DE&I Sharing Stories Series – Rita Cortes

May 24, 2023

DE&I Sharing Stories Series - Rita Cortes, CREW KC 

Jane Doe

1.    Can you share a bit about yourself and your cultural heritage?
I grew up in Kansas City where my family were members of Congregation Beth Shalom, a conservative Jewish congregation that was located at 34th and Paseo in KCMO (then later 95th and Wornall, now at 142nd and Lamar).   Jewish ritual, education and culture were embedded in our lives from very early on – I attended nursery school at our synagogue, Sunday school, then Hebrew school and attended Camp Ramah, a Jewish summer camp near Eagle River, Wisconsin.   Between my parents’ involvement and encouragement, my love of music and the joy that summer camp embeds, participating in Jewish life has always been at the forefront of my life. In classic American fashion, my cultural heritage is complicated –

most of my family immigrated to the U.S. in the 20th century, but from very different places and traditions – Jewish family from eastern Europe, Germany and Austria  and my Catholic grandfather from Mexico.  Some of my earliest memories are of Passover seders with my family and my great grandfather (and others) expressing their deep gratitude for freedom in the United States and the birth of the State of Israel in their lifetime.  Those same family members created the opportunity for me to pursue college and graduate studies that prepared me for work in construction and commercial real estate. Today I have the great fortune to work in and on behalf of the Jewish community in Kansas City.

2.    What does Jewish Heritage Month mean to you?
The recognition provides an opportunity to share my Jewish experience with others. In addition, the month reminds me that unless we share our stories and experiences, others may assume such stories are not central to our identity.
3.    How has your heritage shaped the person you are today?
Great question! My Jewish identity, values and faith form the core of who I am.  When I am wrestling with personal or professional questions, I return to those foundational values to remind myself of the wisdom that the Jewish tradition provides.  In every decade of my life, as different issues come to the fore in our society, the Torah and other Jewish texts and teachers provide me with a framework to question and try to understand modern challenges.  

4.    What brings you joy about your heritage and culture?
Lots and lots of joy in this heritage.  The opportunity to celebrate Jewish holidays with family and friends, eating holiday meals together, seeing each generation as they are born, grow up in our traditions, and take on their knowledge, roles and responsibilities.  Eating – so much eating! At every holiday – even the end of Yom Kippur (a fast day) there’s an opportunity to come together to eat and end the fast.  I teach students in preparation for their bar and bat mitzvahs – seeing each student grow in their learning and take on greater responsibility as they become adults brings immense joy.  The lifelong friendships built around our common Jewish experiences.  The continuous study of the texts and ethics of our traditions.  All these things bring joy.

5.    Have you seen the workplace change in terms of offering support and community for Jewish colleagues?
Yes and no. The workplace has generally become more open to the presence of people whose race, ethnicity, religion, etc. are different from the majority. The biggest lesson for me over the years is that I need to be open to educating my friends and colleagues where necessary and not assume that people act out of bad intention. Yes, surprisingly, there are still many who say antisemitic things without much awareness. The vast majority of people seek to have positive relationships across our different identities and experiences, so the effort to learn and share remains so important.

6.    What inspired you to work in your field?
I’ve had multiple different types of career stages, each inspired by different people.  I started in national politics, inspired by my grandmother.  It was heady and never boring.  I practiced law both in Washington DC and Kansas City, inspired by the Jewish tradition to pursue justice.  I worked in commercial construction, inspired by my father, grandparents and great grandparents to carry on a family tradition and found great joy in doing so.  And today I run a foundation in the Jewish community, using all those skills inspired by the Jewish tradition and my family to support others doing great work in Kansas City.  So I guess the short answer is I was inspired by my family, my teachers and the Jewish tradition.
7.    How have you paved the way in CRE, and how have you paid that forward to other women in the industry?
I haven’t paved the way in CRE though I have had the enormous good fortune to work with men and women who did pave the way.  Women like Pam Berneking, Bess Kerr, Suzie Aron, Suzanne Dimmel, Mary Riley-Cheek, Linda Hanson, Heather Jones, Linda Laurence, Beth DeCuir and many others that I haven’t listed here shared their knowledge and time to teach me along the way as they set the bar high in real estate development, leasing, banking/lending and law.  I’ve tried to pay it back by seeking out women to work with on transactions and to encourage within the industry where possible.  
8.    Do you have a favorite CREW story to share?
Not really – more an amalgamation at this stage of my career!

9.    Is there a CREW woman that has made a huge impact on you and how so?
Probably the woman with the biggest impact on me was Pam Berneking.  She became a dear friend during the course of my career and taught me so much.

More about Rita Cortes
Renovation generation: Hoffman Cortes Contracting takes on a big restructuring: itself - Kansas City Business Journal (
 WWMB@20 profile: Cortes' passions lead her career on a winding path (Video) - Kansas City Business Journal (