Numerous factors in Rabbi Debbie Lefton’s background encouraged her to give back. However, as senior rabbi at Wexner Heritage Village, she continually goes above and beyond to secure quality programming for residents and visitors, as well as to find opportunities to engage residents and demonstrate the value of their own services to the local community. For Lefton, helping elders and families navigate various life stages in a supportive Jewish environment is key to both her professional and lay efforts.
What inspires you to give back to the community?
Building a caring community inspires me to give back. No person should ever feel alone, experience food scarcity or not have the resources to care for their families. Loneliness is a huge problem within society, especially with our elders.
In Judaism in years past, it was impossible to function without community. You could not eat, pray or live without a Jewish community. However, in our society today, it is easy to become isolated, with families spread all over the world and without the ability to leave one’s home. I am inspired to help bridge these gaps for people. Building smaller groups, communities, conversations and caring circles of volunteers has been my focus in each professional position and in my personal life. The Jewish community has always brought me comfort and support, and I am passionate about creating strong communities wherever I can.
Was there ever a turning point or shift that made you change how you approach community service or become active in the Jewish world?
My college years were a turning point for me. I studied religion and my focus was in Holocaust studies. My adviser, professor Michael Dobkowsky, was a child of survivors. He encouraged my work and my senior thesis on the works of Elie Wiesel. I also was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet Wiesel. I would be forever changed by this meeting and by my experience learning from these two individuals. From this time on, I would never take the Jewish people’s freedoms for granted. I was inspired to continue my path to become a rabbi and always teach the love of Jewish learning and rituals to my own family and to my congregants and students. I was also inspired to appreciate the beauty of our faith in order to honor all those who never had the opportunity because of anti-Semitism and Nazism.
How did your Jewish background inform your interest in giving back?
My Jewish background and career as a rabbi influences every decision I make – giving back to the community and the choices I make in how I live my life. My family’s struggle as Jews in Eastern Europe and in the United States has influenced my decisions in every stage of my life. Living in Israel also changed my perspective on how one lives Jewishly and how important our connection to Israel is as a Jewish people.
Did you have any mentors? If so, what was your relationship to them and how did they impact you?
Mentors for me include Rabbi Debra Hachen, a family rabbi; one of the first female rabbis in the Reform movement. She inspired my work as a rabbi. In addition, in Columbus, Rabbi Howard Apothaker inspired my work in a variety of ways; always encouraging my decisions.