From a young age, Michael L. Schottenstein had family role models who provided examples of how to improve the local Jewish community through community service. So much so that when he moved away for college and after, he felt drawn back home – somewhere he could work to shape the community and would want to stay to see the results. Now, in addition to working as a lawyer, Schottenstein holds several volunteer positions where one of his goals is to increase young adults’ engagement in the Jewish communal life. For Schottenstein, presenting young adults with opportunities to be involved in their community and investing time and effort in them is key to helping them grow and stay in Central Ohio.
Was there ever a turning point that made you change how you approach community service or become active in the Jewish world?
The choice to move back to Columbus for law school after I graduated from college was monumental for me. I was the typical Bexley kid growing up who wanted to go away for school and never come back. I went to Syracuse University to try to be a sportscaster. Eventually, I realized that the life of a sportscaster, often moving around to different cities every couple of years to score that next big promotion, was not for me. I didn’t want to do something where I’d be involved in the community for a couple of years and leave before I saw real change. I wanted to do something (and be somewhere) which would allow me to plant roots, make a difference and see it through to the end. Columbus was the perfect place to do that. We’re a growing, young city and we’re big enough that there’s a robust Jewish community with lots of opportunity for leadership, but we’re not so big that you get lost in the shuffle. I’m very happy I realized that as soon as I did.
Is there any particular cause, issue or organization you are especially passionate about? What have you done to address it?
Attract and retain Jewish young professionals to Columbus. Lots of young Jews move here for school or work, but many don’t stay more than a few years. I’ve made it my goal to keep young Jews from leaving Columbus and Young Jewish Columbus, the JCC and Hillel are all important pieces.
How does that happen? We can’t create jobs, but through these organizations, we can provide an avenue for people to connect with other Jews in their desired industry. We can present people with leadership training and opportunities so they have ownership in successes, tools to grow as a leader. A new JewishColumbus leadership program I’ve been working on furthers that goal.
Jews are also community-minded. It’s hard to ignore the power of a support system of family and friends. We can’t relocate a person’s family, but we can put on exciting programs to help Jews create meaningful relationships, make sure they have a place to spend Jewish holidays and ultimately set-up a “second family” here in Columbus.
What do you think is the biggest issue facing the Central Ohio Jewish community? What should be done to promote change?
There’s many. For instance, I think investing in our young adults now is crucial for us to have a vibrant community in the future. But I’m sad to say I think the most important and pressing item is security. I’m proud that JewishColumbus has taken the lead by providing a $500,000 security grant and with information and training efforts. Ohio Jewish Communities’ work to secure millions from the state has also been huge. But this is only a start. We need to keep our community safe and I think there will need to be some difficult decisions to do that. I’m not an expert, so I think we need to work with law enforcement to determine the best steps to take and rally as a community to make sure we can fund them. Ultimately though, to be truly safe, we need to defeat hate at the source. That’s more difficult and will take time. It may seem naive, but I think we need to be ambassadors outside of our community and connect with people of all backgrounds. Doing good is the only way to defeat hate.