Since 2012, Debra Polsky had been the face of the Dallas Jewish Historical Society (DJHS). The path which led Debra to Dallas, was an interesting one, gaining countless years of invaluable Jewish leadership experience along the way.
Debra was born in New York and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where she was very active in BBYO (B’nai B‘rith Youth Organization) and Young Judea. After graduating from the George Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, she returned to her hometown, where she taught elementary education while simultaneously working at the Chattanooga JCC. At various times, she was their Camp Director, Aquatics Director and Tween Program Director, while also making time to teach religious school at the conservative shul and volunteering as a BBG advisor. Debra was hired to work on the regional level for the Cotton States Region BBYO which led her from Chattanooga to Omaha, Nebraska, where she began work at the Omaha JCC. While there, she was the Adult & Singles Services Director, also taking on professional responsibility for the Cornbelt Region BBYO. Debra worked to merge Cornbelt with the Missouri-Kansas Region to create Mid-America Region BBYO. which laid the foundation for her long career in Jewish Communal Service.
In Omaha, while working as BBYO Regional Director and reading Torah at the conservative shul, Debra was able to earn a Master’s Degree in Public Administration & Social Work from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Debra then moved to San Francisco as the regional director of BBYO’s Central West Region (Northern California) where she was also involved in the JCRC (Jewish Community Relations Council) and the “Free Soviet Jewry” movement. In 1989, an opportunity arose for Debra to make a move to Dallas as BBYO’s Executive Regional Director, which eventually led to an opportunity for her to join DJHS as their executive director.
Once in that position, Debra got right down to work. She began developing strong professional relationships between DJHS and several Dallas Jewish, secular and cultural organizations, improving outreach within the community. This resulted in a historical marker waiting to be installed in the old Frogtown neighborhood near the Perot Museum; she has greatly enhanced the Oral History Project, where hundreds of interviews have been added to the collection; she was instrumental in the preservation of the Blue House, a historic Jewish dwelling that was saved from demolition and relocated; she had a Customer Relationship Management System installed to track donations; she implemented tight financial controls; she applied for and received numerous grants; she fostered a deep love of Jewish Dallas and the mission of DJHS; and she devoted herself to her work. With Debra’s leadership and support as the DJHS Executive Director, it is clear that she provided s solid backbone on which to grow the agency into the powerhouse she always envisioned.
As if that weren’t enough to fill her days, Debra also found time to work or volunteer for many other local organizations or agencies. A few of those included SMU Jewish Studies, Dallas Memorial Center for Holocaust Studies, Congregation Kol Ami, Congregation Tiferet Israel, JCC Dallas, JCRC, Kosher Chili Cook-off, Texas Women’s Foundation, Girl Scouts of North East Texas, Center for Jewish Education/Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, Family Compass Families/First Program, the Dallas Association of Directors of Volunteers, and all this while teaching for over 25 years at the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School.
Click here to watch Debra’s Oral History Interview.
We would like to extend our deepest condolences to Debra’s family and friends, for her passing is a monumental loss for our community and those who knew and love her. Additionally, we thank Debra for everything she has done for us and in the community.
Information regarding Debra’s funeral service and Shiva will be shared via our website and social outlets as soon as we know more.