(Chabad.org) Greg Spurlock knows Zirkind as a woman who stays true to Jewish traditions and values while still being part of their group of military engineers. Her friends from synagogue, however, know her as a quiet and modest figure who inspires others with her wisdom and Jewish insight.
Zirkind, a mother of eight and electrical engineer who does research on robotics for the U.S. Army, manages to be all of this, and then some. She’s also a member of thecommunity in Morristown, N.J., and an author whose book, released this past September, examines women’s roles in Judaism.
“A Jewish woman has a wide variety of very important roles,” she explained, adding that a woman can lead both inside the home and outside of it with a unique combination of kindness and warmth.
Though she doesn’t talk about religion in the workplace, Zirkind said her affect and behavior make an impression on people because for her, Judaism is an all-encompassing lifestyle. She brings her ownfood to events, leaves early Friday afternoons to prepare for the , and dresses in accordance with Jewish modesty laws and customs.
She sees no tension between her various personas, and neither do her friends, colleagues and acquaintances.
“I don’t feel a conflict between [Judaism] and my profession,” she stated. “It’s all one integrated whole. It makes an impression on people, to know that it’s possible to live such a life. I think people cannot even imagine it’s possible without seeing someone actually doing it.”
After graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering – her two brothers and two sisters, the children of a rabbi and a public school guidance counselor, similarly went to college – Zirkind took 10 years off to be a fulltime homemaker.
“I just really wanted a change of pace and really wanted to be a homemaker,” she said, explaining that she had wanted to have a home of her own, and got married through a matchmaker about two years before she finished her Ph.D.
Ultimately, returning to work outside the home made financial sense, so she started part time in 2000 in biomedical engineering, and began a fulltime position in 2005. Her oldest child is 22, her youngest, 8.
As the youngest child in her own family, she had a lot to learn when it came to raising kids.
“During the time I was a homemaker,” she related, “people would ask me, ‘Do you work?’ And I would say, ‘Yes, I work, but not for wages,’ because that certainly is work.”
Along the way she started her book, studying with her daughters as they approached the age of Jewish adulthood. As for what she wants for her three daughters, she said she hopes that they follow the “right path ofand Judaism in all their ways.” That applies to their professions, which she hopes will be “consistent with a life guided by the Torah, and that they should be able to do something they’re interested in.”
These days, her husband makes supper on weeknights, picks the kids up at school and uses the flexibility from his self-employment to help take care of the household. She, meanwhile, is currently studying robots and various algorithms for how they could engage in more-efficient mapping when they enter new surroundings.
In terms of her outlook, she said she finds inspiration in the teachings of the, Rabbi , of righteous memory.
“What the Rebbe stressed so much,” she said, “is that in all your ways, you should know, and that whatever we do, we should be serving G-d in some way or another. That’s what I try to keep in mind.”
Spurlock, who works with Zirkind, said he sees her as a person of depth who is sincere in her practice and traditions. And he said he knows she works diligently to stay engaged in her family’s activities even though she’s not always there in person.
“When we get done in the evenings, she spends a lot of time talking to her family on the phone,” he revealed. “She’s a quite interesting and capable lady.”