What makes Barbara Zakin such an amazing addition to the Rodeph Sholom family?
Q: Tell me about your Jewish journey.
Barbara: I grew up in Rolla, Missouri, which is in the Ozarks – it’s a very small town of 13,000 people with very few Jewish families. In fact, ours was the only Jewish family in the public school system. Our closest clergy were at an army base about 30 miles away at Fort Leonard Wood (there was a chaplain there for the service personnel). It was quite a different life than here in New York City! Every two years there would be a different rabbi at the Army base, so sometimes we had a Reform Rabbi, and then we would have an Orthodox Rabbi for two years, and so on. When I became Bat Mitzvah age the chaplain was an Orthodox Rabbi who did not believe that a Bat Mitzvah was appropriate for a young woman, so I had a ceremony that was called a Bat Torah. I did finally have a Bat Mitzvah when I was 16—our family had moved to Columbus, Ohio and joined a Reform synagogue where I instantly felt at home. When I first moved to New York City, I found that one of the most exciting things about being Jewish here is the variety and diversity of synagogues, which means you are able to find the one that really feels like your home.
I think CRS has a very particular feeling, which is extremely welcoming. I see a synagogue with a long and storied history that is also a unique blend of cutting-edge progressive programming and social justice initiatives.
Q: What about your new role most excites you?
Barbara: I am really enjoying being at Friday night services and meeting as many congregants as I possibly can. It will take me a little while, but hope that I will get to know everyone’s faces. I have loved getting to know the clergy and staff here at CRS, who are caring individuals and consummate professionals. I have also been really impressed by the committee meetings I have attended. I can tell that people are volunteering their time because they care. I believe the professional staff here could not do what we do without the work of our lay leaders.
Something else that really means a lot to me, both as a leader and as a congregant, is the value we place on inclusion. It’s important as my husband and I raise our own Jewish family, as my husband is not Jewish. My daughter is presently in confirmation class and my son had his Bar Mitzvah last September. I feel that we have a committed Jewish family – my husband feels comfortable in synagogue life and I think he will enjoy being a part of the CRS community.
Also, I want to give a plug for the shelter! I spent an evening volunteering in the shelter during my second week here (where I got to meet a wonderful congregant, Betty Rauch) and I saw how well run the program is. The cots are just fine, and I was able to get enough sleep so that I could stop home, shower, have some breakfast, and then return to the office for a full day of work. The men are gracious and friendly, and it’s a really nice experience that anyone can take part in. I am so proud that we have this program.
Q: Why did you decide to make the jump from a career at Citi to your new role?
Barbara: I have been involved in synagogue life for the last 8-9 years, with the past 6 being in a lay leadership role working on special initiatives. During this time I became close with the Executive Director. I began to see the inner workings of a synagogue and I thought, one day, this is a job that I would love to have – it uses all of my skill sets and is within the context of Jewish life. When I heard about this position, I realized I couldn’t wait another 2, 3, 5 years to move on to a second career—these jobs don’t come around very often, and CRS is a very special place. So, I decided to throw my hat in the ring and here we are!
Q: Tell me something about yourself that most people here wouldn’t know about you.
Barbara: I hit the big 5-0 a few years ago and decided to commemorate my birthday by taking up the piano again; I was a pianist for many years, but had not practiced or taken lessons in quite a long time. I decided I was going to give a recital. In order to hold myself accountable, about a year before my birthday, I began telling people, “I am giving a recital for my 50th!” That gave me both internal and external motivation to practice every day. I rediscovered my love for Brahms and Schumann, and on my birthday I gave a 30 minute recital for about 45 close friends, most of whom had never heard me play. I have to say, I felt a great sense of accomplishment from that experience.