“If you want something done, your best bet is to ask a Jewish woman to do it,” Rep. Gabrielle Giffords said during her 2004 campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. On Sunday, Jan. 9, the day after Giffords, 40, was gravely wounded in a Tucson shooting rampage, a group of local women “doers” took the stage at “13 Extraordinary Women Tell Their Secrets,” an event sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona Women’s Philanthropy.
Each woman offered a three-minute insight into her life, in both joyful and difficult times.
Growing up in a French-Protestant village that sheltered Jewish children during World War
II, Paulette Gootter knew hardship at an early age; still her motto has been “no whining.”
“Suffice it to say that living through those days gave me a sense of life’s richness,” she told around 250 people in the audience at the Marriott University Park hotel. Gootter spoke of creating a “life out of death” foundation in her son Steven’s memory. The Steven M. Gootter Foundation is a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to save lives by defeating sudden cardiac death, by increasing awareness, education and scientific research.”
“At 18, I was very focused,” said Pamela Heiman Dubin. “At 26, I graduated from medical school and married a wonderful Jewish guy.” After moving back to Tucson with her husband, at 33, “I had to have a heart-to-heart with myself,” she said. The young physician and mother decided to stay home and take care of the couple’s two young daughters.
“I tell my children the same things I tell myself: Do your best. Learn from your mistakes and stay true to yourself,” said Dubin.
She got involved in the Jewish community, joining the Young Women’s Leadership Cabinet at the Federation. Dubin is one of the chairs of the JFSA’s Mitzvah Magic program. “I hope to pursue a career in holistic nutrition,” she said, adding that working at Dr. Andrew Weil’s Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Arizona “helped shape my philosophy of life.”
“It’s easy to see what makes others extraordinary, but it is often difficult to see in ourselves,” said Janis Wolfe Gasch, an audiologist who diagnoses and treats hearing loss. More than 30 years ago, “we were not allowed to dispense hearing aids,” she said, but when the prohibition ended, Gasch was the first audiologist invited to work with impoverished Mexican children through the St. Andrew’s Clinic in Nogales, Ariz.
“Witnessing a child’s face the first time the child hears their mother’s voice is inspiring,” she said. “If you’re fortunate enough to choose a career that you’re passionate about, you too can become an extraordinary woman.”
“My life began in a very ordinary way. At least I thought it was,” said Donna Levy, who explained that her family moved in with her grandfather, a Russian émigré who spoke Yiddish but no English, after her grandmother died. Levy’s parents were kosher caterers who travelled around Connecticut.
In 1978, Levy began a career in geriatric administration as an intern at the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield County. “It was there,” she said, “that my renewal of Judaism matured.”
In addition, “I loved the residents and they loved me back,” said Levy. She became interested in development, and helped raise $1 million to build the facility’s Alzheimer’s unit in 1984, the first in the country.
She now operates her own company, Development Funding Consultants. “I love raising money,” said Levy, who fundraises for small charities, especially capital and endowment campaigns.
Having a master’s degree in Jewish education means you’re responsible for keeping all the toilets flushing, trash cans in every classroom, and being aware that “every Jewish child is the brightest, most special child in the world,” said Marcia Louchheim, who’s been a Jewish high school principal, although she’s better known in Tucson as a rebbetzin.
Married to Congregation Or Chadash’s Rabbi Thomas Louchheim, the rebbetzin riffed on the variations of “don’t ask, don’t tell” in congregational life, concluding that sometimes her husband comes home, “pours himself two fingers of a lovely scotch, looks at me and says ‘don’t ask.’”
Ronnie Sebold, admissions director of the Tucson Hebrew Academy, began her talk with a question: “What do Ronnie Sebold and a dead trout have in common? We both go with the flow. Put a task on my to-do list and I’ll tackle it to the best of my ability and move on to the next thing.”
When she arrived in Tucson, more than 30 years ago “with a blond preschooler in tow and a very pregnant belly,” said Sebold, “we enrolled Jordan in our neighborhood preschool and immediately became disillusioned.” She signed Jordan up at THA, figuring if her child was going to private school “it might as well be a Jewish school.”
By the time her third child arrived, “there was no other school where I wanted my kids to go but THA,” she said. “I wanted what was best for my own children and found a purpose working for what was best in education for other children.” Sebold “supported THA, lay awake worrying about it, kvelled over it. I’m doing what I was meant to do in the community I love, loving every second of it,” she said. “If that makes me extraordinary, then so is that dead trout.”
Four years ago, the Arizona Jewish Post’s 20-year P.S. columnist, Sharon Klein, recognized the number of “extraordinary” women in the Jewish community and suggested the 13 women event, which also was held in 2007 and 2009, to Marlyne Freedman, then JFSA director of Women’s Philanthropy. Klein likened the brunch to “Jewish speed-dating on steroids.”
Her advice to the audience: “Do your best and commit the rest” and “never say never.”
For attorney Deborah Oseran, “the secret of success is defining what’s truly important to you. Can I sleep well if a family member is unhappy,” she asked, “eat well when there’s so much hunger in the world?” She may not be able to quote from Jewish texts, said Oseran, but Jewish values “have been impressed upon my psyche and, hopefully, imprinted on my heart.”
Oseran is a partner in a transactional real estate firm comprised totally of women, which, she said, aligns with her values, adding to her “sense of satisfaction as a lawyer.”
Empowering women has also been a goal for wealth management advisor Liz Weiner-Schulman. “When I accepted a position at Merrill Lynch in 1979, all the major firms were being sued by the government and I was being hired” instead of an Anglo-Saxon white male, she said. In 1997, Weiner-Schulman was elected president of the Investment Management Consultants Association, the only woman ever to serve in that capacity. “Today women are consistently hired because of merit,” she noted, “not because of a lawsuit.”
“Being [called] extraordinary means taking responsibility for all aspects of my life,” said Tandy Kippur, chief financial officer of Tucson Iron and Metal. “Twelve years after graduating from college I was pregnant with my first child, managing a scrap-metal yard and building a house with my husband, Gary. He always says, ‘I’m the idea guy. It’s your job to get it done.’ That summarizes our life together.” Kippur explained that she isn’t Jewish, but together with her husband, is “raising two strong, extraordinary Jewish daughters.”
“I’m often asked how I juggle being a realtor and a million other activities,” said Jill Rich, who is known as a tireless volunteer. “My secret is that I make good choices. Marrying Jim Rich was a good choice. What other man would have welcomed 48 young men from southern Sudan into our home and into our hearts? Find yourself a good man or a good woman.”
Another good choice, said Rich, has been “my friend selection, Jewish women who like to do and not kvetch.”
Gail T. Roberts worked alone as a potter for many years, she told the audience. When she became the lead artist for the Brandi Fenton Memorial Park, she had to find a team of other artists to collaborate.
“How meaningful it was to work through and for the community,” said Roberts, adding that she found “joy through tragedy.” Her advice for success: “Pay attention to what really inspires you.”
Cheryl Wortzel had been scheduled as one of the 13 extraordinary women but was unable to attend.
Closing the event with a prayer for healing, Rabbi Stephanie Aaron added the name of one other “extraordinary woman”: Gabby Giffords, “with her wise and wonderful heart. We say to all who lie in hospital beds recovering, and to their families, heneni. We are here with you.”