Markowitz Brings Jewish Values to State House

Vermont’s Secretary of State Deborah Markowitz lives a principled life. In a March 15th event sponsored by University of Vermont Hillel, a campus group serving UVM’s Jewish community, Markowitz shared with attendees the story of her life, and the principles guiding it. Growing up in a Reconstructionist synagogue, Markowitz was influenced by a liberal brand of Judaism, which places emphasis on individual autonomy over tradition and customs. In Markowitz’s own words, Reconstructionism is “a discussion with the principles and values” of the Jewish religion, from which each participant takes something different. This tradition of Judaism is radically different from other denominations, such as Orthodox or Conservative Judaism, which place much more emphasis on the adherence to tradition and Jewish Law. In explaining the Reconstructionist approach, Markowitz described things such as the mitzvot, a list of commandments given in the Torah, as “the recipe for a good life,” rather than the rules one must abide by because they were prescribed by God. When Markowitz came to the end of her second year at the University of Vermont, an undergraduate studying philosophy, she faced a question many students face in college – what to do with the rest of her life. In searching for the answer to this question, she drew from her Judaism, invoking the principle of tikkun olam. Literally, this phrase means “repairing the world.” Markowitz embarked on a path to live a life of good deeds, and to make the world a better place. Throughout her career as a lawyer and public servant, Markowitz has made decisions based on the good those decisions would bring to the world, rather than on monetary or material concerns. After spending a year clerking for the Vermont Supreme Court, Markowitz had to choose between several law firms, and after careful consideration, she opted for one whose practices were in keeping with her beliefs. From 1988 to 1990, Markowitz was employed by Langrock, Sperry, Parker and Wool. This is the law firm that led the charge to legalize civil unions in Vermont, and to ensure equal quality of education for all Vermont children. Jewish principles such as tikkun olam are so important in Markowitz’s life, that she has established the tradition with her family of naming one good deed from the day every night. She describes the tradition as embodying the idea of living a “life of good deeds.” After spending seven years working with local governments in Vermont, providing legal assistance to the local leaders, Markowitz decided to seek out a position in the Secretary of State’s office. However, when she saw how the office was being run at the time, Markowitz made the decision to run for office, something she had never previously considered. Now in her seventh year as Secretary of State, Markowitz is committed to the democratic process, and upholds her Jewish principles, striving to make the world a better place through her public service.