For Clevelander Julia DiBaggio, making a difference can take a lot of forms.
Whether it’s at her job as program director of the Ohio Israel Ag & CleanTech Initiative at the Negev Foundation or serving as vice president of Beth Israel-The West Temple’s board, helping uplift local, national and international communities is paramount for DiBaggio.
At work, she’s currently starting a podcast, planning a water conference and a trade mission, which bring in partners from Northeast Ohio and across the state to engage with Israeli businesses around green technology and agriculture. With the West Temple, DiBaggio finds new fundraising efforts by building off her previous professional experiences in fundraising and nonprofits, including a youth entrepreneurship program that sold honey ahead of the High Holy Days. Before she was named vice president of the board, she also helped create and facilitate a temple casino night just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Cleveland.
“In order to make the world a better place, you have to act locally first,” DiBaggio said. “If people locally are not having their lives improved, their interest in the greater, local good is not going to happen. You have to take care of your community first.”
It’s that dedication to social justice that DiBaggio thinks defines individuals as difference makers.
“A difference maker is somebody who puts the greater needs of the community above their own,” she said. “They are dedicated to improving their community 24/7 and really work to touch the lives of individuals.”
DiBaggio officially converted to Judaism in a ceremony at Lake Erie in 2020 led by Rabbi Enid Lader, who also held weekly classes with her over the course of two years.
“For years, I knew I wanted to be Jewish,” she said. “I told my husband before we even dated that when I found out he was Jewish that it was something I wanted too. I was just drawn to it. When I went through my conversion classes and took that deep dive into Judaism, it felt like the ideal ideology of community and the betterment of people. It was those types of social justice aspects in Judaism that I identified with personally, which made conversion seem a lot more natural.”
DiBaggio works to emulate those Jewish values she always identified with through her work – whether that’s in the community, her career or her personal interests. She’s also a member of the Mayfield Curling Club and said she proudly wears a Star of David necklace while competing.
“It’s about being a voice for those who don’t have one, whether it is in different areas of social justice or climate change,” she said. “Any of those topics are what we need to fight for. That is where I find most of my impact.”
For future generations of community leaders, DiBaggio simply advises “to always follow your faith.”
“Don’t get jaded when things don’t turn out necessarily as you planned it,” she said. “Just keep fighting for what is right.”