Unique Perspectives Strengthen Our Jewish Community

I remember my Bat Mitzvah like it was yesterday. Uncomfortable in my dress and the open-toed pumps I had insisted on wearing, I stood on the bimah* in front of my entire family, fellow synagogue congregants, and the friends I had made since immigrating to San Francisco five years earlier. 

The Torah portion for the week of my Bat Mitzvah, Vayetzei, includes the passage “Jacob left Be'er Sheva and went to Haran.” Rashi, the renowned biblical commentator, asked the question of why it doesn’t just say “Jacob went to Haran.” Why do we need to know that he left Be'er Sheva? The reason, according to Rashi, is that Jacob’s departure was a significant event because of his contributions to the community. It’s written that on Jacob's way to Haran, he had a dream in which God promised that the land would be given to his descendants.

I continue to reflect on the meaning and significance of these lessons, years after my Bat Mitzvah, as I form new connections in the Bay Area Jewish community.

This year, I am serving on the Federation’s board through the Federation Fellows program and have spoken to several members of my cohort about their roles in the community and their respective organizations’ boards. We are working on developing new relationships with legacy organizations by offering original vantage points and reestablishing relationships with organizations that have been part of our lives for generations.


Leo Stroe, Yelena Shapiro, and Dona Standel 


Some of us are transplants from other areas of the United States, some are Bay Area natives who can trace our roots all the way back to the Gold Rush, and a few of us are immigrants. My family came to the U.S. in 1995 and—through the generous help of organizations such as Jewish Family and Children’s Services, the Jewish Community Center, Jewish Vocational Services, and the Federation—we were embraced by a new community that helped with English classes, job training, clothing donations, summer camp tuition, and citizenship preparation courses. Most importantly, these organizations helped us form a connection to a new Jewish community, ensuring that, like Jacob, our family would continue and thrive in a new land.

We’re continuing the work that has been done for generations.

Although I have only begun my journey through the program, I have already seen how seamlessly a board can transition and grow, with a new CEO and board chair bringing fresh ideas to the table. I anticipated being a fly on the wall during the meetings, however, that is far from reality. Along with several new members, I have been brought into the fold and introduced to lay leaders, Federation personnel, and the greater community.

My perspective is respected and welcomed.

Now, when I stand in front of my community—in more comfortable attire—I recognize the relevance and significance of these institutions, especially in the Bay Area. Today, as we embrace immigrants from around the world, we ensure familial longevity in a new land. And now, it’s our turn to be generous and make a difference in our community.

*Bimah is the Hebrew word for a raised platform in a synagogue from which the Torah is read.

With a goal of educating participants in nonprofit decision-making, cultivating relationships, and promoting a sense of belonging for up to 20 individuals, Fed Fellows inspires the next generation of Jewish community. Applications will open in Spring 2023.


December 19, 2022


Yelena Shapiro