Alex Shapero, 38, is program director of MyZuzah, an organization with the lofty goal of placing a kosher, fair-trade mezuzah on the doorpost of every Jewish home in the world.
Among its ongoing partnerships, MyZuzah is working on offering mezuzahs through local Baltimore organizations like CHANA and Jewish Community Services as well.
The native of Bangor, Maine, holds master’s degrees in Hebrew and Judaic studies, as well as public and nonprofit management from New York University. He has advised nonprofit organizations on strategy, research and fundraising.
A member of Kesher Israel in Washington, D.C., Shapero lives in the Columbia Heights neighborhood with his wife, Orly, and their sons: Jake, 4, and Etan, 1.
What do you love about mezuzahs?
Even though I haven’t always been a mezuzah professional, I’ve always loved mezuzahs for the mark they make on a home.
I grew up with a standard carved Jerusalem stone case on the front door, but in my travels, I’ve enjoyed picking up more as gifts and for my doorways. I’m a sucker for Gary Rosenthal pieces. MyZuzah actually commissioned him to make a custom series for us.
Through my work, I’ve discovered even more cool options, like one made from an old bourbon barrel stave by the Bourbon Rabbi [Rabbi Chaim Litvin]. As Gary Rosenthal himself has said, “Thank God, you need more than one mezuzah!”
Growing up in Maine, what is your favorite Jewish childhood memory?
I’ll say it is Kiddish at the synagogue after Shabbat-morning services. The knishes and chicken wings made them the most robust Kiddishes I’ve ever experienced. You would be hard-pressed to find a good match anywhere.
What is your proudest accomplishment?
I’m the father of two young boys, and with my wife, we’re trying to raise them as good people and good Jews.
Professionally, I’ll say that it is probably helping some of the organizations where I have worked get dug out of some pretty deep holes. I came in when they were having some serious challenges and was able to rebuild reputations and relationships, and position organizations for much greater success than before.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?
I’ve learned that as optimistic and hopeful as we all can be, some things in people we actually can’t change. So it’s important to be able to figure out how we can work around obstacles as well as trying to overcome them.
Who is your hero?
I try not to do too much idol worship because every person has some idealized aspects, but they’re also human and fallible. So I really try to take the best I can from all sorts of different people and cobble together the best parts.
What motivates you to work hard?
Where I grew up, being part of the community was very much defined as part of my identity.
This MyZuzah project is really about helping people see how they fit into the Jewish community at large; where they can go with that and what they can give; and what they can build into the future. Helping people realize that, and develop and grow, is really what makes me get up and jump into the work every day.
Ellen Braunstein is a freelance writer.