I called Tzachi Litov just to get a comment or two on a seminar he attended in November. My simple inquiry about how he got into his current job led me to the story of his interesting, yet somewhat circuitous career, which I will share with you.
The seminar that the executive director of Seattle’s Congregation Beth Shalom attended was the Kellogg School of Management’s Education for Jewish Leaders program at Northwestern University.
He joined 78 other rabbis, synagogue executive directors, and leaders from all Jewish denominations on the school’s Evanston campus, and says the best part of the program was the “discourse…after class” and the connections he made “with rabbis across the spectrum.”
“My rabbi [Jill Borodin] and I are partners,” says Tzachi, and he says “the window into the unique challenges that rabbis have was really helpful to me in my role in the business side of the Jewish community.”
Tzachi didn’t start his work life as a Jewish communal professional. Growing up in Baltimore, his Israeli father made sure that Tzachi (short for Yaakov) spent summers in Israel getting to know his family. He made aliyah at age 18 and while living in Israel was, among other things, a commercial photographer.
He returned to the U.S. in 1987 with the dream of documenting life on a commercial fishing boat. That idea got him working on a boat for two years in Alaska. While living in the Northwest he met his wife, Lara, an Everett native, now a naturopathic physician with a practice in Bellevue (Eastside Integrative Health).
“After she finished medical school we moved back east…and lived for five years in rural Maine,” where Tzachi worked in a bank, giving him experience in finance and computers. Although they found a “wonderful” and old Jewish community in Rockland, after having sons Noah and Aviv, they realized the community was too small.
“My wife and I joke that we would absolutely live rurally if we could [consistently] get a minyan,” he says. “In rural Maine it was tough.”
A job offer for Lara brought them back to the Northwest and Tzachi was able to spend a few years as a stay-at-home dad, “which were probably my favorite years.”
During that period he worked very part-time at Temple Beth Or in Everett as their religion school administrator, doing some Bar Mitzvah tutoring on the side. That was a stepping stone to being Herzl- Ner Tamid’s program director for five years, work he enjoyed very much.
“I could see myself moving forward on this [track],” he recalls, so he took the UW’s one-year certificate program in non-profit management.
When the Beth Shalom job opened up, “I applied. It was a natural move,” he says, noting that the family had been members of the shul for quite a while.
“I…have a very non-traditional background, but it’s what I draw strength from,” he reflects, adding that he’s fortunate to always have “found what I needed to do.”
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Pamela Lavitt, our own director of the AJC Seattle Jewish Film Festival, was one of five panelists who helped select the winners of the Foundation for Jewish Culture’s Kroll Fund for Jewish Documentary Film. The fund awards grants of $20,000 to $35,000 to deserving films, which helps ensure their completion and marketing as well as circulation to film festivals, television, and other distribution outlets. Some of this year’s winners, selected from almost 100 applications, include: Joann Sfar Draws From Memory, a portrait of one of France’s most celebrated graphic novelists; Regarding Susan Sontag, a spotlight on the life and work of the late American writer and icon; The Law in These Parts, an examination of Israeli military tribunals in the occupied territories. SJFF will be held this year from March 10 to 20 with the Web site and ticket sales launching on Feb. 1. Mark your calendars!