In October, Carly Zimmerman won the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Blanche Wolfe Kohn Award for young leadership. The 35-year-old Center City resident is a Federation board member, a vice chair of its women’s philanthropy division and the chair of Women of Vision, which gives grants to organizations that help women and girls.
At the time, Zimmerman told the Jewish Exponent that she did this work for her young daughter, Norah.
“If I can leave the world better for her, that will make it all worth it,” she said.
Zimmerman’s daughter is already noticing her effort. The young girl is experiencing it, talking about it and even doing a school project on it.
“I think she does see it,” Zimmerman said. “My husband Michael (Zimmerman) and I try really hard to talk about the work that we do in our community with her.”
At the end of the summer last year, the family helped the Jewish Relief Agency deliver meals to city residents in need. The Zimmermans wanted to bring their daughter along. Norah was nervous before the event.
“I told her we’d be going to people’s doors, maybe meeting them, saying hi,” Carly Zimmerman said.
But as they knocked on door after door, people were happy to see a 6-year-old delivering food. About two weeks later, Norah had to draw a picture for a Rosh Hashanah project at an after-school program. She sketched a family giving away boxes of food to people at their doors.
“That was one of my most powerful moments of realizing that she got it,” Zimmerman said. “It was very different from her day-to-day and a very positive experience.”
But it was not the first time that Norah noticed. When the mother and daughter attend Jewish events together, Norah sees her mother talking at length with person after person. When the daughter walks in during her mother’s Zoom calls for Women of Vision, she talks to her mom about what she is doing: helping women and girls.
During the 2021-’22 school year, Norah had to leave a pre-K program that kept closing due to COVID. Zimmerman reached out to friends at Society Hill Synagogue on Spruce Street, and they got her daughter into a pre-K program there in the middle of the school year.
Norah loved it.
“Being part of the Jewish community is why it happened,” Zimmerman said. “It was an immediate fit.”
Norah is still only 6. But she can recognize her mother’s capabilities and connections. The daughter often tells her mother, and other people, that “Mommy knows everybody.”
“What I think she means is Mommy has a lot of friends. As a 6-year-old, her biggest day-to-day is who are her friends? Who are her best friends?” Zimmerman said.
The Zimmermans are not synagogue members, but they do reinforce the importance of their faith and community at home, too. On Rosh Hashanah this past year, Zimmerman hosted family members. The trio tries to spend most Jewish holidays with its extended family.
Carly grew up in a Reconstructionist, interfaith household in Harrisburg. She went to Hebrew school, had a bat mitzvah and then did not rediscover her religion until her college days at the University of Pittsburgh, where she joined Hillel and became one of its leaders.
Judaism remained important to her as she graduated and started her adult life. For six years, Zimmerman was the CEO of Challah for Hunger, an organization that worked to decrease food insecurity on college campuses.
“I think it’s walking the walk in a sense,” Zimmerman said. “We’re trying to show her volunteering and giving back and, when the holidays come, making sure they are observed right.”
Zimmerman also wants to show her daughter what her mother showed her: That women can do it all. Zimmerman’s mother, Margie Adelmann, worked for Goodwill, the National MS Society and the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg. Today, Zimmerman is the vice president of business development at her father’s company, Larson Lightning Protection, which installs materials on roofs to protect buildings against lightning strikes.
And at home, Carly Zimmerman and Michael Zimmerman split duties. If Carly Zimmerman walks Norah to school, her father picks her up. If Carly Zimmerman did the last load of laundry, Michael Zimmerman does the next one. Both parents have nights when they are home alone because the other is out working.
“I went back to work three months after having her, and actually Michael took off three months then. So we even split parental leave. I think when she sees us both working, she doesn’t think any differently of it,” Carly Zimmerman said of her daughter. ■