buffalo, new york.  |  wife. mother. executive director, american jewish historical society.

In Hebrew, the word “hanukkah” means “dedication.” As you may know, Hanukkah began yesterday evening at sunset and ends on Wednesday, December 24. Hanukkah is not the most celebrated Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are at the top of that list. However, I felt it would be appropriate to celebrate the Festival of Lights by highlighting a strong American Jewish Leader.

Meet Rachel Lithgow, she is a dedicated wife and mother. Additionally, she is the executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society. Rachel spends countless hours educating the public, while preserving the lives, and contributions of those of the Jewish faith, who have made America their home dating back to 1654.

Recently, The Huffington Post published “The Greatest Holocaust Story Never Told.” The article highlighted the brave actions of four Jewish women imprisoned in Auschwitz in 1943.  Rachel Lithgow wrote that article and shared the heroic tale of four amazing women. Needless to say, I felt compelled to reach out to her. Today, j. jane dedicates this holiday series blog entry to all the Jewish women who paved a path for their sisters without heroic accolades.


How did you choose your career? Was it intentional? What lead you down your path?

In some ways, I chose my career, but in other ways it chose me. I was working at a job I hated in an international film company, and finally, I just quit. I couldn’t stand the place or the people, and though I didn’t have another job, I just decided that was it for me. A few months later, I applied for a job making much less money at the Shoah Foundation, and they called me two weeks later. I worked there for several years, and that really started me down the road.

 

What has been your greatest obstacle in life and how do/did you navigate it?

The greatest obstacle has been balancing my family life and my work life. I’ve also struggled with being a woman in what has primarily been a male playing field dominated by older men from another generation, who aren’t often comfortable with someone they perceived as “young.” I have tried to be professional during these situations, and generally, don’t take some of the obstacles too seriously. As long as I’m being true to myself, my family and my work, everything usually works out all right.

 

What dreams and/or goals have inspired your success?

I have wanted to change the way Jewish nonprofit navigates in the broader universe, whether it is programming or fundraising, exhibits or approach.

 

If you could do one thing to change the world, what would it be?

I would try and change the double standard that (still) exists for professional women, but better folks than I have tried before! We still need to plug away that one.

You recently wrote an article in the Huffington Post regarding four brave women who were in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp. What did you learn from Ala Gertner, Róża Robota, Regina Szafirsztajn, and Estera Wajcblum?

These women were anti-heroes. They didn’t see themselves as grand in any way, they simply did what they felt they had to do. I try and look at my life that way … if I do something that positively impacts my community while I’m doing it, then so much the better.

 

Do you ever feel guilty? If yes … what for?

I have a lot of guilt over spending time away from my kids, and not being there to get them off the bus, and things like that. I try to make up for that by spending my time at home focusing on them and working from home one day/week.

 

What gets you through a rough day?

Coming home to my husband and kids helps end a rough day, but yoga also helps. So does coffee.

 

What is the most difficult thing you have ever done?

Deliver two 10 lb babies.

 

What is your greatest accomplishment to date?

Helping to build the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, and creating lasting impacts on the organizations I’ve been privileged to lead. Of course, the kids and my marriage are the most important accomplishments overall.

 

What is your best advice on how to live a graceful life?

I’m not sure I’m the best person to answer this question, as I am not always known for tact or grace. However, in my experience, taking the high road helps a lot. There have been a few times when I have been really hurt professionally, but I’ve found that the sweetest revenge of all is success and happiness. There will always be people that want you or your organization to fail, but the key to combating those individuals is living the best life you can, and doing it with success and integrity.


j. jane side notes:

Honestly, I don’t know what is more impressive, delivering two 10 lbs babies or helping to build the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. I truly enjoyed meeting Rachel and feel grateful she took the time to share. Please take a few minutes to learn more about the American Jewish Historical Society.

Happy Hannakuh to Our Jewish Friends!