In more than 35 years working at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Columbus, Carol Folkerth ensured making a difference was part of both the organization’s and her own mission. Jewish values such as tzedek, kindness and continuing education enriched her life and inspired her to share them with others. After retiring at the end of June, Folkerth’s background and interests continue to propel her toward change-making, including helping find homes for rescued dogs.
Was there ever a turning point or shift that made you change how you approach community service or become active in the Jewish world?
After graduating with a master’s degree in Jewish history from The Ohio State University, I worked for several years at the Melton Center on campus. And while I loved working there, it was in some ways the ivory tower. Once recruited to join the JCC professional team, I experienced in action, every day, what the breadth and depth of Jewish community really is. That change helped me grow as a professional, as a community member and to personally continue to learn Jewishly.
How did your Jewish background inform your interest in giving back?
As a graduate of University School, run by OSU’s department of education, I grew up with kids from very diverse backgrounds: geographically, religiously, economically, socially and ethnically diverse. For sure this impacted my early desire to be a positive force for change in our world, and drove my desire to give back and be part of our Jewish community.
Did you have any mentors? If so, what was your relationship to them and how did they impact you?
I have been extremely fortunate to have many mentors. Just to mention a few:
Florence Zacks Melton taught me adults have a craving to learn about Jewish life. And it is never “just another day at the office.”
Larry Moses mentored me on the big picture of leadership in the Jewish community; its importance, relevance and what really matters.
Several rabbis at the Columbus Community Kollel have shown me Jewish learning is personally rewarding for its own sake, but also has insights in so many ways to make me a better person.
Abe Weinrib, friend and mentor, taught me that no matter what you may experience in life, what you may have to endure, in the end we should “be nice to each other.”
What do you think is the biggest issue facing the Central Ohio Jewish community? What should be done to promote change?
Unfortunately, during the past couple of years, the safety and security of our community has presented itself as a significant challenge. At our JCC, as with many across the country and with other Jewish agencies, we have had to lock our doors. Of course this is understandable as the safety and security of our members, staff and guests is of utmost importance. But the message of a locked door is a sad and a scary one. It is not a message of openness and welcoming that we strive hard to present.
I believe our challenge as a Jewish community is to focus our mission, our work and our message on what the community stands for. Not who/what stands against us. We need to celebrate the joy in being Jewish today and to welcome and appreciate those who are not Jewish, but stand beside us. This will reflect the true value and purpose of a Jewish community.