JWFNY’s 2020 Convening: As Challenges Mount, Accelerating Jewish Women Change Makers

October 21, 2020

H. Glenn Rosenkrantz

Several years ago, Ruth Messinger, Global Ambassador for American Jewish World Service, was at a conference of humanitarian and social activists from Africa and the United States. One speaker was Tamar Manasseh, an outspoken community advocate working to prevent violence on the streets of Chicago’s South Side.

“I’m listening to her, and she says she’s Jewish and works in Chicago on gang violence, and I’m wondering the whole time why I never heard of her. I was in urban politics for decades,” said Messinger, who is also a consultant to the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York (JWFNY).

It’s a small story, but immensely illuminating. There are untold numbers of Jewish women social entrepreneurs – informed and driven by Jewish values – who are not receiving sustained visibility for themselves and their work, a reality that very often denies them critical funding, collaborations, and recognition, and as a result, the ability to realize their full potential for impact and leadership.

When The Convening, a JWFNY initiative, begins on Oct. 26, it’s exactly that status quo that organizers seek to shatter. The two-morning online gathering will bring Jewish women social entrepreneurs from the United States, Israel, and elsewhere around the world together with existing and potential funders, Jewish community leaders, activists, and others wanting to learn.

It is the second JWFNY conference of its type that by its very nature and definition fills a void in the Jewish arena. It is explicitly dedicated to elevating and positioning Jewish women social entrepreneurs who haven’t had such a prominent, meaningful, and ongoing platform, and to diving into the particular issues and challenges facing them as change makers.

“These are critical objectives,” said JWFNY CEO Jamie Allen Black, “especially at a time when the world is facing challenges unlike any we’ve known. Urgent attention must be given to visionary women and they must be given the space to design new ways to approach issues that existing structures and models are not. Women embody our collective hope.”

Central to The Convening is a collective of 20 Jewish women change makers supported by JWFNY – in a unique model of support, incubation, and acceleration – as they stare down challenges through Jewish and gender lenses.

The women not only receive multi-year funding to their organizations, but the 20 also receive intense, ongoing professional development – designed by Messinger and JWFNY professionals – to enhance their capacities and fuel their trajectories as feminist leaders and risk takers.

As a collective, they are addressing a variety of societal needs such as fighting gun violence, as Manasseh is doing in Chicago, lowering infant mortality rates in Africa, ending rampant sexual abuse of female and LGBTQ+ inmates in American penitentiaries, eradicating global sex trafficking, empowering women’s rights in Israel, and myriad other imperatives.

Speak to these Jewish women social entrepreneurs, and a common theme that emerges is the absolute vacuum in which so many of them exist, unconnected from each other and far from any consistent platform from which to advocate for themselves, their causes, and their visions for change.

“There is an intense need for women change makers, social entrepreneurs and leaders in general in the world; there’s just not enough of them in any community, and the Jewish community is no exception,” said Viviana Waisman, President and CEO of Women’s Link Worldwide, a global organization that advocates and litigates in national, regional and international courts and forums for new standards advancing the human rights of women and girls.

“This space being created by JWFNY is addressing that by putting women and girls at the center of finding solutions and solving problems.”

And the pandemic, as so many of these leaders and others said, is not only deepening already existing societal challenges, but is also revealing and generating new ones that demand a rethinking of the philanthropic paradigm.

“By way of response to what is going on, some major Jewish foundations are shifting their funds away from innovation and are moving to the default of bailing out the establishment, doubling down on the status quo and losing any appetite for risk,” said Rabbi Benay Lappe, Founder and Rosh Yeshiva of SVARA, a Chicago-based yeshiva dedicated to inclusive and accessible Talmud study through a queer lens.

“JWFNY is heading the other way, reaffirming their investment in the future. They are fearlessly committing space and resources to women change makers who aren’t hanging onto the patriarchal establishment because they know it needs to be disrupted if we are to advance as a community and rise to challenges with a diverse collection of new voices.”

That is precisely why JWFNY is so committed to advancing and elevating Jewish women visionaries – JEWELs (Jewish Entrepreneurial Women Executives and Leaders) in the Foundation’s lexicon – and to providing them with this invaluable platform, said Rachel Weinstein, JWFNY President.

“We’re creating a vibrant community where gender-driven approaches and solutions, Jewish values, and social impact philanthropy intersect. Together, we have the potential to shake up existing structures that are not nourishing a generation of women leaders and innovators to the fullest extent possible, nor fulfilling our shared value of tikkun olam.”

JWFNY’s 2020 Convening takes place online from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. (ET) on both Monday, Oct. 26, and Tuesday, Oct. 27. For more information and to register, visit www.jewishwomen.org.