June Gutterman’s career began making change for those with disabilities, working to develop infrastructure for special education in Ohio. However, after being part of the Wexner Heritage Program’s leadership class, she shifted her work to the Jewish community. Earlier this year, Gutterman – who’s also active with Columbus Jewish Day School and Temple Israel as a lay leader – retired after leading Jewish Family Services in Columbus for more than a decade. For Gutterman, the willingness of the community as a whole to grow and change inspires her to take a leading role in moving it forward.
Was there ever a turning point or shift that made you change how you approach community service or become active in the Jewish world?
Early on, I was part of the lay leadership of our Columbus Jewish community. Community leadership and responsibility was something that was important because I grew up in a family with role models who were actively involved in building Jewish communities in Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) and Detroit.
My entire 40-year career has been rooted in community service. In the first half, it was directed to building services in Ohio for people with disabilities. However, it wasn’t until I was part of the Wexner Heritage Program that (I) shifted toward the Jewish community. It enabled me to combine my knowledge/experience of leadership with Jewish insight and text. Over the two years of that program, I realized I wanted to work full-time in the Jewish community. I was given the opportunity to be part of the Jewish Federation of Columbus and then JFS. It truly has been an incredible journey.
Is there any particular cause, issue or organization you are especially passionate about? What have you done to address it?
At JFS we work with the life a person brings us when they walk through our doors. We work to help them attain economic self-sufficiency and emotional stability. That said, at JFS, we have a moral imperative: to assure survivors of Nazi persecution live out their lives with dignity. In so doing, we bring them some measure of justice. We have worked hard to increase funding by over 1,000% and we have carefully built world-class services.
We also know that we honor our survivors if we take what we have learned from them and apply that knowledge to other traumatized populations.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing the Central Ohio Jewish community? What should be done to promote change?
We have spent an enormous amount of time decrying the loss of “community.” We look at the next generation and see folks who are more tied to the larger community and not to the Jewish community.
The real challenge will be to look closely, and with open eyes, at who we are today. What is it about our institutions that is not engaging the next generations? How do we change so they are relevant?
We also have to show the next generation what community is all about – why it is important. The problem with doing that is it requires us to take a hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we really believe that community is important.