Cheri Morgan was raised in Minneapolis. She and her husband, Todd, grew up six houses from each other. Cheri has been involved with many organizations over the years, constantly volunteering her time and energies. Last year, she co-chaired a Federation conference on Addiction within the Jewish Community and she is also a founding member of Beit T'Shuvah, one of the only Jewish residential drug treatment programs with a Torah-centered 12-step approach. Cheri was the 2001 Associate General Campaign Chairwoman of the United Jewish Fund, and in 1999, she chaired the Women's Campaign, which raised over $9 million.
Her husband, Todd, is a former partner of Goldman, Sachs and Co. and now Chairman of the Board of Bel Air Investment Advisors. Todd has just ended his two-year term as Chairman of the Board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Among other commitments, he is on the Board of Directors of Cedar-Sinai Hospital. Both Todd and Cheri are board members of Aish HaTorah. Cheri and Todd have been married for 32 years and have two children -- Tammy, 28, and Josh, 21.
Aish.com caught a few moments with Cheri in her home in Pacific Palisades, California.
Cheri: I grew up in a strong Jewish family. A strong political family. I was the oldest of five children and my parents were very involved civically and Jewishly. Our Judaism was a lot of fun. Our holidays were joyous and, believe it or not, I loved Hebrew school.
Aish.com: We don't believe it!
Cheri: I married a man who had a strong sense of Jewish ethics and values, and look where he ended up -- as chairman of Federation. In fact his long and visible involvement in the Jewish community allowed me to finally have a voice in the community, which I had been searching for.
I remember crying when I was a little girl, "How am I going to help my Israel?" My family was trying to get arms to Israel and I wanted to do something too. My impotence was tremendously painful to me. I had to wait many years before I really got the chance to help. Before I knew how to make an impact. Before I recognized that it takes a team. And I'm so grateful now for the opportunity to help and be involved.
Aish.com: Did you have any heroes when you were a child?
Cheri: Both of my parents were role models for me. My mother was brilliant, beautiful and capable. She taught me about civil rights, ballet and so many things. She was also president of various organizations -- Hadassah, the Jewish orphanage -- the list goes on and on. My father was such a hero to me, to all of us. My beloved, handsome, strong father. He was General Campaign Chairman of Minneapolis Federation in 1961 and took them to $1 million that year! He died of cancer when he was 48 years old, leaving behind an 18 year old (me), a 16 year old, a 13 year old, a 7 year old and a 3 year old. None of us ever recovered from that. The light in our lives just vanished.
By the time I got pregnant at 24, Todd and I knew there something terribly, terribly wrong with me.
I began dating Todd around this time and we got married when I was 21. By the time I got pregnant at 24, Todd and I knew there something terribly, terribly wrong with me. We didn't really know anything about addiction or alcoholism. I finally admitted to a therapist how frightened I was, that I was drunk right there in her office, that I didn't even know where I'd parked my car. She suggested that I was an alcoholic and should try a new concept: an inpatient treatment program.
I was quite lonely when I entered that program. It was one of the first of its kind and it was at St. Mary's Hospital. No one, in 1972, understood or believed that a Jewish family, educated and well to do, would have a daughter who would have to confront alcoholism. I was the youngest person there by many years and the only Jew. St. Mary's was an outstanding faith-based program. It just wasn't my faith.
So at 24 years old I began my long journey of healing. The relief was tremendous. There was a name for my pain and a place I could go to get fixed. Within days I was thanking God and wondering, "How did I get so lucky?"
Aish.com: How did that shape your volunteer efforts?
Addiction is a disease of the mind, body and spirit.
Cheri: Because of my own experiences with addiction, I was so happy to learn about Beit T'Shuvah, a new Jewish-based treatment center. Because the Jewish element was what was missing for me. Addiction is a disease of the mind, body and spirit. I was always the most sick when I wasn't connected spiritually. Last year I co-chaired the first Addiction Conference in the Jewish community. It's been such a huge coming out of the woodwork because we haven't wanted to confront the fact that we have alcohol and other substance abuse issues. It took many years to put this organization on the map and to incorporate Judaism into their treatment model. Judaism does heal. And the Torah is a totally healing book.
