Meet JLW: Deb Fink, Director of Family Learning

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Q: What is your name, title and role at Jewish LearningWorks.  How long have you worked here?

A: My name is Deb Fink and I’m the Director of Family Learning. I rejoined the staff of Jewish LearningWorks in 2015 and have worked here for a total of 7 years, since 1999, in various roles related to youth and families.

Q: Where do you live and what do you like about your neighborhood/community?

A: I live in Berkeley and can’t imagine living anywhere else! In addition to how much I value the natural beauty, the wacky vibe, the outdoor lifestyle and the social politics, I have found that it’s the right Jewish community for my family. We’re out-of-the-box and hard-to-label in terms of observance but that works just fine at our shuls, Netivot Shalom and Beth Israel, as well as the many other Jewish organizations we frequent.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your journey - what did you do before you joined our team?

A: After finishing my M.Ed. in School Counseling, I went to work in New Hampshire. Wow. As someone whose entire childhood and young adult life were spent immersed in Jewish communities, I found myself figuring out what it meant for me to be Jewish in a place without other Jews. Through a deep dive into my own beliefs and practices I wound up spending three years in Israel, learning and growing and exploring my Jewish path while working with camps, teen tours, and other educational programs.  As opposed to the Jewish education I grew up with (which was focused on acquiring specific knowledge in order to observe traditions, participate at synagogue, etc) I came to understand the role Jewish engagement can play in developing a sense of purpose, meaning and identity.  Since that time, and throughout my subsequent career as a Jewish educator, I have sought out professional opportunities that focus on Jewish learning that is transformational for the learners.

Q:What excites you about your work

A: I’m excited about empowering parents to raise children in Jewish homes that feel relevant and meaningful to their unique families. Our modern communities are extremely diverse and we are developing innovative approaches to “meet them where they are”.  Jewish LearningWorks is a place where I feel supported to experiment with new ideas and where I have fantastic colleagues to turn to for collaboration.

Q: Describe a time that you really felt like you/your work made a difference

A: One fabulous summer in Israel, I was the Director of Ramah’s Day Camp for English speakers that mostly served families visiting from abroad. I loved designing the program and supervising the staff who led educational activities on campus and tiyulim around Jerusalem. It was very inspiring to see the children developing their relationships with Israel, many for the very first time, and to be guiding the team that was facilitating that process.

Q: Describe a time that felt really challenging for you.

 Deb and her family on vacation in 2016

Deb and her family on vacation in 2016

A: One of the years I co-directed the Diller Teen Fellows program, we had to make the difficult choice to cancel our summer Israel trip due to the outbreak of the second intifada. This was heart wrenching for me and I struggled to make peace with the decision. Given that the teens had spent many months learning text and participating in projects related to social justice to prepare for the trip, we searched for an alternative experience. Even though it wouldn’t be in Israel, we wanted the group to have the opportunity to volunteer, contribute to people in need, and explore Jewish identity in a different part of the world. In the end, we traveled to Costa Rica and had a very meaningful experience of service work as well as an interesting visit with the Jewish community there. This turn of events was quite significant for me because I wound up marrying the guy who ran the program in Costa Rica!

Q: Tell us something that might surprise us.

A: I am blessed to have wonderful 8 siblings from my highly blended family.  And, since my children have 12 first cousins from my side of the family and 13 from my husband’s side, there is never a dull moment when we visit relatives!

Q: What are you reading? 

A: I just read “The Magician’s Assistant” by Anne Patchett. She is one of my favorite novelists and I tend to read her books, or something similar, every year on Pesach. I struggle to find time to read for pleasure on a regular basis so I take advantage of those 4 days of chag to grab myself a good page-turner!

Q: What do you want to be remembered for?

A: I hope that I’ll be remembered as someone who was there for others in their time of need.