Barbara Greenspan Shaiman was born into a perfect storm of tragedy few could
comprehend, let alone process healthily.
However, that is not what sets
her apart from the millions of other men and women in the world who were born
into equally tragic and inauspicious beginnings.
What sets Shaiman apart
is not where she came from, but where she ended up: An honorable and
compassionate destination, achieved by harnessing the profound pain and tragedy
she was born into to find a higher calling.
Shaiman, the child of
Holocaust survivors, has used her family’s catastrophic legacy to transform her
pain into meaning, to get herself – and as many people as possible – to a
better, more humane destination.
It is this inexhaustible focus to find
meaning in a past devoid of humanity that has distinguished Shaiman, of Bala
Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, in her pursuit of practicing tikun olam (healing the
Through her organizations Champions of Caring and Embrace Your
Legacy – and her book Live Your Legacy Now!: Ten Simple Steps to Find Your
Passion and Change the World – Shaiman has made it her life’s work to share her
message of hope through humanity by encouraging adults of all ages and
backgrounds to learn from the past and create a better future.
is to empower individuals to become socially responsible leaders and actively
engaged citizens to ensure that what happened to my family, the other six
million Jews and five million other victims, never happens again,” says
FOUR YEARS prior to Shaiman’s birth in Regensburg, Germany, in
1948, her parents, Henek Greenspan and Carola Iserowski, both emaciated and
afflicted with typhus, met at a convalescent center in Theresienstadt outside
Prague after their liberation from the living nightmares that had decimated both
of their families.
Shortly after surviving a series of death marches and
incarceration in death camps, including Auschwitz, Birkenau, Stutthof and
Theresienstadt, Iserowski learned she was the only survivor of a Polish family
that once numbered close to 70.
Greenspan, who received a degree of
shelter from Oskar Schindler at his Krakow factory (but did not make his famous
“list”), also lost the majority of his family to Nazi barbarity.
having barely enough strength to function, and suffering enough trauma to
incapacitate the most resilient of souls, the two met and fell in
According to Shaiman, Greenspan approached Iserowski at the center
one day after being struck by her beauty.
Although robbed of her once
beautiful brown locks of hair and weighing no more than 80 pounds, he told her
that if she would allow him to, he would gladly take her
Iserowski, in return, replied that if she could find a dress,
she would join him.
And so began the joining of two broken souls who
would desperately try to rebuild their lives.
A FEW years after they
emigrated from Germany to New York City, when Shaiman was four years old,
Iserowski changed her daughter’s name from Bella to Barbara. Shaiman says her
mother wanted her to have an “American” name so that she would not be viewed as
a “greenhorn immigrant,” and would fit better in her new
However, until her recent death, her mother called her
Penniless, unable to speak English and living in difficult
conditions in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, Shaiman’s father
initially found work at a pickle factory in Newark, while her mother gained
employment crocheting for a local tailor.
Greenspan, who years later went
on to earn a successful living in textiles, worked hard to make enough money to
send Shaiman and her younger brother to yeshivas and Jewish summer camps to
ensure their identity as Jews were firmly rooted.
Shaiman went on to
attend Hunter College in New York City, marry at the age of 19, raise two
children while earning a master’s degree in counseling and education and live
throughout the northeastern US, where she began her career as a teacher and
later became a successful businesswoman.
IN THE early 1990s, newly
divorced after 25 years of marriage, with her children now adults, Shaiman, who
had created a highly profitable executive recruitment business, visited
Auschwitz and Poland with her family and 100 Holocaust survivors.
on this trip that she realized she needed to dedicate her life to a higher
“I had an epiphany to create an organization that would inspire
young people to stand up and speak out against injustice and become advocates
for social change,” she says.
Shortly after a chance meeting with and
encouragement from Steven Spielberg in 1995, Shaiman created Champions of
Caring, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating and empowering
young people to take active roles in improving their communities.
utilized the organization – which has since impacted over 10,000 atrisk youths
in the greater Philadelphia area – to become social activists by conveying her
message and vision of a more humane and compassionate world, based on the
tragedy that befell her family as well as genocides that continue to this
The curriculum Shaiman devised for Champions of Caring reflects the
lessons of the Holocaust and has become a prototype to foster constructive
social change. Its principles are widely recognized as a model for reducing
prejudice and violence, promoting youth leadership and service and helping
teachers and administrators in their efforts to create cultures of caring in
schools and communities.
Since its inception 17 years ago, youths from
diverse socioeconomic, ethnic, and religious backgrounds have gone on to
identify and address issues such as autism, hunger, homelessness, teen
pregnancy, child soldiering in Uganda, land mines in Afghanistan and
cyber-bullying, among many others, to improve their local or global
In 2007, based on its success in the US, Shaiman expanded
Champions of Caring to South Africa.
SHAIMAN’S FAMILY legacy, coupled
with her experiences as a teacher and entrepreneur and her success with
Champions of Caring, inspired her to in 2010 create her latest enterprise,
Embrace Your Legacy and pen Live Your Legacy Now! In her book, she shares her
life experiences and the powerful lessons she learned as the daughter of
“It’s critical to make ‘living your legacy’ an
inter-generational and family affair. It’s not just about passing on money, but
rather passing on your values.
That’s what’s key,” says Shaiman of her
new endeavor’s mission. “You live your legacy by identifying your core values
and what you stand for – by finding your humanity and living a life of
Both Embrace Your Legacy and her book serve as vehicles for
Shaiman to continue her mission to make the world a more humane place, one
person at a time. Through speeches, workshops and consulting, she shares her
transferable 10-step approach to provide participants with the tools necessary
to create social change in an informed and creative manner.
workshops tailored for corporations and public and private high school
classrooms, to university seminars, faithbased programs and community women’s
and men’s groups, Shaiman has presented her message to audiences of all ages and
backgrounds – locally, nationally and internationally.
“My goal is to
encourage organizational cultures to promote caring and compassion,” she says.
“History has shown us that we can do many things to overcome the apathy that
allows terrible things to happen to our fellow human beings by working
A COMPELLING public speaker, Shaiman has received numerous
awards for her work, including the US Department of Housing and Urban
Development Best Practices Award, the National Association of Women Business
Owners’ Women Making History Award, State Farm Insurance’s Service-Learning
Practitioner Award, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Servant of God Award, the
Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors Mordechai Anielewicz Award and the
Daily Points of Light Award.
She has also been inducted into the Hunter
College Hall of Fame and named a “Community Quarterback” by the NFL’s
Philadelphia Eagles and Parade Magazine.
“We can change our lives in ways
we may never imagined, and inspire others to do the same. And by enriching
someone else’s life you enrich your own,” she says.
She has also
co-founded a Holocaust consortium of educators in Philadelphia, chaired the
women’s division of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires and chaired the
Holocaust Memorial Committee of the Greater Philadelphia Jewish Community
When not working on Embrace Your Legacy initiatives,
Shaiman says she most enjoys spending time with her five grandchildren. “They
remind me every day of the importance of tikun olam and why I do what I do,” she
In terms of encouraging others who may feel overwhelmed by the
prospect of affecting meaningful social change within their own communities, she
makes it clear that anyone with enough motivation and vision can indeed make the
world a better place.
“You don’t have to be rich or famous to live and
share a legacy. We can all embrace, enjoy and live our legacies and fill our
days with challenge and purpose by sharing what we have learned from our past
with others,” she says. “My hope is to inspire people to create a vision of what
their life and world can be and have them live and flaunt their humanity.”
Learn more about Barbara Greenspan Shaiman’s organization, Embrace Your Legacy
and Champions of Caring, at www.embraceyourlegacynow.com and