Who The Folk?! Layah Shagalow

What’s it like to move home and come to work for the organization your mother started? Layah Shagalow experienced just that. Shagalow, the assistant director of Sha’arim, which her mother, Chana, started 21 years ago. Layah tells us what it’s like to work for an organization that her mother founded and that she’s seen grow from the ground up, the opening of the Gateways Boutique Thrift Shop, and what it’s like to be back in Minnesota on this week’s Who The Folk?! Podcast.

You can read an excerpt below, but for the whole interview (which you are really going to want to hear), please listen or subscribe to the Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Stitcher, with more to come later soon. Please subscribe, rate, and review. Check out the show page where you can catch up on previous episodes. And of course, if you have suggestions of others who would be great subjects, let us know!

Thank you for joining us.

Thank you for having me. I feel like I’m officially a millennial now that I’m on a podcast.

You are the associate director at Sha’arim. Both you and your mom who founded Sha’arim, were part of our Give To The Max Day extravaganza, which hopefully people saw on our Facebook page. But for people who don’t know, what is Sha’arim?

So Sha’arim is an organization that’s been around for about 21 years and we are your one-stop shop for any kind of disability special-needs inclusion. So we offer educational programming both within the mainstream Jewish educational system and also side-stream or self-contained programming for individuals who struggle to be in the mainstream and need a little bit more support. We also have social recreational programming, so that all of our participants can be a part of the Jewish community, not just in an educational setting, but as a part of everything. And we [just had our] grand opening of a vocational training and meaningful employment opportunity for individuals with disabilities as well through our Gateways Thrift Shop, which is a boutique thrift shop. So we’re just whatever you need. We’re here for you. That’s really who we are.

You just moved back to the Twin Cities fairly recently, from New York.


What you expected was going to be a short stay in New York ended up being seven years.

It was seven years, which was seven years longer than I ever expected to be there.

So what brought you to New York in the first place if you didn’t expect to be there that long?

Well, I was a young, single Jewish girl and I was living in Minnesota and I’m pretty sure every Jewish mother in the world was just really worried about me, you know, becoming a cat lady, and dying alone. No. All of my friends were in New York at the time. And I had actually spent I’d come back after my year in Israel and I had spent two years in Minnesota working for Sha’arim at the time, I actually founded our Friends and Fun program, which is our social recreational programming. And I was running our Darchenu, a new program that’s that a self-contained Hebrew school. And everyone was like, ‘you’re gonna just live under a rock if you stay here,’ even though I loved it so much because that’s what we Minnesotans do. We love being here. So I went off to New York to give that a shot. I decided I was going to try it for a year. And then a year turned into another year, turned into grad school, turned into a grant from the government to stay for another two years, turned into three years at a job that I also really loved. And then at a certain point, I was like, hold on a minute; how did this happen? And I had the opportunity to come back and I grabbed it and I was like, ‘I am so ready to come back to Minnesota.’ I’m just so happy.

You’ve seen Sha’arim from literally before it started to now. What’s it like sort of coming into that situation now as a pretty high-level employee.

Honestly, the first word that comes to mind is it feels like coming home. Because it really is. Sha’arim was always the fifth child in our house in the most incredible way. We’ve all been a part of it in some way. And it was it was really started because of my sister Shayna. I guess she’s who we all have to thank for what this organization is. I volunteered when I was in high school, even though I went away for high school. Whenever I came back, I would volunteer. And then I started working here, kind of in a lower level, when I came back from my year in Israel, and then I walked away and came back. And it’s always just felt like, whatever I was doing, it was until I could do this again. Definitely a lot of change in seven years. So there’s all Yeah, a lot of learning curve. They’ve grown a lot and things have changed, but it’s good. It feels right.

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