Ellen Geller Kamaras
Where would the Jewish people be without the discernment and wisdom of Jewish women? The Talmud reveals that it was in the merit of the righteous women that our forefathers were redeemed from the land of Egypt.
Please celebrate with me. It’s been over five years since I was asked to write my first Woman to Woman column for the Community issue of March 2017. The interview was with the inspirational and compassionate Gloria Bijou.
Shared Stories and Life Lessons
I am incredibly honored to have interviewed many of the remarkable women of our community. What I enjoy most about this column is hearing our community women’s life stories, passions, words of wisdom, their challenges, vulnerabilities, and secrets to success. When possible, I incorporate their practices into my own life.
As a matchmaker, I delight in hearing the accounts of hashgachat pratit, how women met their naseebs.
Sharing the candidates’ life stories became a passion of mine. I exercise great care in writing the column, and feel as if I am forming a piece of art. I craft a template of questions in advance of the interview. I encourage the women to share only what they are comfortable with and clarify that they are in the driver’s seat.
Fortunately for me, our community women often refer friends or colleagues as potential candidates.
Before the pandemic, most of the interviews were done in person. Women who I had never met would invite me into their homes, offering me drinks and snacks. It was then that I started to grasp what Shaatra was. Although my kids and I had attended Yeshivah of Flatbush, and we had lived in the Brooklyn Syrian community for 31 years, I had not heard the term until I interviewed the vibrant Dr. Gayle Krost. She explained that Shaatra is one of the most beautiful things she learned from her Sephardic friends.
They are warm and hospitable, practicing the mitzva of hachnassat orchim, hospitality and hakarat hatov, gratitude.
When COVID-19 hit, I switched to conducting interviews via phone or Zoom. I knew from my coach training that one can establish a strong bond with someone even by phone and that has certainly been the case. For some, a phone conversation feels safter than a video chat.
Launching Women to Women
Let’s get back to my launch into the Woman to Woman world. Gloria Bijou invited me into her home, and we sat, woman to woman, at the very same dining room table where Dr. Robert Matalon, his wife Barbara, and Fred and Gloria Bijou sat and together planted the seeds of the amazing SBH in 1973. Gloria had no idea back then that these meetings and subsequent hospital and home visits to community members would grow and flourish into a major social services organization serving as the foundation of charity and hesed in the community.
Gloria became a friend and has introduced me to other talented and amazing community women who she suggested I interview.
The fifty plus women I have profiled all share passion, purpose, and positivity. It’s no coincidence that this is my coaching brand. I help individuals make positive changes in their lives, reigniting that spark of their passion, purpose, and positivity in their work and their relationships.
The scope of my Woman to Woman interviews has been broad. The women have ranged in age from 25 to 91, and their careers and life purposes vary greatly.
I have met creative and talented women who are doctors, dentists, nurses, nurse practitioners, patient advocates, teachers, professional organizers, entrepreneurs, coaches who specialize in health, life, mindful eating, and parenting, as well as dietitians, physical, occupational and speech therapists, psychologists, social workers, guidance counselors, interior designers, caterers, chefs, bloggers, artists, writers, journalists, genealogists, attorneys, real estate brokers, graphic designers, hair stylists, administrators, political activists, not-for-profit professionals, and leaders and women who devote their entire lives to helping others and doing hesed.
Each time I think to myself this woman is the most fascinating person I have interviewed – I meet yet another who is even more incredible.
If I had the space, I would list what I learned from each woman. Instead, I will share some of their names and vocations, and summarize some of the key take-away lessons.
Family is Not an Important Thing – It’s Everything
Family comes first with our community women. Children and grandchildren are viewed as gifts from Hashem. Balancing their commitments to family, education, and careers is a constant challenge and something our women strive to do every day. Many women were already starting their families when they embarked on courses to become medical professionals or teachers or do other training to pursue their career goals. The community women I interviewed expressed immense hakarat hatov for husbands and grandparents who supported them through their journeys. The children of these amazing women cheer them on and admire them, proud to see their moms also doing homework. The children are proud of the work their mothers do and even brainstorm with them to support them. Our women are humble yet driven, and practice focus and determination while keeping their eyes on the ball.
