JWRP Sister Spotlight: Donna Kasoff
When Donna Kasoff’s children were studying for their Bnai Mitzvah, she would drop them off at the synagogue and then pick them up. Besides High Holiday services, she rarely stepped inside. But, craving a stronger connection to her Jewish community, she began volunteering at the synagogue and it soon started to feel like a second home. Today, Donna is the President of Temple Isaiah in Fulton, Maryland. She is also a wife, mother of three children, the Director of Endowment of the Associated: The Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, the leader of a local Jewish women’s group, and an exercise instructor. Donna shared with us her strategies for effectively using speech as a leader and her tips for taking on leadership roles in the Jewish community.
What inspired you to travel to Israel with the JWRP?
I had heard about the MOMentum Trip from a friend who had raved about the camaraderie that she had experienced on it. It had been 34 years since I had last visited Israel, and I thought that the trip would be a great way to return and see Israel through new eyes. Also, my kids had recently traveled to Israel with Birthright, so I thought that traveling soon after they did would enable me to experience the country with them.
How did MOMentum impact you?
I loved the whole trip, and it truly changed my life. The women on the trip bonded so quickly. Even on the first night, we were holding hands, crying together, and sharing our emotions with one another. I also loved the sessions with Lori Palatnik and Nili Couzens, during which they shared Jewish perspectives on what it means to be a Jewish woman. The whole experience made me see the importance of Jewish continuity, and how women’s strength is vital to that.
When I returned home, I wanted to stay involved with Etz Chaim, the Partner Organization that I’d traveled to Israel with, but its meetings took place too far from my home. So, with support from Etz Chaim, three JWRP sisters and I launched a local women’s group, J-WOHOCO (Jewish Women of Howard County). We visited local synagogues to spread the word and began planning monthly Jewish programs, including challah bakes, Israeli dancing, and Jewish speaker events. We now have close to 300 members.
What are your strategies for effectively using speech as a leader?
As a leader, my goal is to elicit a dialogue and a discussion that brings us to the right conclusion. When I speak to my synagogue board, I want my remarks to be inspiring and to make people think. I want people to express their ideas and opinions. It’s important to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard so that different opinions can emerge. We all have mental models, which lead us to form our opinions based on our life experiences. But someone’s mental model may not be relevant to a given situation. Dialogue can help us reach the appropriate conclusion.
What are your tips for women who may want to take on leadership roles in the Jewish community?
First, find ways to get involved in your synagogue, Jewish Federation, or another Jewish organization on the smallest level. Then, people will get to know you and see what your strengths and talents are. The more you get involved, the more your fellow community members will see your integrity, passion, and work ethic. In my case, after volunteering for a while at my synagogue, another synagogue member recommended that I join the board, and from there, I was identified to become the future president of the synagogue. A leader is privileged to have a platform for giving. When you give, not only are you doing something that makes you feel good, but you are also helping others and making them feel good, too.