When asked about his proudest accomplishments as the executive director of Chizuk Amuno Congregation and Schools, Lee Sherman pointed to how the synagogue has managed to weather the pandemic.
“Our response to this global pandemic, and our ability to not just continue to survive in doing what we did, but to actually thrive and to bring more people in to the work that we were doing, in terms of education and religious services and cultural events, has been really rewarding,” said Sherman, 68. “And really when you walk around here in the morning, … and you see hundreds and hundreds of students who are able to learn in this environment, even with masks on, and do it safely, that’s been tremendously rewarding.”
A longtime veteran of the nonprofit world, Sherman originally was only supposed to be Chizuk Amuno’s interim executive director for less than a year. But when the pandemic struck in 2020, he stuck with the shul to provide the leadership it needed.
Sherman currently lives in Baltimore with his wife, Nancy. They have two children, Jordan, 31, and Josh, 30.
Born in Baltimore, Sherman has a strong family history at Chizuk Amuno. Sherman himself was attending Hebrew school at Chizuk Amuno by the age of 5 or 6.
At the time, the modern-day Chizuk Amuno building was still under construction, so until first grade Sherman attended classes at a nearby residential building that the synagogue was using.
When he was 10, Sherman’s family moved to Richmond, Va. He later enrolled at the University of Virginia, where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in English. In 1984, he also received a law degree from the College of William & Mary’s law school.
After graduation, Sherman returned to Baltimore to practice law at the firm Weinberg and Green, he said. Focusing on civil litigation, he worked at the firm for seven years, before leaving to start a sports memorabilia business in 1991 with a couple of partners. Called American Baseball Classics, the company sold everything from sports apparel and baseball cards to autographed balls, bats and photos.
“I’ve always been a sports fan and a baseball fan,” Sherman explained. “And we thought it was a good opportunity to provide really some sports memorabilia to people who were situated similarly to what we were at the time, which was professionals who wanted to attach themselves to their favorite sports teams and players.”
Sherman stayed with the business for 10 years, until he wanted to fuse his professional life with his volunteer work, which included being on the boards of different nonprofit organizations. He took a new job with Catholic Charities of Central Maryland as the director of the Cherry Hill town center, which is owned by Catholic Charities, he said. Later, he became their director of strategic initiatives.
From there, in 2009, Sherman moved on to a CEO position at the Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies, today called the Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies. While there, he was part of a team working to improve and increase services to Holocaust survivors, primarily in the U.S. and Canada. He recalled working closely with members of the Obama administration, personally meeting with President Barack Obama and then-Vice President Joe Biden, and testifying before a Senate committee. His work led to increased funds to help survivors stay in their homes longer, such as with the support of visiting aides and special equipment.
“It’s important for anyone aging to stay in their home as long as possible,” Sherman said. “For Holocaust survivors, even more so, because of their fear of institutions.”
In 2019, before Sherman retired from his CEO position at the National Human Services Assembly, Chizuk Amuno’s executive director at the time announced he was leaving. The shul’s leadership approached Sherman about serving as their interim executive director for around six months. Sherman had been a member of the synagogue for decades, and had previously served on their board of directors. The arrival of the pandemic, however, prolonged his stay to the end of 2021. A search process is currently underway for a new executive director.
Sherman’s first couple of months as executive director entailed learning how the synagogue conducted its business while leading a new budgeting process, he said. The decades that Sherman had spent as a Chizuk Amuno member gave him a familiarity with the shul, its school and its staff, which went a long way toward smoothing out the learning curve as executive director.
When asked how Chizuk Amuno stands out from other synagogues, Sherman noted its focus on education and its affiliated schools, such as the Krieger Schechter Day School, the Goldsmith Early Childhood Center and the Rosenbloom Religious School.
“The continuum of educational opportunities here at Chizuk Amuno really does distinguish it from any other synagogue that I know of,” Sherman said.
Sherman also highlighted how the synagogue creates experiences within a Jewish context that run the gamut from the spiritual to the cultural, educational, social and social justice-oriented.