Bonnie and Joel Shelkrot moved to the North Shore in 1969 when Joel accepted a position as an internist/nephrologist in Beverly. Joel was the first nephrologist on the North Shore and opened the first dialysis unit, which was located at the Beverly Hospital. They lived in Danvers for 16 years and then moved to Magnolia 35 years ago when their daughters were in college. Their daughter Lisa, an attorney, and husband Tim live in Burlington, Vt. They are the parents of college students Oscar, at Carlton College in Minnesota, and Ruby, at Wesleyan University. Their daughter Susan lives in Cambridge with her son Leo, 16, and her husband Brian. Susan is an innovation specialist at Forrester Research.
Tell us about your background and why you became involved in the Jewish community.
Joel and I both grew up in traditional Conservative Jewish families with grandparents and relatives that were a part of every holiday celebration. Once it became clear that we never would go back to live in Pittsburgh where we both grew up, we decided that if we wanted our daughters to have connections to a Jewish world, we would have to be proactive. We joined the temple in Beverly and sent our daughters to Hebrew day school and Camp Pembroke. Joel and I both became involved in the Federation.
You’ve been involved in your synagogue, Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly. What do you love about the temple?
When we moved to Danvers we wanted to have a place to go for the holidays. Beverly seemed the logical choice as there was no temple in Danvers. We wanted a Conservative congregation. Joel would be starting a practice there. It was a perfect decision. We immediately felt welcome and made many friends in those first few months. To this day, that group of friends remain among our very closest and became a replacement for our distant family.
You were one of the founders of the Jewish Journal. How did its creation come about?
We went on a Federation sponsored family retreat held at a Young Judea camp in Maine. While the children did arts and crafts projects, the adults pondered how to strengthen and connect our very spread-out Jewish community on the North Shore. Our conclusion was the vehicle to connect Jewish families would be a newspaper delivered to every home at no cost. In the early years of the Journal, I wrote an op-ed column called “A Delicate Balance” which focused on current topics that tried to give both perspectives of an issue.
You’re a past president of Hillel. Why is a Hebrew day school so important for a community?
My education, which prepared me for work as a secondary English/History teacher, foreshadowed my lifelong interest in education and politics. The common thread of my professional and volunteer positions mirrored those interests. The first four years after college, I was a classroom teacher. When our daughters were at Hillel, it seemed only natural for me to become involved. When we first came to the school, there were around 75 students and it was housed in a building known as “The Mansion.” Even then, it had the most interesting and creative curriculum complete with an early version of computers. I am convinced that an integrated Jewish/secular curriculum continues to have unlimited possibilities to engage and stimulate students. Strong and desirable Jewish communities require some basic components: temples, a JCC, and educational institutions such as a day school.
You have held many leadership positions in the Jewish and secular world. Why did you get involved?
In Danvers, I was the president of the local League of Women Voters chapter and from there moved onto the state board for 10 years where I was responsible for statewide studies on the United Nations, the American presidency, and legalized casino gambling. The last two years I was the vice president for local board management and training.
During that decade, I was a co-president at Temple B’nai Abraham, president and chairman of the school committee at Hillel, and treasurer of the Federation. For many years I represented the North Shore on the Bureau of Jewish Education Board. An appointment to serve on a regional committee exploring health care services for the elderly made way for my next career – training volunteers and running a demonstration project to provide lifeline service for frail elders. Chairing the development position at Hillel that secured the funds to construct the building on Community Road was the catalyst to my job at the Anti-Defamation League, where I became a development officer.
Why get involved? Each of these activities resulted in a treasure trove of lifetime friendships while at the same time I was learning, leading, and working on projects that made a difference.
You worked at ADL for 10 years when Lenny Zakim was its director. What was it like to work there in those years?
Working at the ADL with Lenny Zakim was exciting, fulfilling and hard work. It took a whole team of people to keep up with Lenny to transform his amazing and creative ideas into reality. His enthusiasm for his projects did what I called “Zakimize” an army of followers. He sought out the levers of power in politics and industry to make his dreams reality. No person ever understood better than he the art of building coalitions to achieve his goals to educate and legislate to protect civil rights and combat anti-Semitism. As the ultimate bridge builder, he would have loved the idea of a bridge being named in his honor. Many of the programs he designed continue to be not only a part of the New England Regional office but are in force throughout the country. Since ending my employment in 1997, I have been a member of the Regional Board as well as a member of the North Shore Regional Advisory Committee.
What organizations are you currently involved with?
Presently, I am a part of the management group that oversees the Jewish Women’s Endowment Fund and have spent some time with the Jewish Teen Initiative. At the Beverly temple, where we have been members for 50 years, I serve on the newly formed Rabbi’s Advisory Committee. I always appreciated those whom I considered my mentors on my journey and I am happy to pass along a bit of accumulated wisdom from my almost five decades of experience in community life. Those organizations with a focus on the future of our community speak most compellingly to me at this time. We appreciated the community we found when we came here and we feel a responsibility to leave a Jewish world for future generations.
Being involved seems to be a family trait. Tell us about Joel’s positions.
At the same time that I was going to all those meetings, Joel had a few extracurricular activities of his own. He was a board member of the Blue Shield of Massachusetts and president of the Massachusetts Society of Internal Medicine. At Beverly Hospital, he was chair of the Internal Medicine Department, president of the medical staff, director of the dialysis unit and a member of the Hospital Board of Directors. For many years, he was the managing partner of his group practice.
What do you and Joel do when you’re not going to meetings?
On the less serious side, ours was always a skiing family that included days on the slopes with our children and then our grandchildren. Travel always played a big part of our lives, and we can claim visits to all seven continents and many islands as well. Wherever we travel, we generally include visits to historic synagogues and Jewish museums. Our most recent trip was to Puliga, Italy, where we toured a recently-opened Jewish Museum in Lecce that documents Jewish life in southern Italy in the Middle Ages. Talk about leaving a footprint!