Let’s talk about mentors — those people who teach you something, or guide you with advice because they are an expert or have more knowledge on a topic. Those people who have “been there, done that, seen that,” and want to share.
I could tell you about the senior partner in the first law firm I worked in who guided me as a young attorney. He was welcoming and smart as he tried to show me how to handle being the first woman in the firm while at the same time learning how to be a lawyer. I could tell you about the women who guided me in my run for the presidency of the national organization I volunteer for — they were great. Those were “singular purpose” mentors for me. They were very important at the time and they were definitely appreciated.
But instead, I want to speak with you about mentors who made and continue to make indelible imprints on me and my life. I’m going to start with my youngest mentors — my children who now are adults. Aaron is an attorney and Jessica is a family practice physician. But for a long time, they have been mentors to me. Though they are 26 and 29 years my junior, sometimes they are the experts, I am the protégée.
If a mentor is someone who guides and gives advice to help further your goals, then my kids are mentors of my goal to live a full life, and to always try new things, even if the explorations are small and some may think insignificant. They mentor my psyche to grow in other directions. Who knew about sous vide cooking, or details about the different parts of New York to explore?
I was always an uptown girl and a Broadway fan. Recently, Aaron took my husband Alex, myself and Jessica to an out-of-the way art exhibit of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat at the Brant Foundation in the East Village. It wasn’t only the art and the building that were great, but also the crowd that flocked to the exhibit was not my usual Guggenheim crowd. I loved it.
Jess took me way off-Broadway to the Daryl Roth Theatre for “Gloria, A Life” in a small theatre with a conversation about women’s rights between the audience and the cast after the show. I loved it. Their mentoring expanded my horizons. “Mom, try something different”, they would say. And the best part is going through the experience with them by my side. They mentor my life with this “newness” in their perspective and advice.
Working for Hadassah, “moving forward” has always been my mantra. Every time I was going to accept a higher Hadassah position or run for a higher office, my children, along with my husband, were my greatest supporters. Telling myself to “move into the future, try something new” really helped solidify these decisions. Their encouragement to expand my horizons is priceless to me.
My most important mentors were, and always will be, my parents, Alyce and Sid Unger, of blessed memory. They were experts in living a good, family-oriented life with Jewish values and traditions, with honesty and love, and righteousness. They taught me the value of a strong work ethic regardless of the job. They were the experts that I looked to — and in so many ways, they are still the experts I look to — when I make our house into a home, when I prepare, cook and bake for the holidays, when I try to bait a fishing pole, when I speak/deal with people, when I hold our new grandson and love him with all my heart. These represent only the tiniest part of what they taught me and mentored me in. Life experiences can affect you. People you meet along the way certainly impact and touch you. But for me, whenever I do the things my parents taught me decades ago, when I do them in the present year, I am mentored anew.
My father was a graduate of Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy where the motto is “Acta non verba” – “deeds, not words”. I could tell you about how he taught me to anchor our boat, or how he taught me how to tie up when we docked so that the boat was secure. I wonder if he realized the metaphors in those lessons – by deeds of the teaching, rather than by words – he mentored me in being an anchor for our family, a place of secure holding that could be trusted.
My mom used to tell me, ”Read one page ahead, Frieda. Always go a little further than your teachers tell you to in your assignment.” That is perhaps one of my greatest lessons from mom, and is one I still practice in my daily life. “Read one page ahead” to me means make sure you are prepared, think out of the box, be prepared and ready. And I saw that in my mother constantly. Mom did not do “just enough” in anything. Holiday preparation was above and beyond; she made everything that we did important, exciting, happy and fun. She showed me how infectious the joy of a mom could be on her family.
As a Hadassah Nassau Region President, I’ve learned to read ahead, I’ve learned to think outside the box and get outside my comfort zone. To increase membership, I helped put on a Hadassah Health Luncheon, which had never been attempted before in the Region, with 400 women in attendance and a celebrity headliner at a luxurious venue. Thanks to our hardworking volunteers, that event has continued in the Region for more than a decade after my presidency.
Mentorship is all about creating a relationship, learning, and gathering the necessary tools to do a job. It’s incumbent upon us to live the best life we can. All of my mentors have given me and continue to give to me the tools that I need to tackle whatever life has in store for me.
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