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Hanukkah Tikkun Olam

Mensch – Shirley Pakdaman


Each issue of Jliving features a Mensch who is making a difference in our community. From volunteering of time, money or amplifying a need, there are many individuals who are taking action to improve our world. We are looking for menshes among us and if you know someone who deserves mention, please email us at info@jliving and tell us about your Mensch. 

LA-based Clinical Psychologist Dr. Shirley Pakdaman works in private practice, where she specializes in helping people heal from depression, anxiety, trauma, and insomnia and is also a wellbeing consultant for top law firms. She has a special passion for helping people live more genuine, meaningful, and healthy lives. 

While Pakdaman has always been peripherally involved in Jewish life, through attending events and supporting friends’ philanthropic organizations, after graduate school, she felt it was time to go back to giving back. 

In 2017 Pakdaman joined The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles (JFedLA)’s Community Leadership Institute, which is a 15-month program, where there are monthly sessions with speakers, as well as workshops, designed to help young Jewish professionals discover their personal philanthropy values, while upleveling their fundraising, governance, and leadership skills. 

The goal is to find an organization that you’re really passionate about, and then contribute. Pakdaman learned so much about Federation through doing the program, she decided that’s the organization that held her heart. 

Since completing CLI, she has co-chaired one of their cohorts and been a member of the Emerging Philanthropists Committee and the Women’s Philanthropy Committee. 

“I look forward to taking on more leadership roles at JFedLA in the future,” Pakdaman says. 

What drives you to give to your chosen charities? Is there a criteria or mission that resonates with you? How so? 

Los Angeles is my home, and the part of Federation’s mission that resonates with me is that our Federation’s work touches every Jewish life in Los Angeles and beyond. 

Whether it’s through making sure our institutions are safe through the Community Security Initiative, creating an active and vibrant young adult community through the NuRoots initiative, caring for Jews in need of assistance or in times of crisis, engaging the community through professional networks, and ensuring the Jewish future with children’s programming and scholarships for day school and summer camp, the Federation touches every Jewish life in some way. The Federation is a home base for our community, not only through their own programs, but through strategic partnerships with numerous other impactful nonprofits in Los Angeles and beyond. These programs have their own important missions to support Jewish and non-Jewish Angelenos. 

This fall I traveled to Israel with Federation’s Community Leadership Institute and met with representatives from JFedLA’s Israel office and visited key partner organizations there. One main focus of JFedLA in Israel is closing socioeconomic gaps by providing young Israelis with pathways to quality higher education. We met teens from disadvantaged backgrounds who are participating in the Unistream program, where they gain business and tech skills, network with others, and strengthen their dreams as a springboard to a better future. I was inspired by the depth and intellect of the children who shared their award-winning short stories at the Israel Center for Educational Innovation (ICEI), a literacy program in failing elementary schools. I learned that the ICEI has amazingly broken the correlation between low socioeconomic status and low academic achievement. 

We also visited programs that integrate new immigrants from Russia, Ukraine, and Ethiopia into the Israeli workforce to ensure their long-term success in Israeli society. LA Federation has a partnership with IT Works, a non-profit that provides holistic services to new immigrants from the former Soviet Union with skills and language training, cultural coaching, job placement and social work services. Through Tech Career, young Ethiopian Israelis learn the skills they need to succeed in Israel’s tech sector. The reverberations of their success is wide as it impacts their families, creates role models in the community, and provides for a stable future. 

When was the first time you participated in Tzedakah?

Giving is a beautiful Jewish value and I have memories of getting money from my parents to put in the tzedakah box at my Jewish preschool. I feel very proud that in our community giving is instilled as a regular, recurring action at such a young age.

Can you share your first significant donation, whether it was by donating your time or financially?

I started making more significant donations to Federation once I got involved in CLI and developed a deeper sense of my values, as a giver and part of the community. The program expanded my mindset about the kind of impact that I can make and solidified the part of me that identifies as a giver. 

What donation do you believe had the most impact?

During the early stages of the pandemic, I was struck by people suddenly losing work due to shutdowns, and many are one paycheck away from being hungry. One of the causes I feel passionately about is access to food. I thought about my great grandmother in Iran who lived through a famine. She had access to more food than most and was known to have her children distribute food to the neighborhood kids before they ate themselves. I was named after her and have been inspired by this story throughout my life. I felt moved to donate and volunteer my time when I could at SOVA food pantry, filling carts of groceries to help nourish families in my community.

How has philanthropy enriched your life?

I’m part of a community of givers, who have become some of my best friends. We inspire each other to do more and give more. We celebrate life together and support each other in hard times. It’s really beautiful. Participating in philanthropy also gives me hope, it’s an opportunity to be a part of the solution to painful and pressing problems. 

What message do you have for others who say they don’t have the time or money to donate? What are simple ways anyone can participate in tikkun olam? 

The work of tikkun olam – repairing the world – may seem too much to bear. But as it says in Pirkei Avot, “It is not incumbent upon you to finish the task, but you are not free to absolve yourself from it” either. 

Every person’s philanthropic journey will be dynamic and ever-changing, but please never stop doing good things, no matter how big or small you may believe them to be in the present moment. Remember that in giving, you are not on your own. Don’t think about how your giving compares to others. Just give in a way which is authentic to your values and makes you feel great. When you feel great about it, you’re likely to continue. 

Sometimes it will be serving on a board or committee of a non-profit. In that case, talk to the amazing non-profit professionals, such as those at the Federation, to get guidance on pursuing a mission that is meaningful to you. 

At times, it may mean attending, hosting, or planning community events or fundraisers. Sometimes giving is bringing light and joy into the world by inviting guests for shabbat and holidays. Sometimes it will look like simply donating and stretching yourself to donate more than before if you can, because there is kedusha (holiness) in using your resources to support good work and justice. 

Who inspires you? 

The collective history of the Jewish people inspires me. We have a rich history of strength, resilience, faith, and innovation. We never give up hope; it’s in our DNA. 

What is your favorite Jewish meal?

It’s a tie. Gondi abgoosht with tahdig (crispy rice). It’s a Persian Jewish dish that kind of looks like matzah ball and chicken soup. That, and latkes. 

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