Ellen Geller Kamaras
“I love children and am passionate about community, hesed, and visiting Holocaust survivors. My favorite thing is to have people over for Shabbat and hagim.” ~~ Gladys ~~
Please meet Gladys Mordekai, a teacher, tutor, party planner, and the first person in Brooklyn to run post and pre-camp programs. She is fun to talk with and very down to earth. Let’s hear about her life story and her journey to become the passionate and multi-faceted woman she is today.
Glady Farrah Bailey Mordekai was born in Brooklyn to Regina, a”h, (Reggie) and Irwin Bailey, both American. Irwin’s roots are Syrian. Reggie’s family, Escava, is Lebanese. The family practiced Irwin’s Syrian minhagim. Mr. Isaac Escava, Reggie’s father, was instrumental in building both Ahi Ezer Yeshiva and Congregation Ahi Ezer. Gladys is the middle child of five and has an older brother and sister and two younger brothers. She attended Magen David Yeshiva from pre-school through high school.
Gladys was a very social child. “My friends were everything to me. I am still close friends with my childhood besties. I was spoiled and not an easy kid. I struggled with academics in elementary school and needed a tutor for Hebrew.”
In high school, things turned around for Gladys. She did very well in her studies and no longer needed extra help. Gladys was not interested in applying to college and did not attend the pre-college guidance sessions. Fortunately, her mother sat her down to talk about college. Reggie had her own regrets about not having a college degree and believed that women should be independent and be able to earn a living. She encouraged Gladys to pursue teaching given her love for children. Gladys’ dad was on the same page.
Both her parents were strong role models for Gladys, shaping her values and commitment to education, family, and community.
Let’s backtrack a bit. During her teenage years, Gladys was a day camp counselor and a bus counselor. When she was sixteen, one of the camper’s mothers approached her about watching her kids after day camp ended for the summer (“post-camp”). This was the start of Gladys’ journey into teaching and becoming a planner extraordinaire of children’s activities. “My community put me on this path. My family had a big backyard with swings in Deal. I had ten boys in my first post-camp.”
That same week, Gladys was asked to do an activity in the winter for that mom’s daughter. When Gladys returned to MDY for eleventh grade, she launched a Friday children’s cooking class in her house from 12:30 to 3. The class was a real success.
Although Gladys was late in the game with college applications, she was admitted to Kingsborough Community College and graduated with an associate degree. Gladys enjoyed the diverse classes she took. Kingsborough came with the bonus of her cousin joining her.
Gladys went on to Brooklyn College where she majored in Early Childhood Education with a minor in Psychology. She continued her Friday cooking classes and was asked by the same group of moms to do homework help. Tutoring skills were added to her toolbox. Gladys is a tutor for second to eighth graders in English and Hebrew subjects.
Gladys’ first teaching position was at Sephardic Community Center. The preschool director at SCC saw how wonderful Gladys was with kids and urged her to get her master’s degree. After a few years of teaching at SCC, Gladys enrolled at Touro College for a graduate degree in Special Education. It was an intensive program, and she completed the program in one year. Gladys worked as a teacher and supervisor at SCC for seventeen years.
“Ain’t No Party Like a Gladyb* Party”
Gladys was asked by a parent at SCC to arrange a birthday party for her child. Birthday parties became Gladys’ specialty. She has been planning them for over 25 years. She began her parties with an enjoyable project, either baking or arts and crafts, followed by standard party food and fun. Gladys has also organized very distinctive parties such as silent discos, picnics, makeup parties, and more.
“What is unique about my business is that it’s geared to each person’s budget. I’m more about the fun. I would rather allocate my client’s funds to an additional bouncy house than to fancy tablecloths. I can also do a soup-to-nuts event like more sophisticated party planners. I have been hired by event planners to do a kids event in a separate room while the parents are enjoying the main event, such as a bris.”
One of her clients posted on Instagram, “Everyone should get the Gladyb experience!!!! The smiles on kids’ faces said it all!!!” (*Gladys’ Instagram tag is @gladyb.)
Enter Jack Mordekai
Gladys was finishing up her master’s degree when she was introduced to her naseeb, Jack Mordekai. Jack is of Persian descent and was raised in Queens and Great Neck. Luckily for the couple, the Syrian and Persian minhagim and delicacies are similar and complement each other beautifully.
The Mordekai’s have three children, Valerie, 11, Abraham, 9, and Regina, 8. The two oldest are students at Flatbush Yeshivah and the youngest is at MDY. Jack works in commercial leasing/real estate in Manhattan. “We have made a great life in Brooklyn.” When they were first married, Jack would have liked to live in the Persian community of Great Neck. After realizing how all of Gladys’ projects were so enmeshed in the Brooklyn community, he wholeheartedly agreed to live in Brooklyn.
Gladys laughingly says that Jack is more Syrian than she is and he adores the community. She is also very proud of how observant he has become and how involved he is in their synagogue – Beth Torah.
Career and Family Balance
Gladys resigned from her teaching role at SCC when her youngest child was ready for yeshivah and she became a preschool teacher at MDY for two year olds. Working half a day gives her time to go home, cook dinner, perform party planning tasks, and attend to other responsibilities before her children get home from school. After spending time with her children, Gladys leaves home at 5pm to tutor students. Her day worker takes over for her until her husband comes home at seven. Gladys is back by eight o’clock to help Jack get the kids to bed.
When Gladys left the SCC Early Childhood Division, she told her uncle, Morris Bailey, the founder of the Center, that she would continue to work as a supervisor on Fridays and Sundays. Her children enjoy the Sunday activities at the Center while Gladys works. Check out her purposeful play programs on Sundays at the SCC. Gladys also plans children’s parties at the SCC for her clients.
Gladys calls her husband her “backbone” in supporting her and being her cheerleader. When he arrives home from his job in the City, he easily picks up the baton and takes care of the children until she returns home from tutoring. The Mordekai’s keep a spiritual home, modeling hesed and derech eretz.
Gladys describes herself as compassionate, generous, family-oriented, and very spiritual. I would add very organized, energized, and genuine. She lovingly models the practice of hesed to her children every day and especially on Purim. The Mordekai children accompany Gladys on Purim each year to distribute matanot l’evyonim.
Gladys’ mother Reggie was an amazing cook and prepared all the family meals for the holidays by herself. She was diagnosed with cancer during the pandemic and, tragically, she passed away. Afterwards, Gladys declared that she is taking over for her mom, who she misses so very much, and decided that she will do the cooking for the family hagim celebrations. Gladys hosts 80 to 100 people for Purim.
Reggie’s diagnosis and passing made the time of the pandemic especially difficult for Gladys. Gladys was vigilant about keeping her mother and her family safe. Gladys enjoyed the time at home with her family and even threw an outdoor birthday parade for her daughter. Event planners, used to planning events for adults, called on Gladys to collaborate with them on making parties for kids. “I am one of the few party coordinators who works with children. These event planners want me to succeed.”
Gladys loves the Syrian community as well as her husband’s Persian community. She enjoys getting involved in everything community, her kids’ yeshivot, the family’s synagogue, the SCC.
Gladys is modest about the hesed she performs. Volunteering at “The Well,” dedicated in loving memory of the Sassoon children, is another one of Gladys’ passions.
To unwind, Gladys enjoys having dinner with her husband and spending one-on-one time with him. In the summers in Deal, Jack works from home on Fridays and they take walks together on the boardwalk. Gladys is passionate about baking challah and cooking for people for Shabbat.
You can connect with Gladys at email@example.com or follow her on her on Instagram @gladyb.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org (www.lifecoachellen.com).