Inspired to Give: A Conversation with Helen Zalik


Helen Zalik is a wife, mother, attorney, JWRP Board Member, and co-founder of the Jewish Women’s Connection (JWC) of Atlanta. Raised in the Former Soviet Union, Helen always knew that she was Jewish, and, as an adult, she decided to explore her identity. After returning from a MOMentum Trip to Israel in 2009, Helen and her JWRP sisters launched the JWC in order to connect Jewish women through friendship, learning, and spiritual growth. Today, the JWC runs Jewish learning programs, Shabbatons, and social events; hosts MOMentum for 100 local Jewish women each year; has 1400 members; and recently created a formal partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. Helen shared with us how her immigration experience impacted her community involvement, as well as her tips for becoming a giver.

What did your Jewish identity look like in the Former Soviet Union?

Growing up in Ukraine, my Jewish identity consisted of the outside world constantly reminding me that I was Jewish. While running for president of my fourth grade class, my “best friend” told everyone not to vote for me because I was Jewish. Each Passover, my family held a seder in Russian and in total secrecy. We left Ukraine in 1989, right before the Berlin Wall collapsed and Ukraine’s borders were closed. At the time, we did not know what our final destination would be. We applied for asylum for religious reasons, passed a series of interviews about our Jewish identity, and then connected to people from the Jewish Federation of Nashville, who helped us settle in Nashville.

What compelled you to get involved in the Jewish community?

Gratitude. I would not be here without the support from so many Jewish agencies and thousands of incredibly kind and generous Jews. Each one of them shaped my life — finding jobs for my parents, paying our rent during our first three months in Nashville, granting me a tuition scholarship for college, and so much more. I wanted the opportunity to say thank you by giving back to the Jewish community. Also, I have experienced discrimination because I am Jew and I have also been welcomed and accepted because I am a Jew. Because of those experiences, it is my privilege and responsibility to encourage other people to embrace their Jewish identity and to understand what it means.

How does Jewish learning enrich your professional and personal life?

Having no Jewish education as a child, but constantly being told that I was Jewish made me wonder what being Jewish even meant. In order to truly care about being Jewish, I decided to start learning about it. Since then, Jewish learning has provided a signpost for everything in my life. As an attorney, my day-to-day life is filled with confrontation. The Jewish values of patience, perseverance, and choosing words wisely help me tremendously. I have also become a different parent and wife. I think about the women role models from our heritage, and I try to channel their energy whenever I can to best nurture my children and my marriage. I still feel like I have only just begun my Jewish learning.

What does being a giver mean to you, and how can other women become givers in their communities?

I did not grow up in a culture of givers, so becoming a giver has been a journey for me. I have learned that, no matter how much you give, you always get much more in return. Anyone can become a giver simply by doing an act of kindness for someone else. The act can be small, like buying coffee for a stranger or donating your clothes to the needy, or it can be large, like donating your time, energy, and resources to a particular cause. It doesn’t matter how much you give or how you give, but just that you give. Giving elevates all of us and the ability to give is empowering. If you ever find yourself having a bad day, do something nice for someone else and you’ll feel a lot better.

What are your tips for JWRP sisters who would like to become leaders in their Jewish communities?

When you see a void that no one else is filling, embrace the opportunity and make a difference for the Jewish community. First, be confident in yourself and know that your skills and assets are good enough. You don’t need a particular resume to become a leader. Also, be courageous and step outside of your comfort zone. Finally, persevere. Don’t take no for an answer. When you face challenges, find alternatives. Bring your dream to fruition.

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