Tidewater women celebrate community, leadership, and joy

by | Dec 1, 2017 | Featured

Janet Mercadante, 2018 Women’s Cabinet chair, welcomed more than 75 participants to the 2018 Lion-Tikva Chai luncheon on Thursday, Nov. 9. In her opening remarks, she thanked each one for their part in the successes of past campaigns. She shared the current state of the campaign and thanked them in advance for the work that they will do again this year to make the campaign and community strong—at home and around the Jewish world.

Amy Levy, past Cabinet chair, honored the four new Sapphire Lions added this year to Tidewater’s “pride.” These are Lions of Judah giving $18,000 or greater to the Federation’s annual campaign. In addition to the Sapphires, the Women’s Division celebrated two new Lions (women donors giving $5,000 or more); two new Tikva Society members (women donors at the $3,600 level); and five new Chai Society donors (women giving $1,800 or greater to the campaign). Then, in what has become an annual tradition during the luncheon, Levy lovingly recalled the community’s Endowed Lions (LOJE) of blessed memory, listing each by name, and closing with that “their memory serve as a blessing and an inspiration to us all.”

The luncheon was a true celebration of the strength of women’s philanthropy and women’s leadership. So it was only fitting that the featured speaker was LCDR Alexa Jenkins, UNS. Jenkins is the first Jewish woman to command a US Navy warship. “[Jenkins’] resume,” said local Lion, Martha Glasser in introducing Jenkins, “reads like a case study in leadership, with her moving from strength to strength along a track of increasing professional responsibilities.” Along with an impressive list of jobs and duty stations, Jenkins graduated from the US Naval Academy in 2004 and years later was married there (in the Miller Chapel). While awaiting what she hopes will be her next sea-going assignment, Jenkins’ current duty station is in northern Virginia where she is serving as Head Officer, Promotion Planner—a position which puts her in charge of the professional futures of many, many Navy officers and sailors.

Jenkins opened her remarks by saying how special it was to be back in Virginia Beach, which has been her duty station several times. She noted that many Lion groups she has visited are far-removed from their military communities, “But not you!” she said. “You ladies live right next door to the largest Naval base in the world! And coming here to speak with you is coming home to one of the most beloved places that the Navy as ever asked me to be stationed.” Jenkins cited many wonderful things she’d experienced while living here: “The best commanding officers—captains who unified crews and made me want nothing else than to see if I could one day do the same… the captain who told me he thought I could one day command a ship… and best of all, here is where I met my husband and fell in love. So thank you,” said Jenkins, “Thank you for giving me the opportunity to be back in the city that makes me feel younger every time I return.”

Jenkins spoke of life aboard a Navy ship. “Being a captain,” she said, “is like being the conductor of an orchestra. You do not need to be able to play all of the instruments, but you do need to be able to set the tempo, blend the sounds together, and make sure that each instrument contributes and adds value. On my ship,” she continued, “my ‘instruments’ are engineering, navigation, weapons, and combat systems. They all need to work together for the ship to meet her mission. I balance requirements, focus efforts, and set priorities, so that we can be a seamless team…sound familiar?” she asked the crowd. “It should, because building Jewish community—like you do every day—is very much the same. It’s why Jewish community works, and why I take these lessons with me in my command of a Navy warship.”

Jenkins spoke about her command experiences, saying that she strives to bring her Jewish values to her leadership— especially the values of family, community, and joy. And joy is what she brought into the Fleder Multipurpose room during the 2018 Lion Tikva Chai lunch. With a combination of stand-up comedy, interactive lessons, and tremendous humility, Jenkins conveyed in relatable terms, what it’s like to be the only woman on a ship, leading a crew of men; what it’s like to meet young sailors who (in some cases) had never actually met a Jewish person before; and what it’s like to take a group of people from different

Amy Zelenka, UJFT women’s campaign director