Farewell Post to The Jewish Women’s Archive

I’ve come a long way, baby.

If you’ve followed this blog for the last nine months (the time it takes for new life to come to term), you may have been privy to my special journey here at JWA.

I began as an intern, advanced to an independent contractor, and come October I was officially offered the position of JWA’s Online Communications Specialist and Blogger-in-Chief of Jewesses with Attitude. It was an exciting dream manifested, because for many years the idea of working at the archive sparkled on the periphery.  Here is an excerpt from my cover letter back in June when I applied for the position:

I have been drawn to JWA for many years, probably for about a decade when I first discovered the organization as a senior in high school. And each year my respect for and intrigue of JWA continues to grow: I slow down when biking past your building on Harvard Street; I visit the online site maybe once or twice a month; in the past I’ve even tried to pitch story/interview ideas to members of your team. Perhaps now the stars are aligned, and I may be able to bring my specialized skill-set, writing chops, quick mind, and unique brand of passion to the table. We’ll see!

I believe I did… bring all of that and more to JWA. I hit the ground running, pouring every ounce of my being into the work. There was a learning curve indeed, mostly in the realm of social media. It was only 48 hours prior to the job interview when I set up a personal Twitter account, 48 hours before the interview when I began to acquaint myself to the Jewish and feminist world of blogging, calling upon a close friend for blog suggestions and leads. Needless to say I had great affinities for this position: good writing skills, great people skills, creativity in bulk— I just needed to beef up on the concrete mechanics. And I did. I am so very thankful to JWA for taking a leap of faith and choosing me. It has been epic.

The art of blogging and social media engagement is not the only thing I have learned. I have learned what it’s like to sit at a desk for eight hours a day, to attend weekly staff meetings, to observe (and be a part of) the quirks of inter-organizational relationships and dynamics. I had never worked “an office” job before, and I am not exaggerating when I say it was eye opening. Everyone should experience an office job in her lifetime; I was lucky enough to have such a strong creative component woven into mine.

The people: I would like to take a moment to speak about my colleagues. As I write this paragraph my eyes are starting to mist. I will describe them in order of proximity to my desk:

I do not have an office; I share the space, what I tenderly refer to as the “sun room,” with Helen Bennett, JWA’s development associate. Helen has long black hair, a beautiful bone structure, and a wry sense of humor. Also she has a grounding energy. She used to work as a sustainable farmer. I loved sharing the space with Helen. Sometimes we would play music quietly, often we would season our work by sharing off beat happenings of the day: receiving a funny email, discovering a relevant Facebook post, smiling together at an office antic performed by one of our co-workers. Before publishing a blog piece, I would often count down: “3… 2…1…and Go!” She would then offer a little cheer.

It was wonderful to have a witness to my life—eight hours of it at least— the person with whom I shared the little successes and losses, the daily deaths and victories.

Michelle Cash, our Director of Communications, has an office about a stone’s throw away from my desk. Her only window looks out onto the shared “sun room.” She would always keep her blinds (and her door) open. I realize now, what comfort I received from Michelle’s presence. Here is a fellow writer, wrestling with the word, trying to tame the paragraph. I sought strength in her company. Sometimes we would both attend the same social media webinar, she on her computer, me on mine, and at certain moments we’d lock eyes, nodding, in telepathic agreement: “Yes, let’s implement that for our organization!” We shared many meaningful walks together as we looped around the charming streets near our office.

Ari Davidow, Director of Online Strategy, was one of the first people to welcome me into the fold. He is kind, paternal, and has a penchant for puns. I found it fascinating how we would find ways to translate—me from my artist speak, he from his tech speak; we almost always did, with great interest and good humor.

Etta King, Education Program Manager, is a woman who is a few years my junior but who, I nonetheless “look up to.” She is one of the smartest women I know; at staff meetings she takes my breath away with her insightful, articulate, and innovative comments. I mean this literally—because often when Etta speaks I realize I’ve stopped breathing. She’s a good woman, down to earth, who “under promises and over delivers.” She is a gem and rightly valued by the many teachers, interested in using JWA’s education materials,  with whom she interfaces.

Stephen Benson, Executive Assistant, is a man who exudes graciousness and hospitality. Whether it’s virtually through his genteel email exchanges, or in real time when he affably greets a guest, anticipating and attending to all of her creature comforts, often before she knows them herself. Stephen is always on point, the essence of diplomacy. I have learned a lot about navigating the occasional rough waters of the non-profit sector, how to delicately handle egos and diffuse potentially charged situations. At times he has been a confidant, more often has been a model for interpersonal success.

Patrick Dash, Web Producer, is a realist with a big heart. Under a sarcastic exterior is someone who really cares— about doing good work and doing the right thing. Having majored in English in college, his writing sensibilities explode on wonderful and surprising occasion. Some of my favorite moments with Pat were shared as we were prepping our respective lunches. Corner him in the kitchen, and you’re in for a treat.

Ellen Rothman, Deputy Director, took me under her wing. That wing is full of verve and conviction, extraordinary will and endurance. This is a woman, if I didn’t know better, who I’d believe could swallow nails…. and be just fine! She is hardy. She is resilient. Under her charge, my writing has tightened, my skin has toughened. Loyal to people, devoted to the organization, she champions what she believes in and goes to bat for the underdog. She’s someone you always want on your team.

Gail Reimer, Executive Director, is the founder of JWA. It all began with her. Gail’s commitment to the work and the vision is so potent, so palpable; I feel that she would give her life for the organization. Her standards are astronomically high, which always gave me something to shoot for. She is an academic. She is a scholar. And though the archive has many arms and offerings, at its core it is this: a well of knowledge. Knowledge is power— saying this in 2013 may sound trite, but it’s so very true. We cannot change the world if we are not aware. Gail and the archive, slowly, steadily, are making us aware of the many untold but necessary stories, which the world needs to hear.

For me, it’s been about the work, for sure: it’s been about being able to midwife a favorite part of our mission: “Sharing Stories, Inspiring Change.” It’s been about connecting and dialoguing with the fleet of guest bloggers. It’s been about honing my craft—as a writer, as a communicator, as a curator of content, as a P.R. person thrown (willingly) head first into the vast pools of social media engagement. But it’s also been about the people. I will miss the people.

I had a wonderful last day. Gail took me to lunch, and Michelle took me for ice cream. Ellen, on behalf of the entire staff, bestowed me with a card and gourmet chocolates from a local chocolatier. The card, signed by my co-workers, was poignant; the chocolates, delicious. I have definitely indulged throughout this past week, especially whenever I started to feel sad about my departure. (Though, to my credit, I did share a few morsels with my partner on Valentines Day.) Now, all that remains is a half eaten pinwheel of solid chocolate. You can still make out the frosted writing: “Thank You.” It is the folks at JWA and the readers of Jewesses I’d like to thank. Thank You.

 Rest assured, your regularly scheduled programing at Jewesses will not be interrupted. I leave the blog in the trusted hands of Ellen during this time of transition until my successor, Jordyn Rozensky  will faithfully take the reigns beginning the end of February.

And what of you, Gabrielle? What roads will you be walking, mountains climbing, seas sailing? Well, I’m g
Thank you, readers, friends, and co-workers. I’m so glad we had this time together. It really was something special.lad you asked. I will be returning to my art, attending graduate school (fingers crossed), making dances and writing plays. I will continue to “share stories and inspire change,” though now I am returning to a true home: the performative medium. This storyteller will be traversing from page to stage with the greatest of ease.

photo by: Nicholas_T

About Gabrielle Orcha

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