Laura Conrad Mandel ’96 is the newly appointed executive director of the New Center for Arts and Culture, a non-profit organization that explores and promotes Jewish culture in the Boston area through innovative artistic programming. Laura has worked for Jewish organizations including Hillel and Hadassah since graduating from Carnegie Mellon University in 2004. Laura also runs her own custom Judaica business. She lives in Brookline, MA and was recognized as a Jewish leader in Boston with a 2013 Chai in the Hub Combined Jewish Philanthropies Young Leadership Award.
Congratulations on your new job, Laura! Tell us a little about what the New Center does: The New Center explores the Jewish imagination through an array of arts. From cooking classes with chefs, to conversations with authors and artists, to performances, the New Center explores universal themes through a Jewish lens.
Last year you organized a Hanukkah event at the Museum of Fine Arts that drew 2,300 attendees! What was that experience like?
It was surreal! For as long as I can remember, I have been energized by the intersection of art and Judaism, and this was the ultimate. People had tears in their eyes hearing Hanukkah blessings in the middle of the MFA, and the feedback from the crowd motivated my team and me to keep pushing for an even grander event this year. This was really a dream come true for me!
Your job combines your interests in the arts and in Judaism. How did your experience at Schechter nurture these two passions?
I was the kid who was always in the art room. Joy Chertow was one of the most influential teachers in my life. She taught me so much of what I know – Hebrew and English calligraphy, the Jewish tradition of paper cutting, silk painting on tallitot and so much more – all bringing the beauty of Jewish tradition and innovation into art forms that resonated with me. In addition to working at the New Center by day, and creating custom Judaica on the side, I also teach paper cutting classes on a fairly regular basis, and think of Joy every time!
Schechter put a Jewish frame around everything for me, and taught me the importance of Jewish values and thought in everything else.
Any other teachers you remember as particularly influential?
Aside from Joy Chertow, I always thank Joanne Baker for teaching me Greek and Latin roots and David Wolf for being such an incredible teacher and inspiration. Without them, I would not be where I am today.
How about your leadership skills?
When I got to college, I realized the true value of Schechter in the way I relate to others, in the value of community and in bringing this to others. Schechter has an amazing way of infusing community, leadership, and tikkun olam into everything and it has influenced all that I do.