The life of a Jewish communal worker is busy, hectic, and at times overwhelming, but we endure it because we are passionate about the cause and we believe as Jews, it is our responsibility to take care of others.
by Jody Portnoff Braunig
Jewish Communal workers who are reading this right now can relate to the craziness of our profession. A “typical” 40 hour work week includes three after-hours committee meetings, a Saturday night agency fundraiser and nonstop “donor relations” chats while working out at the Jewish Community Center gym. As a parent, wife and friend, what little free time I have is a whirlwind of running to Target, nonstop laundry and Wednesday night date night for my weekly conversation with my husband. In addition, living in New Orleans, there are countless restaurants, festivals and local flair that demand my time and distract my attention. I have a very full and wonderful life and like many of us, what gets me through the craziness are those wonderful moments I have all to myself. Last year, I joined the Mystic Krewe of Nyx, the newest all female Mardi Gras parade Krewe in New Orleans which rolls the Wednesday before Mardi Gras and throws beautiful hand decorated purses to the screaming crowds. Last year, I channeled my inner goddess and the time I spent involved with Nyx became those sacred moments that I craved. Instead of being the face and mouth piece of the Jewish Federation, when I was with Nyx, I was just Jody, Goddess of the night.
This year, the Krewe of 534 grew to 921, with over 1000 women still on the waiting list. Although I was happy and content just being a rider, the Jewish communal worker in me, the programmer, the fundraiser and the planner were eager and ready for more responsibility! I was beyond thrilled when the Nyx board approached me to be one of 26 float lieutenants. As float lieutenant, it was my role to manage the 35 women who ride on a parade float during the Nyx parade. Like the prestigious Lion of Judah Pin, I proudly wore my Nyx float lieutenant pin to both work functions and toddler birthday parties alike.
After a busy day at the Federation office, after coming home and eating dinner with my kids and throwing a load of clothes in the dryer, I would kiss my family goodbye and rush off to the glamorous evenings of Nyx. Many of my nights were spent working on float preparations while sampling decadent King Cakes covered in frosting and purple, green and gold colored sugar. Hours were spent indulging in the many bottles of potluck wine and other homemade goodies the ladies would bring to our late night purse decorating parties. I would often come home covered in a fine sheen of glitter, hoping not to wake anyone up as I quietly try to wash the dried glue off my hands. If I wasn’t running to a Float lieutenants only meeting, or googling “light up” beads for the perfect Mardi Gras throw, or running to the craft store for the third time that week looking for the perfect color of glitter, I was happily responding to the numerous emails, Facebook messages, texts and voicemails from my “sisters.” And as I reflect on all this, I can’t help but compare to my secret Nyx life to my other, very public life of a Jewish professional.
Yes, the life of a Jewish communal worker is busy, hectic, and at times overwhelming, but we endure it because we are passionate about the cause and we believe as Jews, it is our responsibility to take care of others. Like I do every day at work, I poured my heart, soul (my wallet!) and any free moments I had into making the Nyx experience extra special for my float members. As I do with my own Federation lay board, I strived to live up to the expectations of the hardworking Nyx board and serve as a role model to the women on my float. Joining a Mardi Gras Krewe and riding in a parade is so more than just something to scratch off my bucket list. Like serving my local Jewish community, becoming a member of the Mystic Krewe of Nyx is an honor and something I take much pride in.
After months of planning, organizing and decorating, Float 23, which bore a “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend” theme, began our ride in a torrential down pour. The women on Float 23, Jewish, Muslim, Christian and everything else in between had the time of their life! Some of the 35 women who rode are my best friends, my committee lay leaders and my mentors. Some began as strangers but are now part of the sacred sisterhood of Nyx. We threw beautiful hand decorated purses, Mardi Gras beads and all types of special purse themed trinkets to the crowd. On Magazine Street, I gave our Israeli Shaliach a special throw I decorated especially for him. As we started down the famed St. Charles Ave, I handed my screaming Planning and Allocations Chair a bag full of Nyx beads, cups and a purse. Further down the route, I gave Nyx throws to my son’s JCC Nursery school teacher and all her friends. When we passed my synagogue, I saw a sign with my name on it and made a special bag for the Treasurer of Federation and his wife. Twenty minutes later, I threw blinking headbands to my favorite Avodah Corps members. As we drew close to Lee Circle, I found my coworkers cheering and screaming for me and I made sure to hand them special purses and throws. And as we headed down Canal Street to finish our ride, I gave out the rest of my prized possessions to the devoted people who waited out in the rain to cheer us on.
Now that I have finished throwing all my beads, hand decorated pursed and blinking Mardi Gras beads, I have, somewhat sadly, put my glitter and hot glue gun away until next year. Much like one of my Federation events, I now take the down time to evaluate and reflect. What could I have done better? What kind of follow-up should I do to make sure everyone had as an amazing experience as I did? How can I be better organized for next year? How can I share the passion and pride of my secret life as a Goddess of the night?
Like my secret life, my work as a Jewish Communal professional is time consuming and detail orientated, but the rewards of this profession makes up for everything! The praise from my supervisor, a kind thank-you note, knowing I helped someone make an important connection and the triumph of a successful event … whether a Federation Super Sunday or the chance to channel my inner goddess while riding in the Mystic Krewe of Nyx parade as a float lieutenant with my Nyx sisters.
Happy Mardi Gras from a Goddess of the night, a Jewish Professional just like you!
Jody Portnoff Braunig is Director of Planning, Allocations and Community Relations and Partnership2Gether Director at Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans.
Part 1, Goddess of the Night, can be found here.