By David Zenlea
One of the most common refrains in the Torah is that we should welcome the stranger because we, at one point, were strangers ourselves. Jodie Krasnick, who was honored this year with The Marion Freedman Women’s Philanthropy Volunteer Award, seems to understand this notion better than most.
At first glance, Krasnick is the consummate insider—she’s not only been involved with Women’s Philanthropy for decades but is the daughter-in-law of Marjorie Krasnick, whose involvement with the group earned her the William Davidson Lifetime Achievement Award from Federation in 2017. She’s also the niece of Dulcie Rosenfeld (her husband Steve Krasnick’s aunt), recipient of the Fred M. Butzel Award (Federation’s top honor) in 1995, and whose funding helped support last year’s Women’s Philanthropy Inspire Program leadership trip to New York that Jodie was a part of.
Yet Jodie Krasnick identifies with the stranger. She grew up in West Virginia, one of the few Jewish students in her high school. When she moved to the Detroit area with Steve in 1995, she knew almost no one and at times, felt like she was on the outside looking in.
“When I first moved here, I’d go to mom and tot classes and there’d be a group of women who all knew each other, and they would all go to lunch together,” she said. Being a newcomer wasn’t so easy, and I had to make my own new connections.
Krasnick found community through her Huntington Woods’ neighborhood and at Women’s Philanthropy—no accident since the group’s raison d’être is to build community.
“I think one of the strengths of Women’s Philanthropy is keeping its finger on the pulse of what’s going on with the women in our community… and how to get people really connected. As a transplant to the Detroit Jewish community, I find that extremely meaningful,” she said.
In her time here, she has worked to make Women’s Philanthropy even more welcoming to others new to the community, most notably by helping to conceive and launch the Jewish Working Women’s Network.
I sat down with Krasnick near her home in Huntington Woods to learn what inspires her to be so involved and how we might all do our part and, in the process, become more tightly woven into our community.
“I am inspired by the women leaders in our community who set the example,” she said. “You figure out what resonates with you and carve out your own path”
Growing up in West Virginia: “Judaism and traditions in our home were priority.”
My mom was from a small town in Ohio; my dad was from a small town in Pennsylvania. The steel industry was really thriving, and they moved to a small town in West Virginia called Weirton. The Jews in town integrated their skills into the community as retailers and professionals. My dad was an attorney. We had a nice Jewish community when I was really young (I was the third of four). We had a conservative synagogue in town, and then, five minutes away over the Ohio River, was a Conservative Synagogue and a Reform Temple. My best friend’s father was the Kosher butcher.
As the steel industry experienced more international competition, small steel towns like Weirton suffered, and many members of the Jewish community moved away. The synagogues and Temple had to merge. The kosher butcher moved because there wasn’t enough business. By the time I was in high school, I was the only Jewish girl in a class of 400.
But my mom was very involved in the sisterhood and local Hadassah. My dad was very active in B’nai B’rith and would travel to meetings and conferences all the time. They traveled to Israel many times. I saw their role in the Jewish world, so all my siblings and I got very involved in Jewish youth groups. We all went to summer camps and to Israel to meet other Jewish youth. We were very fortunate that our parents had the foresight and the means to allow us to do all of that. A lot of the people in our town, not in the Jewish community, were not as fortunate.
Nearly every weekend in high school—my friends used to joke that I was never around—my parents would drive us to stay with our BBYO friends in the small towns in western Pennsylvania, where all the little pockets of Jewish communities were. My older sister would drag me along when she was able to drive, and by the time I got my license, I was able to do it myself, and I’d take my younger brother. It wasn’t unusual to drive two hours each way so that we could spend our weekends with our Jewish friends. We kept kosher in our home; we would drive to Pittsburgh (40 minutes away) once a month and load up a cooler.
We saw that Judaism in our home was very important. Our traditions were really important.
Finding community in new places: “Just walk in the room. Just walk up to someone.”
I was able to go to Tulane in New Orleans for college. Quite a culture shock, as far as [living around] Jewish people! It was interesting to understand my role, because I was coming from a small Jewish community. Then I went to George Washington University in Washington, DC, for graduate school. I didn’t really know anyone beyond my graduate school friends, so—I guess this is a pattern for me—I thought, “Where can I meet Jewish people?” I joined the JCC’s intramural sports teams. And a woman who was on my volleyball team worked with my now husband Steve and introduced us. He grew up in Huntington Woods, so that’s what brought me here.
Being a newcomer in new cities and new situations has taught me confidence. Do I love going somewhere on my own and not knowing anyone in the room? Not really, but I credit my parents for encouraging me to take on new experiences. A lot of people don’t feel comfortable doing this. I feel like that’s been really helpful to me in all the cities I’ve lived in.
I tell my kids, “Just walk in the room. Just walk up to someone and introduce yourself.” The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t have a good experience, but maybe you’ll make a new friend, and you’ll be stronger and more confident for trying.
Women’s Philanthropy: “I was really hooked.”
