Women’s philanthropy events are always special. For GenerosiTEA, held on November 6, 2022 we invited Yael Krigman and Carolyn Gitlin to be our speakers.
These two amazing women lit up the room and inspired all in attendance.
Yael Krigman is a recovering attorney and owner of Baked by Yael. She began baking to relieve stress during law school. She ultimately left her job as an international trade attorney to pursue baking full-time. After five years as an online business, Baked by Yael opened its first brick-and-mortar shop in 2015 directly across from the National Zoo. Baked by Yael currently employs more than two dozen people, and Yael was recognized by the White House in 2012 for her role as a job creator and entrepreneur.
Carolyn Gitlin joined the Jewish Federations of North America’s National Women’s Philanthropy Board in 2016, and she began her tenure as Chair in June 2021. Gitlin is a longtime leader in her local Federation – the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford in Hartford, Connecticut – and she has chaired its Board of Directors since 2019. Previously, she served as Vice Chair (2018–2019), Women's Philanthropy Chair 2015–2017, and Board member at large (2015–2017); she also served as Vice Chair of Outreach and Engagement for Women's Philanthropy (2014–2015).
We were eager to learn even more from both Yael and Carolyn. Here is an exclusive interview with each speaker, specifically for our community!
Q&A with Yael Krigman:
You are a Fulbright Scholar who left a lucrative law career with an international law firm to start a Kosher bakery, Baked by Yael. What was the pivotal moment that made you leave law?
For a while, I was working two intense full-time jobs. At one point, I realized that was not sustainable, and I had to make a choice. I was working one job because it was safe and paid very well, but I was working for other people and had no emotional investment in the company. I was working the other job because it made me happy, put me in the driver’s seat, and gave me a way to make other people happy. It was terrifying to take such a huge leap of faith and change jobs, but I’m so glad I did it.
Of all the businesses you could open, why a Kosher bakery?
I didn’t actually start off trying to open a bakery, let alone a kosher one. I baked to relieve stress while I was studying for the bar exam. Every Monday, I brought in treats for my coworkers that I had baked over the weekend. So many people told me my baking was good enough to sell that I eventually started listening.
We decided to get our kosher certification because one of our core values is inclusivity. We want everyone to find something delicious at Baked by Yael, and as a bakery with many traditional Jewish delicacies we know many of our customers keep kosher. Although it takes extra effort to ensure we buy only kosher ingredients and maintain a kosher kitchen, it’s worth it whenever a customer is able to share our treats with their friends and family.
As a small business owner, have you experienced some unexpected surprises, good or bad? Would you please share a few?
For sure! One fun surprise was when the National Theater in Washington, DC contacted me and asked if they could feature Baked by Yael challah in their production of Fiddler on the Roof. What an honor! When I went to the show and saw Golde pull a delicious loaf of my challah out of the oven, I was so excited! I never knew I could feel so proud of a loaf of bread.
In terms of bad surprises, the COVID-19 pandemic takes the cake (no pun intended). Over the course of a few short days, we saw all our sources of revenue dry up. Meetings and parties were called off, weddings were postponed, and orders were being canceled left and right. I thought for sure Baked by Yael was done for… but then something incredible happened. Our customers rushed to save us. They sent cakepops to their friends and family across the country. They made bagels and challah a part of their weekly (and sometimes daily) routines. And they sent care packages to healthcare workers, first responders, and seniors who were isolated from family. It was a heartwarming response that really showed how much small businesses are appreciated by communities and can help make a difference.
A small business doesn’t have the financial resources to facilitate philanthropy like a large organization. How have you initiated your philanthropic goals within the community as a small business?
We’ve tried to be creative about how we approach philanthropy, since we’ve never been in a position to write big checks. We donate our unsold products to a wonderful organization called Food Rescue, and we donate gift cards to nonprofit fundraising events.
We also look for specific opportunities to help the community with our baked goods. Our bakery is directly across the street from the Smithsonian’s National Zoo – a federal government agency. During the 2018-2019 federal government shutdown, we provided free meals to the zookeepers who had to stay at work to take care of the animals. A couple of weeks later, one of our customers who loves the Zoo asked if they could chip in. That led to dozens of contributions from people across the country who helped fund our meals initiative.
Because we had lost significant revenue as a result of the Zoo closure, the contributions from customers allowed us to weather the government shutdown and continue providing free meals to zookeepers for the duration of the longest shutdown in U.S. history. We were even able to expand our efforts to offer free cakepop classes to furloughed workers throughout the entire federal government.
What do your customers say about Baked by Yael?
Our customers love us – and we love them! We are grateful that we have near-perfect reviews on Yelp, TripAdvisor, Google, and Facebook, which are a lifeline for small businesses. Our customers frequently comment on two things: the high quality of our products and the friendliness of our staff. We also have a lot of customers who appreciate how inclusive we are. Our bakery is completely nut-free and kosher, and we also have a lot of gluten-free, vegan, and soy-free options.
