Michele Kaminsky, a Beachwood resident and owner of Mika’s Wig Boutique and Spa in University Heights, was recently elected president of National Council of Jewish Women / Cleveland.
Kaminsky, a member of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike, spoke with the Cleveland Jewish News about her new role and her hopes for the future of the organization.
Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
CJN: What inspired you to get involved with NCJW?
Kaminsky: I had my youngest son about 16 years ago. He was still a baby in one of those little bucket seats that people put in their cars. And I was just trying to find an organization to volunteer at in a meaningful way while I was also being a full-time mom. So I really hadn’t heard much about NCJW.
CJN: How long have you been involved?
Kaminsky: I became active pretty much instantly. I met with the volunteer coordinator at that time and I wanted to know, “Well, I want to be active. What is it that I can do as a mother with a young child?” I had other children in the school system, but as a mother with a young child, what is it that I can actually do? And believe me, I stepped right in. They had great ideas, and I’ve been active ever since.
CJN: How do you see your career as a business owner benefiting your presidency?
Kaminsky: Well, it was actually really the strength of the organization and the leadership roles that I’ve been afforded that led to me being a business owner. So I really do credit the skills I’ve learned through NCJW, being active with them and the opportunities with them. I was always taught with NCJW, you can talk, but if you want to make an impact, you have to take action. So it was really the leadership roles that led me to actually open my business which has been around for seven years.
CJN: What are your specific goals?
Kaminsky: The main messages that I feel are important is that we are a volunteer-driven organization and our mission really is to change the lives of women, children and families through the advocacy work and the community service work that we do. And we want to grow our membership, bring new voices to the causes that matter to us. We have strength in numbers.
There’s over 2,000 of us here throughout Northeast Ohio and about 90,000 of us throughout the country. Actually, our tagline right now is “strong women, powerful voices.” So this September, we are featuring a meeting with Kathy Najimy, who is an actress turned activist. She will bring her comedic voice to women’s rights issues and other social issues that she speaks for that align with our mission as well.
So growing our membership, continuing our message and our mission to change the lives of women, children and families and collaborate with like minded organizations to empower women. And before COVID-19 happened, we’ve been trying to engage younger women. We also have about 15 different coalitions that we work with, and we are right now becoming involved with Kent State University First Star, a student program that helps give college skills to foster children. And NCJW is providing packets of school supplies to help them succeed. This kind of is an extension of our foster children program that we’ve been working on with Cleveland State University with the Sullivan-Deckard scholars. We’ve been active with them, with aging out of foster care programs and supporting them while they’re in school.
CJN: The mission of the NCJW is to turn progressive ideals into action. What do you hope that will look like under your presidency?
Kaminsky: We want to educate ourselves and further the conversation and education about anti-Semitism. Anti-semitism is going to be a big factor in social justice. Every year, we host the annual Lois Zaas Advocacy Lecture in November. This year, we’ll be addressing current social issues, the topic actually being the future of anti-Semitism. ... You do not have to be a woman, you do not have to be Jewish to be a member of NCJW.
CJN: If you could offer one piece of advice to a woman looking to get involved in local philanthropy, what would it be?
Kaminsky: It’s all doable. It’s very, very doable.
CJN: How will the organization respond to both the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the Cleveland community?
Kaminsky: We’ve been very active and creative in expanding and redefining our community service and how we are reaching out to the community. It doesn’t to us just mean, which is not a bad thing, serving up meals in a soup kitchen or reading one on one to first graders. But community service also means checking in on and providing opportunities for people who might be feeling vulnerable or feeling fearful or isolated. We started offering weekly free online programming on topics such as how to cope with anxiety during the pandemic and how to advocate from home to make the Ohio election ready and safe for all. We’ve also been providing free yoga classes to the community since April on Facebook Live. We started a phone chain where volunteers made thousands of phone calls to members checking in on how they are. We’ve distributed almost 2,000 masks to different organizations. We didn’t just distribute them but we made and distributed almost 2,000 masks.
We’re also very thrilled during this time that our Thriftique showroom, our thrift shop, has a warehouse that has reopened and is operating under the new social distancing guidelines, including wearing masks. And we’ve rescheduled our 125th anniversary gala starring Leslie Odom Jr. which was supposed to happen in April 2020 to April 2021.
CJN: You’re stepping into this new role at a really critical time in regards to the pandemic. What challenges do you foresee in NCJW’s future and how will you address them?
Kaminsky: I think really, the challenges are still having to Zoom, not being able to be together, but it doesn’t stop us. Like I said, we’re really continuing a lot of the different programs in a different way. I think also funding will be a challenge. But you know what? We’ll figure it out. The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically changed the way NCJW / Cleveland can work in the community. So, as a result, some of the members have reached out asking for ways that they can help. And the newly created Barbara Mandel Emergency Relief Fund will be used to provide relief funding for identified NCJW / Cleveland projects.
CJN: How will you work through the pandemic to ensure that NCJW Cleveland is best serving the community?
Kaminsky: Through our advocacy work. Reaching out to our coalitions. We do spend lots of time calling senators and legislators we want to support or oppose different bills and to keep elections safe and available for all in the state of Ohio.
CJN: Are there any new specific programs or initiatives you’re hoping to start as you step into your new role?
Kaminsky: Well, you know what? We never know. Because we are very, very flexible. So we’re always open for opportunity to make change and to help and to be a face and a voice for others. We listen; we take action.
CJN: How do you think that the new role of president will help you grow as a leader?
Kaminsky: I think being a good listener is going to help me grow. These times are very different than presidents have experienced before. So being a good listener, being aware of what the needs are and strategically planning.
CJN: What does being a part of the NCJW leadership team mean to you?
Kaminsky: It’s an opportunity to learn, an opportunity to grow, to lead, to help others, to keep others informed, to keep others growing. We’re always learning. We’re always looking, where can we make the next impact?
– Compiled by Tim Carlin, Irving I. Stone Editorial Intern at the Cleveland and Columbus Jewish News