Meredith Jacobs thought she had found the perfect niche for herself as a "professional volunteer."
The Rockville mother of two had worked in public relations and earned a master's in business before staying home when daughter Sofie, now 10, was born. She started volunteering at Sofie's preschool, then at her synagogue, then at the public school.
"Part of it was because that's what my mother did: You're supposed to be on the PTA; you're supposed to be involved in your synagogue," says Meredith, 39, whose husband, Jonathan, is a lawyer, and whose son, Jules, is 8. But she also was good at volunteering -- as evidenced by her increasing responsibilities -- and enjoyed it. "It was exciting," she says. "It was something other than going to music class."
Now, however, Meredith is a published author hoping to write more books and maybe even break into television. And she's no longer on the board of her synagogue.
In 2004, Meredith wanted to learn how to make the Sabbath more special for her family. So, to teach herself and others at the same time, she set up a series of workshops at Congregation B'nai Tzedek in Potomac that covered topics such as baking challah, reciting blessings and discussing the weekly Torah portion.
Told there might be wider interest in the subject, she was inspired to turn the workshops into a book. She bought a how-to manual on getting published, sent out 16 query letters and landed an agent who helped her craft a proposal for The Modern Jewish Mom's Guide to Shabbat.
From the beginning, Meredith thought that "this could be bigger than just a book"; it could be a brand. So while she worked on the proposal, Meredith and her sister, Jennifer Kagnoff, who lives in California, set up a Web site, ModernJewishMom.com, in April 2005. It details "how our traditions . . . can be wonderful parenting tools." They also developed a logo, incorporated the business and created a line of products from T-shirts to challah covers. Meredith received a book contract that August; the $16.95 paperback was published this February.
Jennifer Hart, associate publisher of Harper Paperbacks, thinks the book has the potential to become a "category killer, where, over time, it's the go-to book for moms learning how to create Shabbat."
Meredith, who also writes a column for the Baltimore Jewish Times and has taped several segments on "Faith in the Family" for Beliefnet.com, envisions a series of books and has a manager in Los Angeles exploring the possibility of a lifestyle/parenting TV show.
Because she's intent on growing the brand, Meredith put her book advance into the Web site and publicity, so she hasn't netted much money. But integrating Jewish traditions into her parenting has enriched her life in other ways -- such as the time her daughter addressed a safety-patrol problem by musing, "I was thinking about what we were talking about the other day about Moses. . ."
The biggest change for Meredith is that she's working again, with travel and deadlines. Thus far, she says, she's been able to do it mostly around her family's schedule.
The PTA, however, may have to get along without her.
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