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Deborah Markowitz

b. 1961

Deborah Markowitz, born in Tarrytown, New York, in 1961, grew up in White Plains.  Both sides of her family emigrated in the early part of the 20th century from the Ukraine and Slovakia.  Deborah went to religious school until she was bat mitzvahed and then attended Hebrew High School.  A graduate of the University of Vermont and Georgetown Law School, she practiced law when she first moved to Vermont and then became the founding director of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns Municipal Law Center.  In 1998, Deborah was elected Vermont's 37th Secretary of State.  She and her husband Paul live in Montpelier, where they raised their children, Aviva, Sandra, and Ari.  The family belongs to Beth Jacob Synagogue in Montpelier.  In 2012, Governor Peter Shumlin appointed her the Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources. 

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Scope and Content Note

Deborah begins by discussing her family history and Ukrainian heritage.  Both sides of the family immigrated from Ukraine in the early part of the 20th century.  She explains they had absolutely nothing when they arrived, but all the children from the next generation grew up and became professionals.  Deborah describes her grandparents in detail and the way they influenced her life.  Music was always important in her family.  Deborah's grandmother was an opera singer in Chicago, and her mother played folk guitar.  She took the family to Jewish folk festivals and filled the house with Jewish music.  Deborah's father grew up Orthodox, her mother conservative, but they joined a Reconstructionist synagogue when they were married.  She recounts her Jewish education and experience in Hebrew School.  Deborah recalls her bat mitzvah tutor as particularly influential and someone she had rich discussions with about Torah study.  She reflects on the ethical values that she's developed as a Jewish woman and how they have affected her career and life choices.  Deborah explains that at the core of whatever she does in her private and public life is the Jewish tradition of Tikkun Olam, a Hebrew phrase that means, 'repairing the world.' Deborah and her husband chose to move to Vermont, where they felt they could do good work and live peaceful lives.  She talks about her role as Secretary of State and says, "Serving Vermonters is the best job anyone can have," Vermont was a place where she could have more meaningful career choices and the opportunity to commit to community service.  As the first woman to hold this office, she brought a new perspective influenced by both feminism and Jewish traditions.  Deborah has developed a civics program for schools, including mock elections and booklets on the town meeting day for all different ages.  Her office created The Safe at Home program, which helps victims of domestic violence maintain anonymity while providing them a way to receive mail and other communications safely.  She has helped towns modernize their election procedures resulting in fewer complaints and problems during voting. 

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How to cite this page

Oral History of Deborah Markowitz. Interviewed by Sandra Stillman Gartner. 12 July 2005. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 1, 2024) <http://jwa.org/oralhistories/markowitz-deborah>.

Oral History of Deborah Markowitz by the Jewish Women's Archive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://jwa.org/contact/OralHistory.