Much has changed since last May when Sarah David and Saadya Zakheim were awarded the Fred Walpert Young Leadership Award for their involvement and leadership within The Associated community. From The Associated’s Centennial, which was launched in January, to the coronavirus pandemic and the recent death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests, our world looks markedly different one year later.
We caught up with Sarah and Saadya to see how this year has shaped their own views on leadership, their sense of how to move forward as a community and what they are doing for fun.
Sarah is a Deputy State Prosecutor for the Maryland Office of the State Prosecutor, Co-chairs The Associated’s Baltimore City Partnership Commission and sits on the Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC) board. She also leads up a VolunTeam that mentors students in Baltimore City.
Saadya is a General Partner at Landmark Ventures, based in New York City. In that capacity he helps a portfolio of growth-stage digital technology companies build their sales pipelines. He is also the Chair of The Associated’s Center for Jewish Camping, Chair of the IMPACT Campaign and was co-chair of this IMPACT’s Generosity Gala, held in February.
How would you define a leader?
I think a good leader is someone who is able to bring people together and form coalitions. Leaders understand that they don’t have all the answers and they are willing to listen to different perspectives.
It has been quite a year. Has your sense of leadership changed with everything that has been happening?
I think that typically, when I think about being a leader, I think about galvanizing others on behalf of something I believe in. Yet this year, I feel like being a leader is more about reflection. Between the quarantine and the day-to-day difficulties many people are going through, as well as and the heightened recognition of systemic racism, I feel that it has become more important to think about partnerships through listening.To be a leader means to come outside of one’s own experiences and listen to other people’s experiences.
What does the Fred Walpert Award mean to you?
It meant a lot to me … to be able to follow in the footsteps of Fred Walpert who devoted so much time to this community. I met his wife who was also a Jewish leader and enjoyed hearing from her about how The Associated was part of her life.
How has The Associated been important to you?
I feel like over the years my connection to The Associated has evolved based on the needs and demands of my life. As a young woman, I was more active in IMPACT (the young adult division of The Associated). When I had my son, I participated in Shalom Baby, run through CJE (Macks Center for Jewish Education). Now with my son being a toddler, I am involving him in my work at the JVC – such as having him help me make Bunches of Lunches which helps feed the hungry in Baltimore, by delivering the meals and decorating the cards.
Looking forward, where would you like to see The Associated?
I co-chair the Baltimore City Partnerships Commission, comprised of community members and professionals. I’m excited about the strong commitment we have made toward ongoing partnerships between The Associated and Baltimore City. This year, we have allocated grant funding in support of local initiatives that support the needs of the community during this challenging time. We have also all participated in implicit bias training and reflected on our ongoing role in developing this important relationship.
If I were to look into the future, five years from now, I would love to see the Associated and our greater community engaged in meaningful partnerships with the greater Baltimore City community.
I understand you find free time to read in between working full-time, being a mother to a toddler and volunteering.
I do. Two of the books I have read recently are “White Fragility,” which reflects on the ways members of the white community can better address structural racism. And my fiction pick is “An American Marriage.”
Anything people don’t know about you?
I am a die-hard Johns Hopkins lacrosse fan. From the time I was a toddler, until I was an adult, my father and I have attended almost every home game together. My son was at his first game at six weeks old.
Also, my husband, Glenn Gordon, and I want to see the modern seven wonders of the world. So far, we’ve seen five — Petra, Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, the Colosseum and Chichen Itza. We still need to see the Great Wall of China and the Redeemer in Rio. But with a toddler and a baby on the way, we may need to wait a little bit.
What makes a good leader?
I think a good leader brings people together and serves as a unifying force.
Leaders influence at both the micro and macro level. They can have long-term effects on their children and family members. And at the same time, leaders are able to galvanize larger audiences at a grassroots level by helping them understand how much better off the community will be if they take action. Yet, before anyone will answer your call, they need to trust you.
What did the Fred Walpert Award mean to you?
It was an honor. When it comes to The Associated, I try not to say no. If someone needs help or wants me to volunteer for an event, I am happy to jump in. A critical piece of how The Associated works is to be at the table and I try to do that through my work on the Jewish Future Commission and chairing the Center for Jewish Camping.
Yet, at the same time, I can’t really point to being so much different to others in my peer group who are committed to the organization.
Why did you become involved with The Associated?
More than any other Federation that I have been involved with, The Associated is the lynchpin of Jewish communal life. They are the lifeblood for Jewish Baltimore. This year more than ever, their work, particularly, caring for community members who were affected by the pandemic, was critical to our community’s health. In addition, I am passionate about their commitment to ensuring that young Jews find the path that keeps them in the fold.
How do we attract the younger generation?
Young people today are skeptical of institutions and institutional religion. We need an approach that engages the younger generation at a more grassroots, experiential level, that is personalized. It is then that they will discover institutional life.
I understand you sometimes read in your spare time. Any suggestions?
Right now, I am reading “Baseball is a Road to G-d.” The book parallels the game of baseball with finding oneself through religion.
Is there something people don’t know about you?
I think people know that I love sports. What they may not know is that my childhood idol was former NBA star, Calbert Cheaney. Now he and I are friends.
How did you become friends?
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