Light, love, and leadership: a conversation with Shira Goodman

Spending time with Shira Goodman, one can almost immediately sense her warmth, her infectious optimism, and her boundless energy. For those fortunate enough to work alongside her, we are awed by her passion for community and her deep love for the Jewish People.

A longtime leader at CJP, Shira has served on CJP’s Board of Directors from 2009–2018, co-chairing CJP’s 2017 President Search Committee and our 2018 Strategic Plan. She has also served on the Commission on Strategic Priorities, the Organizational Development Committee, the Budget and Administration Committee, and several day school committees. She rejoined the CJP Board of Directors in 2019 as the Vice-Chair to prepare for her tenure as Board Chair beginning in September 2020. After three years of tremendous impact and influence, Shira was succeeded by Laurene Sperling at the beginning of this month.

It has been such a privilege to stand with Shira through her extraordinary leadership experiences. I feel particularly lucky to have had a front row seat to three of Shira’s most impactful involvements at CJP over the past decade. Specifically, those have included (among so many other of her responsibilities): co-chairing the last CJP Strategic Plan; co-chairing the CJP CEO Search that led to Marc Baker’s appointment as professional leader of CJP; and serving as CJP Board Chair these past three years. Through all of these experiences, I have been continually awed by Shira’s ability to balance the head and the heart (both huge in her case) to lead the organization to actions that are both fundamentally strategic and impactful, and also reflective of the kindness and Jewish values that lead our work. Thank you, Shira, for being a leader, a partner, and a friend.
Neil Wallack, Emeritus Director, Former CJP Board Chair

We spoke with Shira to discuss her leadership at CJP, the challenges of the past three years, and her hopes for CJP’s future.

What aspect of CJP’s mission resonated/resonates most with you?

What really resonates with me is both the what and the how. I’m very much a “joy” person and at a personal level, I have found that Judaism has really added so much meaning and community to my life, so that part of the mission really speaks to me. In today’s world, we are all Jews by choice. Yet I find that the Jewish rituals like Friday night dinners, Jewish learning, holidays — or just having a tech-free day — really contribute to emotional well-being and better connections with community and family. I also have a deep love of Israel. My father lived there for 20 years; I have been there so many times and the good work that CJP is doing in Israel, especially in Haifa, in building a society that we’re all proud of, really resonates with me.

The “how” is that I really do believe in the value of collective impact, bringing organizations together in new and different ways to make a bigger difference than any one organization could do alone. What’s more, when you work with CJP, you just see the good in people. The news is filled with what’s wrong in our society — so much hatred, violence and polarization, but then you’re involved with CJP, and you work with amazing professionals who could do anything in the world but dedicate themselves to serving a Jewish organization. You work with incredible volunteers who give time they don’t have — their most precious resource — to do good for the Jewish people. Then you see our partners across the community, and they have such passion for their work. It’s fair to say that I never have a CJP meeting or interaction I don’t look forward to and I never walk away without some learning or inspiration.

Working with Shira is a never-ending lesson in leadership. A few years ago, when I chaired a search in another organization, she advised me to look for ‘strong presence, low ego.’ That she herself embodies those qualities is key to her success in leading CJP through the most challenging years anyone can recall. She is bold, decisive, candid, and deeply empathic, and she thinks many moves ahead. She shares credit generously. As a skilled problem solver, she often has a point of view, but she is genuinely willing to be persuaded otherwise.
Judy Kaye, former CJP Board member, current member of CJP Committee on Development and Organizational Development Committee

How has it been working alongside CJP President and CEO Marc Baker?

One of the greatest privileges and blessings of being the Board Chair has been working with Marc Baker. He is a master educator in every way. I learn from him every single day. He’s straightforward, he’s everywhere all the time, he’s engaged, he’s focused on the person — we’re so fortunate to have him. He really believes in the mission of CJP. He grew up on the North Shore with a less-religious family, came to Judaism on his own, has seen the power of Jewish living, has spent time in Israel, and knows how it can add purpose, meaning, and connection. Because of his own journey, he’s completely non-judgmental and truly inclusive. He loves the Jewish People. I’ve never met anyone who is better at building authentic, caring relationships. He’s an amazing listener and asks real questions that get to the heart of the matter. His energy level is incredible: He does this while raising a beautiful family with four kids, riding his Peloton, jamming with a band, and the list goes on — I don’t know how he does it. You’d think with a job like this and such a heavy responsibility, he’d be so serious! But he’s also so much fun.

