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I Want to Change the World of Philanthropy

Nora Greenstein

  • Practice Method:
    Management of Human Services
  • Field Placement:
    The William Davidson Foundation
  • Scholarship:
    Rita Specter Gelman Scholarship

Nora Greenstein studied psychology as an undergrad at the University of Michigan, then went west to work for Hillel at the University of Southern California. “I wanted to work with people interpersonally,” she says. “I helped students manage their academic and personal lives, and I became aware of all the systems at play. It was not just about our conversations but the larger picture. I realized that the best way to help them would be social work.”

Two episodes in particular drove that realization. On a trip abroad with students, Nora had to intervene in a suicide attempt. “I helped the student in the moment,” she says, “but I knew I needed to learn more.” Another opportunity to help was more everyday. “I was in my office,” Nora recalls, “and students were coming in, one after another. One was drowning in school work. Another was struggling with disclosing an eating disorder. Another asked, ‘Where can I go for counseling, because the university is not helpful?’ I knew I needed a degree in social work to help me serve my own population better.”

Why did Nora decide to return to the University of Michigan? “The Jewish Communal Leadership Program (JCLP) stood out to me,” she says. “I have always been passionate about working in Jewish communities and I wanted to strengthen that piece of my identity. Social work theory says that our personal and professional identities come into play. Michigan is the top social work school in the country, so it was a no-brainer. Who wouldn’t want to come here, given the faculty and resources? But I would not have come if I had not been able to grow as a Jewish community professional.”

Nora knew it was time for her MSW, but she wasn’t sure she could manage it financially. “The Rita Specter Gelman Scholarship allowed me to attend this school that is so well regarded,” she says, “I knew that the School had many resources and that I would be able to work toward my long-term goals.  At the UM School of Social Work, I can dive into many different courses and get all sides of what social work can be — this is unique to the program at U-M — and I have an extraordinary field placement at The William Davidson Foundation, a family foundation in Birmingham, Michigan.”

Nora and her JCLP cohort have met many important figures in the Jewish world, including Rabbi Becky Silverstein; Holocaust survivor and activist Irene Butter; Sarah Hurwitz, former speechwriter for Michelle Obama; leaders at the general assembly conference of the Jewish Federations of North America; and speakers at the School of Social Work’s recent Jewish Feminisms conference. “The access I’ve been able to get through the school has been unimaginable,” Nora says. “I couldn’t have fathomed that I would be at the table with so many thought-provoking leaders in the Jewish community.”

As for the future, Nora says, “I am very interested in ethical foundation work — funders creating safe, respectful, equitable relationships with grantees — and in corporate social responsibility, helping organizations and people with money to do significant good.”

“There are so many opportunities for social workers, Nora says, beaming. “The Gelman Scholarship helped me see that I don’t have to have just one path. Having the freedom to explore options makes me a stronger professional. There are so many ways I can use social work and be impactful in my personal and professional life.”

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