This Spring, Linda Gerard joined the UpStart team as Chief Program and Innovation Officer with the purpose of fueling Jewish innovation across the country. Linda shares her personal journey to UpStart and her enthusiasm for deepening her engagement with our community.
My Jewish identity was shaped by my mother’s escape from the Holocaust, having fled as an 8-year old girl from Nazi Germany at the start of the war. Despite leaving everything she cherished behind, with vivid memories of her synagogue in flames and her grandparents’ home ransacked by the Nazis on Kristallnacht, she was among the “lucky” ones. She arrived late to her Jewish school on that fateful day. A benevolent Christian janitor was the sole figure at the top of a long vacant stairway, frantically waving her away (that image is as clear in her mind today as if it happened yesterday). Her survival was a privilege that instilled in me a sense of responsibility to repair the world, to do for others what the janitor had done for my mother.
This was the impulse that drew me to Stanford Business School in the early days of the corporate social responsibility movement, where pioneers like Ben & Jerry inspired young MBA’s with a vision of business as a tool for social impact. This vision launched my career working across sectors, applying leading edge management, entrepreneurship and innovation tools to transform lives and communities, most recently at Net Impact. UpStart uses many of these same tools to empower innovators to transform their visions into game-changing Jewish social ventures.
Through my marriage and the birth of our two children, I increasingly came to see the ways that Judasim offered a particular richness to the universal values that resonated with me. The values on the wall of our children’s Jewish day school – ometz lev (integrity), chesed (kindness), tzedakah (social justice) – represented universal values I’d been raised with, but with a clear Jewish lens. As our boys learned more about the moral, spiritual, and intellectual gifts of our faith, so did I. My deepening connection spurred me to join Jewish nonprofit boards, such as Brandeis Hillel Day School, Remember Us (an UpStart alum), and the Federation’s Innovation Fund and Executive Grant Making Committees – and to become an UpStart Associate.
As an UpStart Associate, I became more familiar with the inner workings of Jewish institutions and the adaptive challenges they face in an evolving Jewish landscape. As one of the lead designers for UpStart’s Day School Collaboration Network, I partnered with innovators like Carly Mavorah and her team at Magen David Yeshiva High School to open up new pathways for engagement, sustainability, and collaboration (see video). This is an important part of what I do now, supporting path-breaking Jewish intrapreneurs and entrepreneurs creating meaning and purpose in people’s lives. I am thrilled to be joining UpStart in my new role, fusing my passions for innovation, impact, and Jewish life.
Thanks to the janitor and others who intervened on her behalf, my mother survived, But the words of another child who did not continue to fuel my journey: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world (Anne Frank).” I am grateful to partner with the UpStart community to answer this call.