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PresenTenseLA 2014: Empowering for Change

This post is a part of a series highlighting the social entrepreneurial ventures that each of the 2014 PresenTenseLA Fellows will be unveiling at Launch Night on May 21st. The Fellows were given the prompt “What’s so Jewish about your project?” and over the course of the series we will be sharing their answers and exploring the very nature of Jewish change-making. Today we are highlighting PTLA Fellows Sara Gershfeld – founder of Love My Provider – and Leah Weiner – founder of The Emma Project. 

What’s So Jewish about Love My Provider ?

Like many fortunate children, I grew up in a home where all the necessary resources were available to make sure that I could grow and develop into who I am today. A dentist or doctor was easily located when I had a cavity or the flu. And my parents gladly obliged when I wanted to take dance or music lessons. Unfortunately, this is not always the case for children who have special needs. For parents, learning that their child has been diagnosed with autism can be devastating. Unfortunately, many basic resources they might need for their child is even harder to find. A parent I spoke with once said that “Locating a dentist that understands how to work with my child with autism was one of the hardest things I had to find.” Love My Provider was created as a response to this problem, and aims to helps special needs families locate the best local providers that can work with their child. There are a number of Jewish principles that helped guide this venture:

COMMUNAL RESPONSIBILITY – The Jewish principle that “All Israel is responsible for one another” (Shavuot 39a) means that it is our responsibility to stand up for each other, especially for those who are vulnerable and cannot speak up for themselves. Families who have special needs children are inundated with resources that are not always accurate. Our community has a responsibility to ensure that families who are vulnerable and in a state of change and adjustment are not led astray by snake oil salesmen. Love My Provider.com ensures that families have access to valid information when they need it.

PEACE IN THE HOME – Our community centers, synagogues, youth groups, and camps are often our second homes. Everyone needs to feel comfortable, safe, welcome, and respected at home. Love My Provider aims to find doctors, dentists, hair-dressers, summer camps, and synagogues that don’t ostracize those who seem different allows all community members to maintain their dignity, no matter their disability.

GUARDING ONE’S USE OF LANGUAGE – The Talmud warns us that we must take care in how we use language. The idea of gossip is cautioned against and even if what someone is saying is true, we should proceed with caution. This was a struggle when creating a yelp-like website. The guidelines of “shmirat halashon” remind us that what we say about others affects them in ways we can never predict. Words can hurt or heal depending on how we use them. As such, Love My Provider was created with a review mechanism that avoids harsh criticism or diatribe, and focuses on evaluating special needs services based on categories we consider quality-indicators: being helpful, courteous, and knowledgeable. 

SOLIDARITY – “Don’t separate yourself from the community” (Pirke Avot 2:5). When individuals feel different from others in your community, it is important not to be isolated. The Talmud teaches us to find allies and supporters who you can talk to. Love My Provider aims to bridge the gap of isolation for families who have special needs children. If you know someone who is feeling isolated in the world of special needs, reach out; be an ally and a friend. Have them visit our site (www.lovemyprovider.com) or contact me at sara@lovemyprovider.com.

By PresenTenseLA 2014 Fellow Sara Gershfeld

What’s So Jewish About The Emma Project?

In 2011, I attended NCJW/LA’s first Jewish Women’s Conference. There were 100’s of participants in engaged in conversation about women’s issues, leadership and social justice. Many of the conference attendees that I met were women of my mother’s generation. The wisdom I heard opened my eyes to how Jewish women across generations have made an impact in the community.

At the closing session of the Jewish Women’s Conference, NCJW/LA’s Executive Director Hillary Selvin’s parting words “Now, go do something!” struck a chord, and I left the conference inspired to take action.

A couple of days later, I approached NCJW/LA with the idea to create a community for Jewish women leaders across generations that focused on professional advancement. NCJW/LA provided me resources to launch the Emma Project.

I created the Emma Project because I had a strong desire to learn from other accomplished women in Los Angeles and increase the influence of women leaders in the workforce and Jewish community.

I developed the initial program model for the Emma Project as part of my doctorate in organizational leadership from Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology. After being inspired by the Jewish Women’s Conference, I spent two months in 2012 interviewing more than 30 Jewish women between the ages of 27-77 to find out what they needed or wish they would have known in launching and advancing in their careers.

The Emma Project developed into a program that provides skill based training infused with Jewish values to help women build their skills and confidence to advance in their careers. The program has made an impact. One participant shared “After having my son, I felt isolated, overwhelmed by work and motherhood. Through the Emma Project, I got the confidence and peer support I needed to launch a new business and learned that I was not alone in my experience.

How is our program Jewish? We don’t use traditional text but rather we explore how an individual’s Jewish identity impacts their decision, personal and professional life.  

By PresenTenseLA 2014 Fellow Leah Weiner

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