By Vicki Leopold
Nadine Winter, a retired businesswoman who lives in Newnan, does not think she is anything special, but her goal certainly is. She passionately works to repair the world “in whatever tiny way I can.”
Winter is described by those who know her well as “intense,” a “thunderbolt of energy” and the “Shamash” (the Chanukah candle that lights the others).
Winter credits her passion for tikkun olam — working to make the world a better place — to her Jewish upbringing in Montreal.
She was born in 1949 to a working-class family. While her family was not observant, she went to services with her Orthodox Russian-Polish grandparents. Her mother enjoyed the Jewish rituals of candle lighting and preparing Shabbat dinner.
Winter remembers her father telling her stories of the Depression and how her paternal grandmother would cook and feed neighbors even though the family didn’t have much but perhaps had a little more than others.
She recalls that her father, whom she describes as a guteh neshomo (a good soul), was always helping neighbors and fixing problems, and he visited sick children in the hospital every Sunday. Sometimes he brought along famous sports figures or showed films and delivered presents.
Her father also was a sympathetic ear and wise problem solver. Neighbors, including the children, sought his counsel and left with solutions and ideas.
Winter tearfully remembers him as someone who always took the time to help.
Her parents imparted in her a sense of importance, value and support. She said her upbringing was not about discipline; her parents encouraged her to find her voice and to feel that she had something of consequence to share.
Living in a closely knit Jewish community where everyone cared about one another fostered an image of community and caring.
Growing up, Winter’s best friend’s mother was a Holocaust survivor and occasionally had bad days that required her daughter to stay home from school. Winter remembers joining her friend on those dark days, and the three of them — Winter, her friend and her friend’s mom — would lie in bed together for hours and talk.
When she saw others with so little in their lives and no one to care about them, Winter became sad.
While working on her political science degree at Sir George Williams University in Montreal (now part of Concordia University), she volunteered in a home for children with disabilities and brought the children to the park. One day she offered to bring the children into the sandbox, but the children said they were not allowed to play in the sandbox because they would get too dirty.
Winter said that response greatly troubled her because she felt that the children deserved a full life; why should they be denied because they would get dirty?
At that moment, her sadness turned into anger; eventually, she channeled her anger into social action.
In the 1960s Winter was involved in the civil rights and feminist movements and encouraged Canadian legislation to help women and protect their rights.
After obtaining her undergraduate degree, she stayed home to begin a family. Five years later Winter returned to school to get her master’s in political science. Her thesis was about the challenges women faced in the workforce.
With that degree, her first job was in a human resources consulting firm, Hay Management Consultants. She was the only woman in the firm who was not a secretary. She analyzed trends, did research and fostered needed changes in the work world.
Winter became Hay’s first female partner, was instrumental in doubling the business and taught others how to value each employee. She assisted the company in developing an equal pay system for women and fought against sexual harassment.
Several years later Winter left to start her own firm, N. Winter Consulting, again using well-documented research to teach corporations important concepts, such as when employees are treated well, the good feelings filter down to the customers, and when employees feel valued and invested in improving the business, they become an important part of making a company successful.
She managed her own firm for 15 years, working with companies such as Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, Citibank, Ontario Hydro, and Sun Oil.
Eventually she and her husband, Mark, moved to California, then they came to Georgia in 2010 to retire and be close to her children and grandchildren. This closeness would not last too long: Both sons, one a university professor specializing in race and ethnicity and the other an international equestrian athlete, accepted employment in England and now live there with their families.
To Winter, Judaism is about helping others and fighting for social justice, so after moving to Georgia and joining Congregation B’nai Israel in Fayetteville, Winter promptly became the head of the social action committee.
She offered career counseling to young adults just getting started in the workforce, implemented a Martin Luther King Jr. service with community outreach and organized B’nai Israel members for Atlanta’s annual Hunger Walk.
Winter’s enthusiasm was contagious, and when she got involved in events, others became excited and involved. Turnout for events grew. That is when a friend called her the Shamash.
Three years ago Winter took on a huge challenge: She became a volunteer career counselor at Wellspring, assisting minors who had been involved in sex trafficking.
Atlanta is a major gateway for foreign and domestic sex trafficking. Wellspring and other faith-based groups provide residential and social services, education, and recreation to help girls change their lives.
Winter also worked diligently for legislation that changed the legal view of minors sold for sex from criminals to victims. She said she finds it “breathtakingly gratifying” to help these girls develop work and interview skills and to see their own worth.
Almost two years ago, the Winters joined The Temple in Atlanta, which offered Nadine additional opportunities for social justice. She participates in an organization started by Rabbi Peter Berg with others called OutCry, which works to stop gun violence.
During elections Winter works to get people out to vote and even pays for her own trips to other states to register voters. She wants people to feel as important as she did growing up. Her passion is for everyone to have a voice.
Although Winter worked long hours over 26 years to build a successful career in human resources, she is not the type of retiree who wants to rest, relax and travel. Helping others makes her want to get up every morning.
“As a Jew, I cannot be indifferent to the problems that confront society,” she said. “I believe it is my duty to take an active part in fixing the world. If I can help one woman, one victim of domestic violence, leave her abuser and learn how to support her children, then my life has meaning.”
She said the happiest day of her life was when her granddaughter Amelia, then 12, said, “Grandma, you always know what to say and how to fix things.”