Turning the Page

photo by Michael B. Kress

photo by Michael B. Kress

Where does the time go? Twenty years ago, when I was asked to join JWI, I had three young children and a busy, hectic life. I was no stranger to the non-profit world, having spent my early career working to advance the lives of women and families through organizations, politics, and philanthropy, but I had no idea what a rich and joyful journey I was about to embark upon. After two decades of meaningful work, tremendous challenges, and enriching opportunities, I plan to step down as CEO of JWI at the end of 2019. It is time to pass the torch to new leadership.

In the fall of 1999, when I arrived, JWI (formerly known as B’nai B’rith Women) was in difficult straits, having barely survived an acrimonious split from B’nai B’rith. In the ensuing chaos, JWI had pledged to embark on a radical re-engineering effort to anchor its future. I was hired to be the architect and implementer of this plan.

I was intrigued by JWI: By the courageous commitment of its leadership to embark on a new strategic plan that would change the structure of the organization forever; by its prescient mission to end domestic violence; by its history of developing women’s leadership skills; by its advocacy on important issues like the ERA and reproductive choice; and by its commitment to philanthropy through the millions of dollars raised for the Children’s Home in Israel. My first day of work coincided with the first day of the re-engineering process: Little did I know that it would foretell a 20-year adventure of dramatic and dynamic change. As we say, we left no stone unturned.

Beyond just rebranding, we treated the organization as a start-up – rebuilding and expanding the framework, from our mission to our programs, our staff, our board, and our stakeholders. We identified the persistent obstacles to gender parity, creating a vision dedicated to ending all forms of domestic and (cont'd p. 26) sexual violence, promoting financial and economic empowerment, and strengthening, celebrating, and elevating women’s leadership. These became the guideposts of our transformation. I am proud that we were always ahead of the curve and ahead of our time; only today is the Jewish community tackling many of the challenges that we have been working on for 20 years.

A wonderful team of women – both staff and board – has led JWI firmly into the 21st century. We have created a rich portfolio of programs that champion the prevention of all forms of domestic and sexual violence and harassment. We lead the Jewish community’s efforts to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. Our programs have touched communities in nearly 200 college campuses, synagogues and day schools, camps, and organizations, delivering training on everything from healthy relationships to money management. We have created powerful programmatic partnerships with Sigma Delta Tau sorority and Zeta Beta Tau fraternity, as well as with Hadassah, Project Kesher, and Jewish women’s foundations across the country. These partnerships have brought to life programs that have made the world safer for women and enriched opportunities in their personal, professional, and spiritual lives. Our Clergy Task Force and Interfaith Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence have been models of collaborative partnerships that embrace the diversity of faith and interfaith while sharing an unwavering commitment to ending domestic, dating, and gun violence.

And of course, there is JWI’s philanthropy: A decade ago, JWI purchased and funded a brand-new residential campus for at-risk children in Israel. Since 1999 we have delivered more than 5,000 beautiful bouquets of flowers to women living in shelters on Mother’s Day. And later this fall we will complete our 90th children’s library in a domestic violence shelter. Giving back truly deepens the impact of our work.

From a floundering organization two decades ago to the flourishing community we are today, JWI has captured the engagement of the next generation. Our Young Women’s Leadership Networks have inspired thousands of young professionals in Washington D.C., New York, Denver, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Nearly 200 current and former Women to Watch provide the blueprint for celebrating Jewish women’s leadership – mentoring the next generation and building an circle of inspiring JWI leaders. JWI has thrived as an open tent – and through its light and airy flaps we have welcomed thousands of new donors, partners, and members. Our culture is warm and generous and our work is recognized, respected, and replicated.

So, at the end of December I will step down as CEO, maintaining a small role with JWI and consulting on women’s leadership and philanthropy. I have been so fortunate to work with my successor, Meredith Jacobs, for more than ten years; together we are creating a seamless transition.

Twenty years after I began, my children are grown and JWI is a vibrant, progressive organization working 365 days a year on issues that empower and elevate all women and every girl.

My deepest gratitude to JWI’s inspired staff and board, and to our funders as well – you have made our work possible and have been an ongoing source of inspiration. But the engine of any organization is its stakeholders; the thousands of donors, members, partners, and supporters who cheer from the sidelines every day knowing that the mission and work of this organization is sacred. Thank you for believing in JWI.