As a teenager in Baltimore, Samantha Kahan Strakes grappled with her Jewish identity. When she traveled to Israel during the summer after her junior year in high school, Kahan Strakes found her passion for Israel and the Jewish community.
Now, as one of the co-managing senior directors of 4Front, Kahan Strakes, 32, works to support Jewish teenagers in the community. Along with her co-senior director Diana Solomon, Kahan Strakes facilitates programs for teenagers and parents of teenagers on a variety of topics to help them navigate adolescence.
Kahan Strakes and her husband Rob currently live in Reisterstown with their 18-month-old daughter Zoey.
What did you study in university?
I created my own major at UMBC. They have an interdisciplinary studies program at UMBC. You build your own program, take whatever classes you want and then you write a thesis at the end. My degree is in community and diversity in the American Jewish community. I use my degree every day. It is all about the differences and similarities between all different types of people across the Jewish community. I actually wrote my thesis on the Baltimore Jewish community.
Did you always know you wanted to work at an organization like 4Front?
No. Growing up, I did not feel very connected to the Jewish community at all. I felt like there wasn’t really a place for me until my junior year in high school when I was a Diller Teen Fellow. I was part of the first cohort of Diller in Baltimore. It changed my whole life. I felt like I belonged in the community and that there was a space for me. It was my first time in Israel and my first time outside of the U.S. I fell in love with the food, the culture, the people and Israel in general. I felt as if I needed to understand the connection deeper. This was a pivotal moment for me, and it changed the direction of my life. My trip was interrupted by the 2006 war in Israel. We had to come home early. We were in Ashkelon, and it was the first time that bombs had ever reached Ashkelon. I knew that I needed to go back so I took a gap year after high school in Israel. I went on Young Judea Year Course. It was the best year of my life.
Do you see this job as your future?
I don’t know. I know that I’ve learned a lot, and I appreciate the opportunity to be creative every day and to be surrounded by incredible teens. But I don’t know what the future holds. I will always be involved in some way.
How would you describe your Jewish identity now?
It’s interesting because I think about it a lot as I think about how I want to pass on traditions and values to Zoey. For me, it’s always been about values and doing the right thing. But you also have to live the values. It’s great to have tikkun olam as a value, but if you are not actively trying to make the world a better place, then you are missing something.
What are some things you do outside of work?
I work a lot. I have an 18-month-old Zoey, and she is the light of my life. It is a job to be her mom. I became a parent during the height of the pandemic where I was super isolated and didn’t get those normal milestones. I appreciate the extra time that I was able to spend with her. Outside of that, I love escape rooms. We go to escape rooms, but I also have a side business called Escape a Room where I create escape rooms for people, typically with Jewish themes. I also love being outside.