Aish.com: Tell us a little more about Beit T'Shuvah.
Cheri: Beit T'Shuva means the House of Return. The goal is to return lost Jewish souls to themselves, to their family and to God. Its treatment program uses the 12-step model as elucidated in Jewish sources. It has a residential program as well as maintenance/work programs. People come from all over to take advantage of this center and it has become the program of last resort for Jewish addicts who have exhausted all other resources. It has recently come under the auspices of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation.
Aish.com: Has most of your energy during your married life going into doing organizational work?
Cheri: I've been a true corporate wife, supporting whatever Todd needed. We've moved three times for Todd's dreams: from Minneapolis to Los Angeles in 1977, then to New York City in 1984, and then back to Los Angeles in 1991. I love that he calls me his "secret weapon"! For myself, I became involved in my children's' schools. I always called myself the worker bee. I always liked starting at the bottom and understanding all the nuances and then I sort of worked my way to the top. But I was always busy. I never go out for lunch or hang out with female friends. I'm just always doing. I can't even remember all the organizations I've been involved in. I also danced classical ballet until I was 33 years old, then I gave that up and became a runner. I ran the New York Marathon in 1988 for my 40th birthday!
Aish.com: It makes us tired just to talk about your schedule. Has feminism affected your view of yourself as traditional wife and mother and community worker?
In an era where women are attorneys and doctors, I always stammered when somebody asked, "What do you do?"
Cheri: It's made me feel not very good about myself. I think I represent women who are traditional wives and feel like we have to defend what we do. It has been a challenge to my sense of self. We live in an era where women are attorneys, doctors, etc., and I always stammered when somebody asked, "What do you do?" It's impossible to explain the thousands of details that come up each and every day. I didn't want to say "corporate wife" even though I was very proud of all that entailed. It has helped as I've gotten more titles! "Chairman of this or that"..., I'm able to call myself things like professional volunteer. It's almost humorous that since I have taken more public positions people say to me, "I'm sorry to bother you, you must be so busy." How about all those OTHER years I was so busy?!!
Aish.com: How do you juggle your time and energy and decide what you believe in?
Cheri: Very badly. Rabbi Braverman told me that I have to learn how to set boundaries. But I don't know how to do it because I get so excited about so many things. I'm across the board.
It's the opposite with Todd. He always says, "Hone in." I remember him saying this to our kids all the time. Hone in and become the best at something.
But I am working on it. I have a file-o-fax system that I am locked into and I have tons of lists. The best list that I made about 5 years ago is my "oh well" list. "Oh well, it's not going to get done."
Aish.com: What do you think are your strengths?
Cheri: I think that I honor people. Because I started at the bottom of many organizations, I know what it takes to make something happen and I respect the efforts of everyone involved. I also think that perhaps my insecurity is a strength. I'm not sure. It's the first time I've thought that. It seems to keep pushing me. And I try to be kind. I think one of the best things in this world is human kindness. And not judging others. We really have no idea what it's like to walk in anybody else's shoes. People look at me and they think I have a blessed life. And I do. But they have no idea of the pain I've gone through. So I say, don't judge me and I don't judge any one else.
Aish.com: What are you working on for the future?
Cheri: My husband and I have been very serious in our marriage and in everything we do. I think we could have laughed more; had more fun. That's our plan for the future -- to bring back the laughter, the sense of humor, the ability to laugh at ourselves and at life. That's our latest goal.
Aish.com: Is there anything we missed?
Cheri: I need to say more about my family -- my siblings, my children, my husband. They are the backbone and the core of my life. Nothing is more important. I also want to add that I have another hero besides my parents. My husband is my Number One hero. He is such a farsighted visionary who sees what needs to be done and acts on it. He never says, "That's impossible, that's can't be done," as I might. He just forges ahead and makes things happen. He has tireless energy and a deep commitment to helping others. I have been in awe of this man my entire life. I always tell people, "He's the man of my dreams and the man who makes my dreams come true."