Keshet Starr, Esq., is the CEO of the Organization for the Resolution of Agunot (ORA), the nonprofit organization addressing the agunah (Jewish divorce refusal) crisis on a case-by-case basis worldwide. At ORA, Keshet oversees advocacy and early intervention initiatives designed to assist individuals seeking a Jewish divorce, along with prevention initiatives to eliminate abuse from the Jewish divorce process. Keshet has written for outlets such as the Times of Israel, The Forward and Haaretz, and frequently presents on issues related to Jewish divorce, domestic abuse, and the intersection between civil and religious divorce processes. Keshet has also authored academic work focused on get refusal and domestic abuse, is a Wexner Field Fellow, and was named one of The Jewish Week‘s 36 Under 36. A graduate of the University of Michigan and the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Keshet lives in central New Jersey with her husband and four young children.
How did you get started with your Jewish community work?
Entirely by accident:) I spent my first law school internship at an agency that had just received a grant to work with Orthodox Jewish survivors of domestic abuse. Being able to address an issue happening in my own community, to my own peers, was an extraordinary opportunity. After that internship, I knew I wanted to do this one day.
If you had a year off and an extra million dollars to tackle a big problem facing the Jewish community - what would it be and why?
Finding a way to talk about moral courage. We naturally shy away from things that are awkward, uncomfortable, or invite dissent. And yet, Judaism repeatedly emphasizes the responsibility we all hold towards one another, especially those on the margins, with less resources or social power. We need to remember how to be brave–because if we do, we will be able to create positive change on so many critical issues.
Tell us about an epic failure or setback you’ve experienced in your work. What did you learn from that experience?
Towards the end of my law school experience, I interned at a large law firm and suffice it to say, it was not a good fit. As a Type A student used to excelling, experiencing a situation where I wasn’t successful was extremely difficult. What I learned from that experience is that sometimes we find out more about who we are from the things that don’t work than the ones that do. After that internship, I realized that I needed a job I was truly passionate about, a culture of creativity and transparency, and work that would leave me room to build a rich personal life, as well. Learning this the hard way helped me eventually get to my current role and build our collaborative and flexible team culture.
What person (or people) has had a particularly big influence on your Jewish communal work?
I’ve been fortunate to learn from many wonderful mentors in the nonprofit field (and am still learning, every day). From a thought leadership perspective, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ writings have deeply inspired me to help create a Jewish community founded on ethical leadership, intellectual curiosity, and moral strength.
What advice would you give to other young people who want to make more of an impact on the Jewish community?
Don’t think you have to work full-time in the Jewish community to make an impact–you don’t! Organizations like ORA can only function effectively with community support, whether it’s a $5 monthly gift or arranging for us to come speak at your synagogue. Find a cause you care about, reach out to those doing the work, and find a small way YOU can make an impact. Most of all? Be brave. Creating impact comes with hard moments and stress, but it’s worth it.
If you had a MyTzedakah portfolio, what would be very important for you to include in it and why?
I love using MyTzedakah, and my profile focuses on advancing issues relating to Jewish women–ORA, of course, but also fertility organizations like Yesh Tikva and I Was Supposed to Have a Baby. As someone who has been through the challenges of infertility, it’s incredibly meaningful to me to be a part of helping others struggling with the same harships today.
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