We have to ask. What one baked good do you suggest to your customers “don’t leave Baked by Yael without trying our ______.”
That’s a tough one! I know I’m a little biased, but everything at Baked by Yael is soooo good. If I had to pick one thing, I’d probably go with our incredible challah. We spent years perfecting our recipe before we added it to our menu, and now it’s one of our most popular products. We have dozens of customers who actually “subscribe” to one, two, or even more challot per week, to guarantee it won’t sell out before they can get it. We even have some customers who ship our challah across the country! Challah is delicious by itself to start a Shabbat meal or just as a snack, but it’s also great for sandwiches, French toast, and other delicacies.
Q & A with Carolyn Gitlin:
There are many worthy philanthropic organizations. Why did you choose to become involved in the Federation? What was your FIRST step in becoming involved with the Federation?
I became involved with Federation as a young mother in my early 30s. I really wanted to meet other Jewish women. I actually didn’t even know much of what the Federation did. At that time I became very involved and learned about the mission and met my best friends to this day. I worked my way to become the Chair of Young Women’s division (which does not even exist today). I even won a young leadership award at the time. I then followed my children and became very active in their schools. While I took a step back for many years, I was still a donor and involved on a smaller scale. It was not until about nine years ago that I reengaged more deeply. In that time, I really learned about our impact and our partner agencies. I went on missions. I became The Vice Chair of Outreach and Engagement for Women’s Philanthropy and then Chair of Women's Philanthropy in Hartford. I led a strategic plan for our community, I led the search for a new CEO.
I became the Vice Chair of the Board and ultimately Chair of the Board. I finished my term a year and a half ago. Six years ago I was educated about the National Women’s Philanthropy board. I didn’t even know what it was. My Women’s philanthropy Professional truly guided me and all my opportunities. A year and a half ago I became Chair of National Women’s Philanthropy. I lead a leaderboard of 150 women from around North America and guide them to be ambassadors to all of our 146 federations.
You travel all around the globe to support your philanthropic mission and to help those in need. Of all the trips you’ve made, which one has been the most impactful?
That is the hardest question. Every mission I’ve gone on has impacted me in a very significant way. My first mission to Tbilisi Georgia was one where I learned all about our partner agencies. I honestly did not have a vast knowledge of what we did as a system. This past March I traveled to Poland and the border of Ukraine. I watched women and children cross the Ukrainian border out of a war torn region. Looking at the hope in their eyes as they saw the Israeli flag billowing with something that will stick with me forever. However, just last month I traveled to Ethiopia with 60 Lay leaders and professionals. I accompanied 215 Ethiopian Olim to Israel to make a better
life. Many of them have been waiting five, 10, 15 years to join family and be in their homeland. I did not answer the question as to which one was the most impactful because all three of those had such a significant impact in my life. I always feel so grateful that I can do this work.
With your long-time service to philanthropy and the Jewish community, are there any recommendations or things you have learned that you would change or enhance?
I honestly don’t think there’s anything I would change or enhance. I’ve been very fortunate to be given the opportunity to lead my home community of Hartford and nationally women around North America. I often took on any opportunity that was offered to me. Maybe I should have said no to some of them. But I do not regret any opportunity I took. I don’t believe that I would be the leader I am today without the journey that I took to get here.
What does the importance of a flourishing Jewish community mean to you personally and to the Jewish community as a whole?
Personally, I credit a flourishing Jewish community into the Jewish woman that I am today. When I was younger I had a mother who struggled with mental health. During that time my Jewish formal education ended. I credit living in a community that was strong and vibrant to adding to my Jewish foundation. I had Jewish friends, I went to Bar and Bat mitzvahs, I went to Jewish Day Camp and I even worked in the Kosher market in the bakery. At a time when I could have become most disconnected, I did not because of my community. When I graduated college I came back to my community and my first job was at Jewish Family Services in 1989 where I helped resettle Russian Jews in Operation Exodus. My whole life I have either been a Jewish professional or a Jewish volunteer.
Besides Israel, is there a spot that you highly recommend that Jewish people visit? Why?
To be honest I don’t believe there’s one spot that I recommend Jewish people visit. What I do recommend, is wherever you go - find the Jewish community. My husband and I through our travels always look to learn about the community. We will take tours and seek out information on the Jewish community.
I do recommend that everyone should go on a mission. That is where I truly learned about our global Jewish community and the needs are so great. There is nothing like a mission.
What does the future of philanthropy look like for the next generation of Jews?
There are many ways to look at the future of philanthropy for the next generation. First of all, it is said that women are the largest and most influential group of charitable donors in our society. Women will control more than 60% of our nation’s wealth.
The transfer of wealth is happening twice for women…. from husbands and parents. The next generation for women has a huge opportunity to make a significant impact on the Jewish community. It is incumbent upon all of us to nurture, engage and educate the next generation about their responsibility to the Jewish world.
The entire photo album of GenerosiTEA can be viewed by clicking here.