After my husband finished graduate school and we got engaged, we decided to move to Chicago, where we lived for four years and had our first child. But then my husband wanted to start his own business, and all his contacts were where he grew up. I kicked and screamed and cried—literally—as the truck drove us here. I loved living in Chicago, and I knew really no one here in Detroit.
I had a five-month-old daughter, and I knew only a couple of people here besides my husband’s family. That was it. I was like, I’ve got to figure out a way to meet people. I did every mom and tot class offered by every synagogue, every Jewish organization.
My mother-in-law, Marjorie Krasnick and her friends were very active in Women’s Philanthropy. She’s an artist, and she would do all the centerpieces and all the invitations for almost every program. She was going to an event, and she said, “Just come with me.” I wasn’t sure what my entry point was going to be. I thought, “This is a network of women who all know each other, who all grew up here together.” I hear that from people who think Federation/ Women’s Philanthropy is a group that’s intimidating and hard to break into, just like I thought.
But I gave it a chance—I figured you don’t know until you try. And you can’t complain or make change unless you give it a chance. My first memorable program was Community Connection. It was a commitment—like two hours a week for six weeks—and you had to go to every agency to get a whole picture of Federation. I had my daughter, and I think I was probably pregnant with my second child at that point, but I was really hooked just listening to what these organizations did. Even now, when I hear what they’re doing, they do so much. That started me on my path of asking, what else can I do? And I started meeting women who were like-minded—either transplants like me or people who had grown up here and moved back—because our perspectives were similar.
Working Women’s Network: “Clearly, we touched a nerve.”
One of my biggest accomplishments is the Jewish Working Women’s Network (JWWN). I remember sitting in a Women’s Philanthropy meeting with my girlfriend, and they were talking about how our next meeting was going to be at noon on a Thursday, and it was like 2008 or 2009, when every woman I knew was going back to work because of what was happening in our local economy. I had decided to take on more work myself. My friend and I looked at each other and said, “Who are they talking to, who has time to take off on a Thursday afternoon and have lunch and sit through a two-hour meeting? They’re missing out on all the women like us who can’t.”
So, we went to the Federation staff, and we proposed the idea of something more conducive to hours for those women who are at work. The staff member said, “Why don’t we get the president in here and let’s talk about it?” That conversation started us on our path. It took us a few years to figure out what the right formula was—we’ve had a few iterations—but it’s amazing how it’s grown. Our Facebook page has more than 2,000 followers and we have 50+ women at each of our programs. So, clearly, we touched a nerve.
I feel like it’s how I connect with these women—we’re juggling a lot of things, but we want to be involved and want to give of our time.
Advocating for change: “You have an idea? Tell us.”
What I really appreciated about my experience co-creating the Jewish Working Women’s Network was that the staff, as well as the lay people [at Federation] were open to hearing what could work with our community. It was like, “You have an idea? Tell us?” They could have easily said, “No, we don’t have time for that,” or “We don’t have the funds for that.” We never got that pushback at all.
What’s important, how to get people connected. That’s really meaningful to me, being a transplant here.
Learning from the next generation: “I’m not the youngest person in the room anymore.”
I’m always inspired when I go to a Women’s Philanthropy meeting by the different generations of women there. It’s funny—I was in a meeting last year for Inspire, a leadership program that culminated with a trip to New York. There were about 25 of us, and I looked around the room when I first got there and noted that I was not one of the youngest people anymore. I’m one of those older people. I’m one of the people that I used to look at, like my mother, mother-in-law and aunt.
Maybe the younger people feel like they can learn from me, but I feel like I can learn so much from them. What’s going on in your world? What’s important? What’s changed? I feel like that’s really important, even with my kids, just trying to listen better and find new ways to connect.
Passing on the commitment: “Look at the people who set the example.”
I’ve taken my kids to Federation programs so they can see what it is. We encouraged them to participate in teen Jewish organizations while in high school. We hosted Israeli campers. We all have traveled to Israel several times (and our older daughter now lives there!). My middle daughter was recently here for a luncheon; I think it was a little eye-opening for her. She recently graduated from medical school and is on a very limited budget. She told me she wrote an $18 check as her gift to Federation. She was so proud of that. I hope as adults they decide to raise their hand or get involved. And I’m hopeful that as adults that they support the Jewish community, wherever they are.
Yes, your time is limited when you’re young. And your time is even more limited when raising a family and working. And, with volunteering, people feel like it’s going to be this long commitment. It doesn’t have to be. It could be just two hours, or at one program, or doing something remote in your home these days. Everyone’s busy, but there’s always an easy way to offer up your time and get involved. And every bit of pitching in is appreciated and makes a difference!
There are so many people in our Jewish community who are so inspiring. They give so much more. I’ve always looked up to those people and questioned myself—What can I do? What more can I do? I think you have to look at the people who set the example, see what is meaningful to you, and figure out what path makes sense to you. You can make your own impact and develop your connections along the way.