PROVIDENCE – Life can be a marathon – and sometimes that can be a good thing. Just ask Lauren Friedman, 28, who competes in half-marathons across the country.
“I’ve done five so far and I plan to do more!” said Friedman in a recent telephone interview with The Jewish Voice & Herald. Friedman, a former member of our Jewish community, now lives and works in Florida.
Not only does Friedman run races – she also runs races. As director of membership and special events at the Adolph and Rose Levis Jewish Community Center in Boca Raton, Fla., Friedman organizes three 5K (3.1 miles) races a year; each event attracts 700 participants. “It’s fun!” said Friedman. “We raise money for our scholarship fund and the JCC Maccabi Games.”
Friedman also produces many other JCC special events, including family field days, and her own original idea – and favorite event – the princess ball: a father-daughter dance for girls, ages 3-12. All the girls dress up in princess dresses.
“It’s adorable!” said Friedman.
Born and raised in Rhode Island, Friedman grew up in West Warwick where her parents, Alan and Carol, still reside. She attended Rocky Hill School in East Greenwich and continued her education at the University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa and the University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando, earning a bachelor’s degree in marketing and a master’s degree in nonprofit management, respectively.
Her family is affiliated with Temple Beth-El, the Reform synagogue in Providence. “I attended Hebrew school, [became] a bat mitzvah, was confirmed and was a teacher’s aide in first year Hebrew school there,” said Friedman.
At 16, Friedman spent five weeks in Israel. “It was a great experience for me but it didn’t really change … my life,” she said.
It wasn’t until she went to college and became involved in Hillel that her path circled back to Judaism. “[When I was] growing up, our family celebrated holidays, but I really didn’t know many traditions,” said Friedman. “I learned a lot more about Judaism while working at Hillel. Now, through my work at our JCC, I’m able to teach others about Judaism – and that’s really nice,” she added.
As an undergraduate, Friedman volunteered at USF Hillel, where she served on its student board as vice president of marketing; she received the USF Hillel Mensch Award. Presented to only one student each year, the award recognizes commitment to Jewish life, Jewish students who exemplify selflessness and who serve as Jewish role models in the community and who work tirelessly to improve the Jewish community.
After graduation, Friedman moved to Orlando to accept a full-time position as program director at UCF Hillel. “It was my first job out of school and I loved it – and that’s when I returned to graduate school for a degree in nonprofit management,” she said.
During her tenure at UCF Hillel, Friedman also led four Taglit-Birthright Israel trips. For most participants, Birthright is their first trip to Israel. “Seeing college students’ reactions to seeing Israel for the first time – and how it really changed their lives – was an incredible experience for me,” she said.
Three years later, Friedman became the director of membership and special events at the JCC of Greater Orlando on the Jack and Lee Rosen Southwest Orlando campus. One year later, she relocated to Pompano Beach, Fla., and assumed her current position at the JCC in Boca Raton.
In August 2014, her JCC will be a host community for the JCC Maccabi Games; Friedman will be the local delegation head. The experience will be a full circle moment for her – as a teen she was a JCC Maccabi participant. “We practiced basketball at the JCC in Providence and then competed in Michigan,” she said. A different Jewish community hosts the Games each year.
Even when she’s off-duty, she runs things: Friedman volunteers as social chair of the young adult division of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County, Fla. “We do social events, tikkun olam, community service and networking activities for Jewish young adults in their 20s, 30s and 40s,” said Friedman. She also recently completed the Glass Leadership Institute, a one-year education program that the Anti-Defamation League offers in most communities. She said she always knew the ADL existed; now she understands how the organization can help her Jewish community should the need arise.
Friedman’s dedication to Jewish communal service runs in the family. “My parents were involved in the Sisterhood and Brotherhood at Beth-El; my grandmother, Phyllis Goldberg, was a past president of Sisterhood and is still very involved; even my great-grandparents were active in the temple,” she said.
Friedman’s personal and professional commitment to her Jewish community is off and running. Catch her at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Providence this September.
NANCY ABESHAUS (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a contributing writer for The Jewish Voice & Herald.
LAUREN FRIEDMAN: email@example.com.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Do you know someone in their 20s, 30s or 40s who grew up in greater Rhode Island and now works or volunteers in the Jewish communal world? If you know a candidate who might like to be featured in this ongoing series, contact us.SUBJECT LINE: WHERE ARE THEY NOW to nkirsch@ shalomri.org or call 421-4111, ext. 168.