8 Questions with Meredith Woocher
In “8 Questions With…,” we share a brief Q&A with a staff member. In this edition, we hear from Meredith Woocher, Senior Project Leader, who joined the Rosov Consulting team in 2018, bringing a wealth of knowledge about nearly every sphere of Jewish education and engagement across the lifespan.
1. What’s your area(s) of expertise and how has it been beneficial and led to success in your work?
My area of greatest expertise and enjoyment is the realm of words, otherwise known as qualitative research, analysis, and writing. I love the process of finding the story in a project, boiling down complex and messy realities into a narrative that will help a client better understand the “why” and “how” of what they do. I love when the person I’m interviewing shares a compelling thought, and I suddenly realize that it’s the missing puzzle piece I’ve been searching for. I love the challenge of a blank page – maybe not in the moment, but once it’s filled with words that feel expressive and satisfying. I love grasping at half-formed thoughts and distant ideas and coaxing and nurturing them until they cohere into the story I want to tell.
2. What experiences have led you into your current career path?
The best day of my career was the day I learned that I was going to lose my job because the agency I worked for was shutting down. Not that I was celebrating at the time – far from it. But without that not-so-gentle push, I would never have been brave enough to leave the security of an organization and become an independent evaluation consultant. The next five years were more valuable and satisfying professionally than I could have imagined, and the ideal foundation for my next leap into the even more challenging and fulfilling role I have today at Rosov Consulting.
3. What do you like learning about most through your work?
Studying the Jewish community through the perspectives of our many projects can sometimes feel like weaving a giant tapestry. This thread is a teen discovering previously unknown leadership skills through an immersive service learning trip. That one is an educator in a JCC contemplating how to make his preschool classroom a “sacred space” for children and families. Here is a mid-20’s urbanite attending her first Shabbat dinner, feeling equally distanced and intrigued by the unfamiliar rituals. Her thread is interwoven with that of her hosts, former Ramah-niks in their early 30’s who have opened up their home to share their love of Shabbat. Over here is a suburban synagogue member, wondering how (and even whether) she wants to stay connected to her congregation now that her youngest child’s Bar Mitzvah is over. And on and on.
All of them are wrestling (consciously or implicitly) with the same questions: What is this 5,000+ year-old tradition that I’ve been born into or chosen to join? How can I find within it meaning, inspiration, connections, and guidance? And how might I add my own patterns and hues to a tapestry that stretches back for generations?
4. What do you like most about working at Rosov Consulting?
Constantly learning from all my wise colleagues; opportunities with every project to expand my skills and mind; and the certainty that I will laugh at least once (and usually more) each day at something posted on our Slack workspace or shared in a staff meeting.
5. What are some challenges of your work?
Juggling multiple projects and deadlines and making sure that nothing falls through the cracks; helping clients process findings that might not be what they were hoping for, though fortunately they are more often than not very satisfied with what we present to them; and traveling (which is particularly challenging for my dog, who misses me terribly when I’m away).
6. What have been the biggest changes in the field and/or your work specifically since you started?
1) The proliferation of the “Jewish innovation sector,” which has not only birthed new organizations offering fresh pathways to Jewish connection and engagement, but challenged many “legacy institutions” to reinvent themselves, lest they fall into irrelevance. 2) The emergence of language such as “thriving” and “wellness” to describe the goals of Jewish education, which has in turn raised awareness of how Judaism might meaningfully address learners’ social-emotional needs. 3) The increasingly complex and difficult relationship that American Jews, especially younger generations, have with Israel, and the challenges this poses given that Israel trips have long been a critical leg of the tripod of impactful experiential learning (alongside Jewish camps and youth groups).
7. How do you think your job and/or the field might change in the next 10 years?
When I think about life a decade from now, the two things that come first to mind – technological development (particularly artificial intelligence) and climate change – are not specifically about my job or field, yet they loom so large that I can’t imagine they won’t have a significant impact on both. They will change the ways that people understand what it is to be human; how to find meaning and hope when the future is increasingly precarious; with whom, or what, we connect and build relationships; and what we wish to and will be able to pass on to our children and grandchildren. The Jewish world will have to find ways of responding to these profound shifts and dislocations, and we will tell the stories of how it is doing so.
8. What do you think is essential reading to excel in your field?
To answer this question I had to change it a bit, so here is some valuable reading that has helped me grow professionally. When I first started learning about evaluation research, I found the work of Michael Quinn Patton – particularly Utilization-Focused Evaluation and Developmental Evaluation – provided a clear and effective roadmap of excellent tools and approaches. The Jew Within by Arnold Eisen and Steven Cohen, though published almost two decades ago, offers a still highly relevant and insightful exploration of the forces of personalism and universalism in contemporary Jewish life, forces which have only deepened in the past 20 years. My favorite book on the craft of writing is Bird by Bird, Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott. She writes, “There is ecstasy in paying attention… Anyone who wants to can be surprised by the beauty or pain of the world, of the human mind and heart, and can try to capture just that – the details, the nuance, what is. If you start to look around, you will start to see.”