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Milana Vayntrub
Milana Vayntrub

Rising Star

Up-and-coming actress, comedian and activist Milana Vayntrub headlines this year’s Woman’s World.

Catch a rising star at this year’s Lois Linden Nelson Woman’s World, presented May 2 by the Congregation Shaarey Zedek Sisterhood.

The rising stars include career-building actress Milana Vayntrub, emerging synagogue leader Jeri Fishman (see below) and specialized merchandise introduced by new pop-up shops joining with favorite boutiques for the daylong sale.

Vayntrub, who was born in Uzbekistan and moved to the United States with her family, will be the after-lunch featured speaker talking about Judaism, efforts to help refugees as well as professional initiatives. Before, during and after the program, guests will be offered a variety of goods, such as Judaica, art and pillows from the Farber Soul Center, leather products by Key to Style and upcycled fashions from Rebel Soul Apparel — all new this year.

“Judaism has played a huge part in my activism,” Vayntrub, 31, explains. “There are principles in Judaism that are about taking care of each other, and there are elements of Judaism that have been staples in my humanitarian work. I’m going to draw correlations between those.”

Milana Vayntrub

Milana Vayntrub

Vayntrub, who came to the United States at the age of 2½, started doing commercials when she was 5 and living in Los Angeles. Her interest in performing waned until college classes at the University of California San Diego, where she was a communications major. She connected with Judaism through the school’s Hillel program and became bat mitzvah at age 21.

“After college, I came back to Los Angeles and started doing improv comedy, which was probably the biggest stimulus I had in terms of training,” she says. “I made my own web series on YouTube, found representatives and started auditioning.”

Vayntrub, familiar to many viewers as Lily the salesperson in AT&T commercials, appeared in the recurring role of playwright Sloane Sandburg in the massive NBC hit series This Is Us; in one episode, she told the story of Chanukah. Her newest role is Squirrel Girl in Marvel’s New Warriors, Marvel’s first live-action scripted comedy — it will be shown on Freeform, Disney’s young adult cable and satellite streaming network.

Volunteering is an important focus in her life, and it often takes a specific direction. “I am a refugee who had so much help coming to this country,” she says. “I know I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the help of the Jewish Federation and HIAS [founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to assist refugees].

“I can relate to what it’s like to have to relocate. I think it’s a cause that does not get enough attention by anybody, and it’s only getting worse.”

“There are principles in Judaism that are about taking care of each other, and there are elements of Judaism that have been staples in my humanitarian work.” — Milana Vayntrub

Vayntrub volunteers in promoting and fundraising for various organizations, which she will elaborate on during her talk. She calls attention to the website Can’t Do Nothing, which she helped start as a way to inform people about opportunities to give time, money or voice in making a difference in the lives of refugees.

Among the other organizations drawing her attention are the Syria Fund, which expresses a focus on education for kids attached to the refugee camps in Jordan, and Carry the Future, which provides baby carriers to make the journey for Syrian refugees a little easier.

“I’ve been volunteering for a long time, but only in the past couple of years has there been a revelation in me that I have to be a global citizen,” she says. “I really love small organizations that are hands-on in giving.

“They’re often organizations that don’t have a big public relations budget, and so I find that I’ve been able to use my voice to bring attention to their causes. Thinking locally is so important, but I also understand that if part of the world is sick, then the whole world is still sick.”

The actress tells about her family’s early years in America and how her parents accepted odd jobs on the way to her father’s ownership of a restaurant and her mother’s work in a doctor’s office. Those experiences influenced her understanding of what refugees face.

Vayntrub, whose family is now settled into the United States, looks to her parents for inspiration in coming up with a humorous outlook for her improv performances and finds pure relaxation walking her dog.

“My mom is incredibly silly,” she says. “My dad has a joke quite literally on every topic. You could sit with him for hours, and it will be joke after joke.

“I like to hang out with my dog outdoors. There are so many beautiful parks and hiking opportunities in Los Angeles, and I want to see all of them.”

Although this is her first time at Shaarey Zedek, she got a bit of a preview from two California friends, Flint and Reid Wainess, whose mom, Didi Wainess, attends the synagogue and has met Vayntrub.

“I was very impressed with her documentary showing her visit to Greece, where she went on vacation and stayed to help the refugees,” Didi Wainess says. “I plan on going to Woman’s World and hearing more about her experiences.”

A WOMAN OF VALOR

Jeri Fishman will be presented with the Woman of Valor award at the Lois Linden Nelson Woman’s World event at Congregation Shaarey Zedek on May 2. She is being honored as a Rising Star for the outstanding work she has accomplished at Congregation Shaarey Zedek and in the community at large. The award will be presented at the event luncheon, which will also feature rising TV and media star Milana Vayntrub.

Jeri Fishman

Jeri Fishman

After marrying Steve Fishman (a third-generation Shaarey Zedek member) Fishman became a shul member and was thrust into the world of synagogue volunteerism. She began as a Sisterhood board member, and soon became Sisterhood president. Shortly thereafter, she was elected to the Synagogue Board of Trustees and her responsibilities grew as a member of the executive board. Currently, she serves as vice president of the shul, where she is working on an inclusion program that will be open to the entire community this spring.

Fishman comes by her leadership skills naturally. During her career at the Michigan Department of Corrections, she was a field agent, a case worker, a parole agent and a probation officer — it was during this time that she honed her skills as a leader and manager. She has also served on the board of the ACLU, as a community volunteer with Capuchin East Jefferson Alcoholism Treatment Center and was an active member of the Michigan Corrections Association.

As a full-time wife and mother, Fishman was active in her children’s school-parent associations and attended their sporting events, eventually becoming a team photographer at Cranbrook and Kingswood schools as well as Kalamazoo College. She is also the resident photographer at Congregation Shaarey Zedek.

Around the synagogue, she’s often compared to the Energizer Bunny.

details

Lois Linden Nelson Woman’s World runs 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday, May 2, at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield. The luncheon program starts at noon. No admission fee for the shops. $70 for lunch and program. (248) 357-5544, ext. 48; llnwomansworld.org.

Suzanne Chessler

Suzanne Chessler’s writing-editing career has spanned many years, and her articles have been featured in secular and religious publications across the state and around the country. There was a period of time when she maintained three regular columns in three different publications – one appearing weekly to spotlight metro volunteers, another appearing weekly to profile stage enthusiasts in community theater and a third appearing bimonthly to showcase upcoming arts programs. Besides doing general reporting, she has had continuing assignments involving health, monetary subjects and crime. Her award-winning work builds on majors in English-speech and journalism earned at Wayne State University, where instructors also were writers-editors on Detroit’s daily newspapers.

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