Staying calm in a crisis.
Mike Witman doesn’t like to use the word “I.”
During Hurricane Sandy, when the North Shore of Long Island was plunged into darkness, Witman, who is director of education at Temple Beth-El of Great Neck, had a vision: the Temple would serve as a shelter, office building and day care for families who were without power.
“I have to say, ‘We,’” he said, remembering. “It was the Temple Beth-El community. Everyone came together.”
He began by speaking with clergy and assessing the community’s needs. Then he organized food and clothing drives, and supervised the youth group kids in making a concerted effort to reach every elderly congregant.
Because of the lack of power and phone service, his tech-savvy was invaluable. “Everyone went to him,” said Jodi Smith, coordinator of communications and administration for the Temple. “He’s a guru.”
“People were without power for 11, 12 days,” recalled another staffer. “For at least a week, he had the whole building utilized. We called it, ‘Sandy-Palooza.’ He did this with the rabbis’ blessings. We all did what we could but he got everyone organized.”
Even when not in crisis mode, Witman is a natural leader, according to his co-workers.
Passionate about bringing experiential learning to the K-12 Hebrew School, he introduced Camp TBE two years ago with help from UJA-Federation of New York. TBE turns Hebrew school into a “summer camp” for the last four weeks of the year. Kids get to choose how to experience their “Jewish selves” — even if that means playing basketball using the Hebrew words for “pass” and “shoot.”
School of rock: As a boy, Witman dreamed of being a rock star. A drummer who studied music as well as Judaic studies at the University of Hartford, he manages to unite his interests in his current job. He plays in a band, “Rabbi and the Popes,” and has introduced a program called “Shul of Rock” so kids can play the drums during Hebrew school services.