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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement.
Helen Goldstein is a lot of things.
She is a mother of four children, ages 11, 9, 7 and 4. She is the wife of one of three rabbis at ASU, heavily involved in the local Jewish community. She is an advocate for women’s empowerment, and a mentor to young women.
And, now, she will be a graduate from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law. How did she balance the rigors of law school with family life and other responsibilities?
“Balance? What is that?” she said. “I'm definitely not a superwoman. I work really, really hard. I get up early, go to bed late, and do a lot of prep work over the breaks for upcoming classes. I also strongly endorse Sheryl Sandberg's sentiment that the most important career choice that a woman will make is who she marries. My husband does not support me, he sponsors me. He doesn't stand on the sidelines and cheer me on. He makes it possible to do what I do. We run a completely 50:50 household.”
She says the media is obsessed with showing women how to “have it all and do it all,” but that’s an unrealistic ideal. Nobody can have it all, she says, and notes the sacrifices she had to make. For instance, she used to travel across North America to speak about women’s empowerment, but that had to stop.
“That being said, there is one thing that I would never sacrifice,” she said. “As an Orthodox Jew, I keep the Jewish Sabbath, which means that from sundown Friday to nightfall Saturday, I don't use my phone, laptop, drive, spend money. It is family time with little distraction. We have family meals, and I spend a lot of time playing Lego with my kids and hosting and hanging out with Jewish students from ASU. Throughout the year there are also a number of Jewish holidays that often fall on weekdays with similar rules. ASU Law has always been amazingly accommodating of my religious obligations.”
And when it comes to her academic obligations, she has found ways — with help from her husband — to quietly study.
“I lock my children out of the room, and I hide in my bathroom, which is two doors away,” she said. “I do literally lock my door. My husband is in charge of the kids on a Sunday. And right before exams, I will leave the house completely. Even if my kids are in school. Because when you’re in the house and the beds aren’t made or the kids are coming home and dinner isn’t ready, there are just so many distractions.”
So where’s her favorite place to study when she leaves home? Her local gym, of course.
“I sit by the pool from 9 o’clock in the morning right through 9 o’clock at night, eating chocolate,” she said. “And when it gets too hot, I decamp to the changing rooms. It’s very glamorous, my life.”
And coming from the gloomier and grayer climate of England, she is especially appreciative of Arizona’s warmth and sunshine.
“That’s the thing about being in Arizona and studying at ASU,” she said. “When we have exams, we can study in our bathing suits by the pool, under the palm trees. They don’t get to do that in Harvard. It’s freezing brass monkeys in Boston right now. We have palm trees, and that makes studying for exams infinitely less stressful. Because you get to study in paradise.”
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to go to law school?
Answer: I first chose law school at age 17 straight out of high school. In England, you can do a three-year undergraduate degree in law. Primarily, at that point, I loved politics and wanted to change the world. I guess I was pretty idealistic. I also wanted something which had the intellectual rigor of degrees like medicine. At that age I wasn't sure exactly what I wanted to do and I didn't want to narrow my options. I looked at women that I admire in politics, business, journalism, etc. Many had law degrees. I realized quickly that law is unique in that it opens many doors.
Q: Why did you choose ASU Law?
A: To be honest, it was the only choice, because we live in Phoenix. That being said, I feel very blessed that my only option for an American law school was also such a fantastic option. The teaching staff are exceptional, the administration is really supportive and the facilities are state-of-the-art.
Q: What were some of your outside activities during your time at ASU Law?
A: Outside of the law school, I'm one of only three rabbis' wives on campus. That means that I teach, mentor and provide pastoral support for the huge Jewish student community here at ASU. You can find me at Starbucks both on the downtown and Tempe campuses with a huge box of chocolate helping Jewish girls, answering their questions and generally just being a support system. That work is the reason why we came to Arizona in the first place. I am passionate about Jewish outreach.
Q: What advice would you give to those still in school?
A: One of my favorite and most helpful Jewish ideas is that you control the effort that you put in but you do not control the result. With many classes graded on a curve, so much of your final grade is actually out of your control. Instead of focusing on "getting a good grade" I always tried to focus on really understanding the material and knowing it back to front throughout the semester. I spent lots of time at office hours. Professor Gubler, for example, spent plenty of time reviewing class material with me so that I felt confident. Saying "I don't know" is a strength, not a weakness.
I refuse to write off anything as "oh, I just don't understand that." I'm not afraid to ask questions, either in class or in office hours, pushing through until I really do understand.
For my grad writing requirement, I chose a professor that had really inspired me, Professor Larson. He doesn't just teach his topic, he really inspired people to care about it. Building strong relationships with faculty members means that you are never afraid to ask for help, you have someone to turn to, and you can better understand what they are looking for in an essay or a final exam. I have found all the professors here at ASU to be completely approachable and generous with their time.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: The reading room, with those huge windows and amazing view, is my favorite place to study.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: One thing I have realized is that we, as citizens of a society that respects the rule of law, are the most privileged individuals on the planet. Remember the Occupy Movement? Well, in reality, simply by living here we are the 1 percent. As a woman in North America, I enjoy opportunities that most of my peers around the world can't even dream of. I believe that we have to leverage our empowerment to empower others. It’s too easy to walk into a problem and throw money at it. It’s far more effective to empower people to solve their problems — local stakeholders hold the keys. Women, in particular, have shown to be the most powerful agents of community change. I guess I'm not interested in solving just one problem. I want to look for a way to solve all the problems! I think empowerment and particularly empowerment of women is the way.