Shira’s passions for CJP and the Jewish People are second to none. She is a doer, a learner, and a spiritual leader, who balances strategic thinking and a rigorous focus on execution with reflection, humor, and a remarkable ability to make everyone around her feel valued and seen. I have learned and grown so much from working with Shira — every step of the way she has challenged, supported, encouraged, and inspired me.
Marc Baker, CJP President and CEO

What were some of the highlights of your experience as Board Chair?

I started July 1, 2020, but I was transitioning from January 1 of that year, really coming in at the heart of COVID. I was witnessing the community coming together, donors pledging unprecedented amounts to help — and CJP was so thoughtful about where the money was allocated. It feels like ancient history now, but it was huge at the time. And while we were still grappling through that, we had Afghan refugees and the Ukraine crisis — both taking care of the Jewish community there, as well as the refugees coming to our own shores. We had the precipitous rise in antisemitism, and then crises in Israel. It felt relentless at times! But the beauty about being involved with CJP is that you can do something about it. What can make these crises feel overwhelming is when you feel powerless and you can’t make a positive impact, but at CJP you see the goodwill of people and how they come together in unprecedented ways. The highlight was observing how our community came alive in the midst of such darkness. You just saw such light and love. Despite all these things, we didn’t lose sight of our mission, which is to build a thriving Jewish community and help people find meaning, connection, and purpose — building on our work for families with young children, Spark, arts and culture, and so much more.

Shira leads by example. She is thoughtful, curious, and driven to make progress inclusively, ensuring everyone feels seen and heard.
Marni Allen, Vice President, Volunteer Mobilization and Leadership at CJP

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced?

Prioritization is always the biggest challenge. There’s so much that needs to be done and so many ways that CJP can help, but if you try to do everything, you end up getting nothing done. This is why I’m so excited that we have coalesced around CJP’s four strategic investment priorities: Spark, Engaging Families with Young Children, Supporting Mental Health, and Combatting Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism.

Managing change is another challenge. Organizations have to evolve or die. We like to say that we’re a 128-year-old startup but how do we behave as one? To do that, you have to evolve. And some of that change will make people happy, and some will make people unhappy. Of course, that can be difficult because you don’t want to have people who are unhappy, but you have to change or you’re not meeting the needs of the day.

And then there’s polarization. I would say this is a broader societal issue, but you see it also in the Jewish community. That really breaks my heart because there’s a phrase: All Jews are responsible for one another. We have so many external enemies, we can’t be each other’s enemies within the community.

CJP has to be the big tent, and it has to bring in different folks, and it’s increasingly hard in a divisive state. The oys always feel very urgent and you could spend all your time on that — but to what end? You have to ensure you’re spending enough time on the joys of Judaism. You need to balance it.

It would be hard for me to think of someone I admire more than Shira. Her commitment to the Jewish People knows no bounds and spans from Boston to Israel and well beyond. She signs every email with ‘Onward!’, which is emblematic of her constant encouragement to reach further and think more expansively, while honoring where we are and what it will take to get there. Shira is a champion of CJP’s leadership and someone who has always made the time for ‘walk and talks’ with me personally, asking about my children and helping me to think through the complexities of being a working- mom-leader. I am incredibly grateful to her for her personal support and her incomparable commitment to CJP.
Sarah Abramson, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Impact at CJP


What are your thoughts about our new Chair, Laurene Sperling?

One of the most important things you do as Board Chair is you think about succession, and I don’t think we’ve ever had a chair come in who is better prepared. I had an unusual three-year term because of COVID, but Laurene agreed to do this two years ago, and it’s been so wonderful working alongside her. Already in her tenure, she’s driven major positive changes in the areas of effective governance and strategic grant-making, and she obviously brings the experience from her work as Chair of the board of trustees at Duke University. But a little-known fact about Laurene is that she studies Jewish texts every morning, which brought tears to my eyes when I learned that. She herself has found that it brings such meaning and purpose to her life. She knows philanthropy, she knows governance, she’s been involved in big, sophisticated organizations, and on a personal level, she walks the talk, and cares deeply. Finally, as a proud grandmother, she has a real passion for the Jewish future. I can’t imagine anyone better suited for the next stage of CJP’s growth.

It has been an incredible experience to learn from and with Shira for the past three years. She is the ultimate champion for CJP and our work, her passion, and joy for our Jewish community is infectious. Shira has led through some tumultuous times between COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine — and yet her positivity and can-do attitude never flags. Her tagline is ‘onward’ — we can always do more and keep moving forward — I have learned a lot from holding that point of view so close and am grateful to Shira for her mentorship, leadership, and friendship.
Jennifer Weinstock, Senior Vice President, Philanthropy at CJP