board members on Zoom? And, finally, how can we fulfill our shared obligation to create a more equitable and just world, when many of us are barely getting through each day?

For years I’ve said that I created the Voices for Good women’s leadership initiative because it was the network I needed to succeed as a leader. This past year, I learned how profoundly true that was.

National and local research indicates that my colleagues in Jewish organizational work, in congregations, day schools, camping and JCCs, are primarily women. This past year, those women have been my lifeline, helping me to respond wisely to so many previously unimaginable questions.

Together we have discussed the “ambiguous loss” that has come with the pandemic, the impact of trauma on our staff and on ourselves, and the pull toward leveraging the last year for organizational transformation, while staving off our own exhaustion.

We’ve shared how we are thinking about hiring and firing, flexible schedules and use of our office spaces. We have laughed, cried and occasionally held each other’s anger as we all try to meet this moment with both strength and vulnerability.

For me personally, knowing that I had a group of colleagues from which to draw wisdom as I encountered each new challenge reduced my sense of isolation and increased my hope that we would get to the other side of the pandemic.

Voices for Good, which is rooted in a signature fellowship and salon series, provides a forum for women to grapple with how we want to lead. It shines a spotlight on the importance of feminist leadership, characterized by collaboration, transparency, inclusivity and a commitment to relationships.

Our conversations remind us that at this potentially transformative moment, effective leadership requires each of us to ask what kind of community we want and what enduring values should guide our actions.

Much of the communal rebuilding work ahead will be done by women.

The Bay Area is rich with Jewish organizations, leaders, philanthropists and creative minds.

As we begin to emerge from Covid-19, the challenge in front of us is to remember our why, and I would argue as importantly our how. Why is Jewish life still relevant, and how can it continue to nurture individual and collective resilience, as it has for millennia?

As I join my colleagues in asking and answering these questions, while taking care of our families, friends and occasionally ourselves, I feel blessed to have this job, in this moment, and called to keep building a powerful network that enables us to use our voices for good.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

Dana Sheanin
Dana Sheanin

Dana Sheanin is the CEO of Jewish LearningWorks, which elevates the field of Jewish education by nurturing educators, inspiring innovation and promoting Jewish literacy.