When Zachary Weinberger and Shari Fishman met at Hunter College, in New York City, they had no idea of the extraordinary life together that awaited them. They quickly grew close, forming a bond that would take them around the world together before they landed in Rhode Island where Zachary is a partner in Sprout CoWorking, while Shari is Sprout’s gallery manager and president of Gallery Night Providence.
The Weinbergers arrived in Providence 10 years ago, after Zachary accepted a position in Mansfield, Massachusetts. By this time, the married couple had three children, and, recognizing the problems inherent in Zachary’s six-hour daily commute, the family knew they had to move.
Finding Mansfield too small for their liking, they decided to look at homes in Providence. It was love at first sight, and they knew right away that they wanted to live on the city’s East Side.
Since then, they’ve become well-established in Rhode Island’s secular and Jewish communities. Zachary has a background in human-resources compensation consulting, while Shari is an accomplished Jewish educator.
During a warm, comfortable conversation with the couple at Sprout’s Providence location, they spoke about their lives, work and family.
The couple met when Zachary was an undergrad at Hunter, where Shari was taking classes as part of a University of Connecticut arts program. They hit it off and began dating.
In October of 1983, Zachary made aliyah to Israel. Shari soon followed, and they spent two years on a kibbutz, with Zachary serving in the Israeli army while Shari worked with the kibbutz’s children.
Zachary and Shari married in 1984, and in 1986, they left Israel to move to New York.
Upon returning to the U.S., they both returned to school. Zachary earned an M.A. in industrial labor relations from a Cornell University/Baruch College program, and followed that with an MBA in finance from Rensselaer at Hartford and a law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law. Eventually, Zachary would make the transition to the other side of the classroom, teaching classes at Baruch College, Bryant University and the University of Connecticut.
While Zachary was immersed in his studies, Shari earned her M.S. in education, with a focus on museum education, from the Bank Street College of Education, which was followed by positions with New York institutions that included the Guggenheim Museum and the Central Park Conservancy.
When the couple’s first child was 2 years old, Shari realized that there were no Jewish play programs for children his age. Shari said that she “got involved with Chabad, and the rebbetzin told me, ‘if you teach it, I’ll make it.’” That’s how Shari became the director of Chabad’s Gan Yeladim Early Childhood Center, in Stamford, Connecticut.
After four years in that position, she moved on to become the director of Stamford’s Kulanu Hebrew high school, a role she describes as “the best and most rewarding job I’ve ever had. It was an unbelievable success; we had a great time.”
Since then, Shari has been the assistant principal of the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island and director of teen education for Rhode Island’s Bureau of Jewish Education, both in Providence.
Earlier this year, she stepped down after nine years as executive director of the North American Association of Community and Congregational Hebrew High Schools in order to focus on her new position as the president of Gallery Night Providence. Shari’s participation in Gallery Night is a result of the work she and Zachary have done to build Sprout CoWorking into a thriving local business, as well as an important part of their story.
Coworking is a relatively new concept, but also one that is rapidly gaining traction and attention nationwide. In essence, coworking spaces provide freelancers, entrepreneurs and remote workers with shared office space, networking opportunities and amenities at a reasonable cost. Zachary said a coworking space offers an opportunity “to be in a professional environment without distractions and have other people around you.” Expanding on the social element, he said, “At first, I thought it was about having work space … now, I realize it’s also about having positive, active coworkers.”
Recognizing a need for such a space in Rhode Island, Zachary and partner John Kevorkian opened Sprout in 2016, at Providence’s Rising Sun Mills. They enjoyed rapid success, to the point that they had to double their floor plan, to 6,000 square feet, to meet the demand.
Sprout CoWorking includes private and open offices, a café, conference rooms, and event and gallery space. Last year, Sprout opened a second location in Warren, and they are in the process of opening a third location. In July, American Inno, a large network for local innovations, named Sprout as a “2019 Coolest Company.”
As construction commenced on the first Sprout, Shari saw its expanse of blank walls as an opportunity –and appointed herself Sprout’s gallery manager. With the idea that “art brings community in and gives back to the community,” she began seeking local artists whose work she could showcase.
Shari said she likes to take a chance on newer artists and those who have been excluded from galleries.
“One of the benefits of buying art in Providence is that it’s hugely affordable. It’s an art market where it’s easy to meet the artist and talk with
them,” she said. Art, she added, can foster innovation and creativity.
It was through this work that Shari connected with Gallery Night Providence, an organization that hosts free monthly tours of museums and galleries throughout the city.
Shari spent two years as Gallery Night’s vice president before becoming its president. She explained her involvement by saying, “I just saw what it could be, and I wanted it to go to the next step.” Her achievements include securing grants to make Gallery Night accessible to all and building statewide alliances to boost Rhode Island’s art community.
Meanwhile, Zachary has been promoting Sprout in conjunction with growing his other venture, globus (Global Business Systems International), which helps international companies establish a stateside presence.
The eldest of the couple’s three children, Michael, 29, has a master’s degree in electrical engineering and works in cybersecurity. Their daughter, Hillary, is 26 and currently at Radboud University, in the Netherlands, working on a master’s in human geography. Youngest daughter Amanda, 23, who prefers to be called Amarya, is the Israel engagement coordinator at Brown/RISD Hillel.
Shari is currently working to open an exhibit on sustainable oceans, which will be accompanied by a lecture series. The exhibit will open to the public on Oct. 23 at Sprout CoWorking, 489 Main St., Warren. In addition, Sprout has teamed up with the Creature Conserve to provide workshops focused on human coexistence with urban wildlife; those workshops will open to the public on April 16, 2020, at Sprout Coworking, 166 Valley St., Providence. She is also organizing a fundraising drive so that Gallery Night can continue to provide free guided art tours of Providence.
The next Gallery Night will take place on Oct. 17; tours leave from One Regency Plaza, Providence, starting at 5:30 p.m.
MICHAEL SCHEMAILLE (firstname.lastname@example.org) writes for Jewish Rhode Island and the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island.