2016-10-26 / Voice at the Shore

Jewish community service gives local native a new life direction

By ELLEN WEISMAN STRENGER
Voice shore editor


Doug Winkelstein, left, and Michael Oxman, former president of the Chicago Federation’s Young Leadership Division, on the LGBTQ mission to Israel last spring. Doug Winkelstein, left, and Michael Oxman, former president of the Chicago Federation’s Young Leadership Division, on the LGBTQ mission to Israel last spring. Doug Winkelstein, a longtime EHT middle school teacher and director of the Margate Players theater group, is living proof that getting involved in the Jewish community can be a positive, life-changing experience.

Last year, the 33-year-old local native started the Jewish Federation’s LGBTQ (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/-questioning) committee. He also began teaching at Kulanu, went on an LGBTQ mission to Israel, and was set to become chair of the Federation’s Young Leadership Division this year.

But not anymore. Winkelstein liked working with the Jewish community so much that he began looking into doing it professionally. As it turned out, he didn’t need to look for long. He is now the Senior Regional Director of the Greater Midwest Region of BBYO.

After living in Atlantic County his entire life, Winkelstein moved to Chicago, home of the Midwest BBYO office, in August. “It was hard to leave because I love my school [Fernwood Middle School] and I love the area,” he said.

Winkelstein credits his recent Jewish involvement with widening his horizons and giving him a new life direction. “I guess it reconnected me with my Jewish roots. It made me realize that I could continue doing what I loved—working with younger people and the community—but that I could do it through a Jewish Lens.”

The new BBYO position draws on his long experience working with teens as well as his newfound interest in the Jewish community. He is now working with boards of teens throughout the Chicago metropolitan area, doing a lot of programming, including regional conventions and summer programs. He also does “a little bit of fundraising” and provides support for teens doing volunteer work and community outreach.

Truth be told, Winkelstein had thought about making a change for several years. He wanted to know what it was like to live in a bigger city and to work outside the world of public education, where he’d worked for most of his early adult life.

The tipping point for him was attending the LGBTQ mission to Israel last spring. “There were a lot of people on the mission working in the Jewish nonprofit world, and I had a lot of conversations with them about what they did and how meaningful it was. The trip inspired me to start looking for these kinds of jobs.”

After that, it didn’t take long. Upon his return, he began searching online and found the BBYO job. He applied, did an online interview and was then invited to Chicago for in-person interviews with the teens and adults he now works with. “It happened much quicker than I thought it would,” he said.

Fortunately, Winkelstein met several people from the Chicago area on the LGBTQ mission, which has made the move easier. Still, leaving South Jersey behind has been hard—and leaving his students on such short notice has been the hardest. “I’ve been getting so many messages from them, many that made me cry,” he said.

But he’s not saying good-bye for good. “New Jersey will always be my home. I’m proud of what I’ve done here and to be from here. I’ll be back.” 

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