I noted how women successfully achieve work-life balance, knowing their priorities, and finding the right fit professionally for each stage of their lives.
Passion and Purpose
I hear the special spark in these women’s voices when they talk about family and careers, about the organizations they dedicate time to, and their love of our community. Some went through struggles as young children, emigrating from other countries or being separated from a parent due to their parent’s physical or mental health issues, yet they persevered.
Emunah and Spirituality
Many of the women are very spiritual and have tremendous emunah. They remain positive during adverse conditions, believing that Hashem gives us what we need for our life’s circumstances. Most have a growth mindset and believe that each life experience is designed as an opportunity to become greater. To get through difficult times they draw upon their emunah and their toolbox of skills and resources, even in frightening cases such as a baby or spouse becoming very ill.
During the pandemic, our women adapted to the New Normal, juggling remote work with helping little ones get on Zoom for their classes. Our women bolstered their children’s sense of safety and security during uncertain and frightening times. They arrived at out-of-the-box strategies to accomplish their objectives, earn a parnassah, and nurture their families and the community.
We had heroes who nursed hospitalized patients in Covid units and also volunteered their time visiting homebound Covid sufferers. Others advocated for patients and caregivers supporting them through the stress, fear, and frustration that accompany a hospital stay.
Our women remember self-care and put their own oxygen masks on first so they can be there for their loved ones.
Community and Hesed
I am in awe of the hesed performed by the community women. Each one exercises her hesed and kindness muscles, serving as a role model to her children and to Klal Yisrael. Many told me how blessed they feel to be a part of a unique community that does not exist in other places. The resources available are vast and everyone supports one another. You need only scan the pages of Community to see evidence of this.
Partners in Parenting and Achieving Life Goals
As I listened to their life stories, it warmed my heart to hear how many couples buoyed each other during their respective career trajectories, helping each other achieve their goals and potential. Some articulated that their success in business allowed them to help others and do hesed.
Another unique Sephardic concept that I was introduced to is suffeh. Rochelle Dweck, partnered with Rosie Bawabeh to launch Simply Traditional right before the pandemic. Its mission is to capture recipes and a sense of suffeh of our community’s matriarchs and to bring together generations of families through food. Suffeh is portrayed by our grandmothers in many ways: opening your home and welcoming family and friends, doing things with love, sitting around the table, talking, and enjoying food and every aspect of being together.
Take Home Lessons0
I would like to conclude with some tools from our women that I use in my own life. Cindy Antebi shared that she cooks for Shabbat on Thursday night and buys mazza from the local businesses to make her life easier. A confident woman may feel that she doesn’t have to prove that she can cook everything, provided she can afford to supplement her menu with purchases. By buying some of the dishes, she also contributes to the success of her fellow business owners.
Shelly Antebi taught me to take 30 minutes to relax and chill before my guests arrive. Her mother said that people would feel uncomfortable and would not enjoy the meal if she looked tired and stressed. How insightful is that?
From Joyce Harari I discovered how meaningful it is to create something with my hands. She inspired me to return to crocheting.
From our health coaches and others, I was reminded to eat and cook with cleaner ingredients, to remember self-care, and to get out in nature and exercise.
A special shoutout to the women who referred other candidates to me: Karen Behfar, Joy Betesh, Gloria Bijou, Gali Dabbah, Stacey Gindi, Shifra Hanon, Eileen Mizrahi, Renee Zarif, and more.
Thank you, dear sisters, for allowing me to share your life stories with our readers. Several of you said that I made you sound so special. Please know that you are indeed special!
Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach. Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching. Ellen is active in her community and is currently the Vice-President of Congregation Bnai Avraham in Brooklyn Heights. She can be contacted at email@example.com (www.lifecoachellen.com).