Who the Folk?! Leora Maccabee Itman

Welcome to “Who the Folk?!” Every week on Monday we feature a new member of our Jewish community. Know someone we should feature? Nominate them by sending an email to [email protected].

Last week week we got to know Jamie Sandler and Matt Hurewitz  in a “Couples Edition.” This week we’re celebrating an anniversary! We’ve made it through one full year of Who the Folk?! profiles, so in honor of our one year anniversary, meet the very special Leora Maccabee ItmanLeora is the founder of TC Jewfolk and Jewfolk Media, the 501(c)(3) non-profit that runs TC Jewfolk. In our interview she talked about starting TC Jewfolk, her goals for the broader Jewfolk Media organization, her work as an attorney at Maslon LLP, her wonderful family, and more. We think you’re really going to enjoy this one.

Maslon photoTC Jewfolk: Are you from the Twin Cities?

Leora: Yes, I grew up in St. Paul and all my family is still there. But I’m now in Hopkins with my husband and daughter.

TCJ: This is the 1-year Anniversary of our Who the Folk?! series! Fifty-two whole weeks of awesome TC Jewfolkers. What’s been your favorite part about the series?

Leora: I love learning about fascinating people I’ve never met before, hearing their stories, and getting to know why they care about our local Jewish community. Then there’s the people I DO know, and it’s so fun learning something new about each one of them.

TCJ: You’re the founder of TC Jewfolk as well as Jewfolk Media. Can you first explain a little bit about what the difference is?

Leora: Jewfolk Media is the non-profit that runs TC Jewfolk. Jewfolk Media as a non-profit has a goal to engage, inspire, and connect young people–primarily in the Twin Cities Jewish community–to Jewish life, community, and culture. So right now we’re doing that through TC Jewfolk, but we’re already exploring other ways to do that.

TCJ: What’s important about being a non-profit?

Leora: Well, the nice thing about being a non-profit is that TC Jewfolk has its amazing Editor, Bradley Machov, and Jewfolk Media has a brilliant and talented Executive Director, Libby Parker, and all the money that people donate to make that possible is a tax write-off, which helps… Oh, and we get to have a Board of Directors that helps us figure out how to grow, and change, and succeed now and into the future, and the Jewfolk Media Board is truly exceptional and I am grateful for every one of them.

TCJ: Anyway… where did the original idea for TC Jewfolk come from?

Leora: After law school in Boston, I knew I wanted to live and work in the Twin Cities. But I didn’t really have a lot of friends here, and I wanted to meet as many people as possible upon moving back. So I started looking for things to do, Jewishly. And I knew there were things going on, but it was really difficult to find out about them. There was no one central space, so I literally had to join 30 different email lists. And with, like, the synagogues, you get the birth and death notices and everything; it was just way more than I needed. So I started TC Jewfolk as a Facebook group. There wasn’t a non-profit yet, it was just a way of sharing information on Facebook.

TCJ: How’d it become a website?

Leora: I’d say after a few months of the Facebook group, I realized people wanted not just events; they wanted a space to talk and write about things they passionately cared about–from Israel to how hard it is to meet a nice Jewish guy or girl; from the really cool events they wanted other people to join them at to what they thought of it after the fact. So that’s how it evolved to more of a blog-style website. And it really was just me and a few other friends at first, like Emily Cornell and Jenna Zark, who was actually our first writer and amazingly still writes for us 5.5 years later!

TCJ: Fill in the blank: My biggest dream for Jewfolk Media is ______.

Leora: …to have ten different projects going on all across Minnesota, and perhaps the Midwest, that engage and connect Jewish adults (and those who love them) to the Jewish community and their own sense of Jewish identity. So whether that’s a pop-up Jewish cooking school, or Jewish parenting app, or various versions of TC Jewfolk in other cities, I hope Jewfolk Media can continue to grow and do amazing things.

TCJ: OK, talk to us a little about Maslon. What kind of law do you practice there?

Leora: I’ve been at Maslon for six years. It’s the only legal job I’ve had, and hopefully the only one I ever have–I really love it there. And I am on the litigation side, and how I usually explain that to people is that hopefully you don’t have to hire me! Because it usually means something’s gone wrong. You’ve probably been sued, or need to sue someone. We usually represent businesses, but that ranges from small mom-and-pop shops, to Fortune 500 companies. And we’re still in many ways a general practice firm, which means that any business person coming in the door can have me work on a case for them;  and I’m constantly doing totally different things. It’s fun, fascinating, and meaningful just about every day.

TCJ: Did you always want to be a lawyer?

Leora: Yes! But for such a silly reason. I used to want to be in politics, which now I definitely do not. As a kid I sort of thought, well, the only way to go into politics is to either be a lawyer or join the military. So I was like, “I don’t want to join the military, so I’ll be a lawyer.” Also my mom’s a lawyer and I find her very inspiring.

TCJ: What’s your favorite way to celebrate Shabbat?

Leora: I really don’t do it that often, because life gets in the way, but my favorite way would be to have friends over–and now most of my friends have kids so it’s friends and their kids over, do it potluck style. The kids run around screaming and we talk and eat all night. It’s wonderful.

TCJ: What’s your favorite Jewish holiday?

Leora: Passover. Because you eat, and the food’s always amazing. And I now have two sets of family in town. I have my husband Michael’s family, and they cook up a mean seder. And I have my family, and their yummy and fascinating seder is typically at my mom and dad’s house, so I get two nights of goodness.

TCJ: What’s your favorite thing to do in the Cities?

Leora: Once you have kids, your life kind of revolves around your kids. So we don’t do this much anymore, but I love seeing theater. I actually just booked tickets to a show to surprise my husband with in two weeks. It’s rare we go these days, but it’s one of my favorite parts of the Twin Cities.

TCJ: So should we not mention that here since it’s a surprise?

Leora: Oops! No, he knows I’ve booked something, because we got a sitter, the night’s reserved–he just doesn’t know what we’re seeing. That’s the surprise. We’re going to [REDACTED] and I can’t wait!

TCJ: Finally, give us one more reason why you’re folking awesome! 

Leora: Because my kitchen is my happy place, and I’m an awesome cook.

Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!