See what's growing as JWI's Young Women's Leadership Network expands westward.
by Lauren Landau
As Paul Simon once crooned in “Paranoia Blues,” New York City is a place “where they roll you for a nickel and they stick you for the extra dime.” But in a city where they might otherwise be on their own, members of JWI’s Young Women’s Leadership Network have each other’s backs.
That support system can be uncharacteristic of women, notes Talia Solomon, marketing manager for Bravo and a New York Network board member. “There’s sometimes a sense of competition.” In the Network, however, women work to empower, not undercut, each other. Members help one another develop meaningful friendships and look into different job opportunities. “It’s been really great to see women coming together in the organization, wanting to help each other out,” she says.
When the Network launched in Washington, D.C. in 2013, the goal was to bring young professional Jewish women together, “It seemed like there was a hole in the D.C. Jewish community; a space for young professional Jewish women to come together and attend events, assume leadership roles, hone professional and leadership development skills, and build a community of like-minded women,” says Miri Cypers, a founding board member of the Network and director of Federal Affairs and Partnerships at Americans for Responsible Solutions.
With funding from the Sondra D. Bender Community Leadership Institute, not only did the Network launch and successfully build that community in D.C., it also expanded to New York City in the fall of 2015 and is set to launch in Denver, Colorado this September.
Adriane Greenberg is a member of the Mile High City’s inaugural Network board. “Colorado does a great job in trying to bring young people into the community,” the young mother and business manager for a small communications company says. But like D.C. before the Network's launch, Denver is missing something.
“There’s a lot for young Jewish people, but nothing really specific for young Jewish women,” Greenberg says. “When you go through your schooling, you have different avenues to be a leader. You have BBYO and NFTY, and summer camp.”
After college, she says, those leadership opportunities evaporate. “I think this program is going to be a great way to bridge the gap between Jewish youth programs and being a leader in the Jewish community a little bit later in life.”
Her sister-in-law Rachael Greenberg agrees. Born and raised in Denver, the senior associate account manager at KPMG, an audit, tax and advisory services company, and Network board member, says she loves that the network is accessible to “all young professional women who happen to be Jewish.”
“My hope is that it will attract a multitude of women that are working in different industries at different points in their career, and we can learn and mentor and network with each other,” she says. “I feel like that is really missing from the Denver community.”
If the other cities are an example, the Network will soon fill that void in Denver. After just one year in the Big Apple, it has a committed New York board that organizes monthly events for the group’s growing membership.
“In New York, we started with our small board, and it’s been growing based on our personal connections,” board member and real estate salesperson Amanda Paul says. “Now that we’ve been around for a few months, women are coming to events that don’t know anyone there, but have just heard that it’s a neat thing to check out.”
The New York Network, like those in the other cities, provides something not seen in other Jewish organizations. “Within the Network there’s a big focus on professional development and empowering women to be independent when it comes to finances,” Talia Solomon says. While she appreciates those other groups, many of them focus solely on Jewish identity.
Originally from a small town in Florida, Paul says the Network also provides a diverse network of peers and older women, mentors that she and other members can turn to.
...in the Network, women work to empower, not undercut, each other; members help one another develop meaningful friendships and look into different job opportunities.
“Having them come and speak to us and hear how they got to where they are has been a huge perk of being in this network,” she says. “Having exposure to high-powered women and CEOs of different companies in that intimate environment opens up the floor for discussion a lot more than going to a lecture hall with 200 other women.”
That makes it easier to ask questions, and to make friends. Alyssa Weiner, senior associate for the Department of International Jewish Affairs at the American Jewish Committee, recently joined the D.C. board after being involved with the Network for about a year. An alumna of George Washington University, Weiner says most of her friends moved after graduation.
“I was really looking for a group of new girlfriends, a network I could feel comfortable with, girls I could feel inspired by, and who I could really count on and learn from,” she says. “I can now call some of my very best friends women I’ve met through this network.”
In addition to those friendships, Weiner has benefitted from the Network's numerous events.
“You can really get great personal and professional skills out of these events,” she says, adding that each one presents unique opportunities for growth. There are Shabbat dinners that provide a spiritual connection, professional development workshops that teach marketable skills, and a philanthropy series for women who want to make a difference. In any given month, members might be learning how to make challah, how to finance their first home, or how to update their resumes.
“I loved the ‘Pitch Perfect’ event,” Weiner says, referring to the March 2016 workshop with literary agent Gail Ross, who taught attendees how to pitch their ideas. “Learning how to be confident in your work and how to sell yourself, I probably use those skills every day.”
But Weiner’s most memorable moment came this past May when she served on the committee of the Network's High Tea. Proceeds from the elegant fundraiser benefitted JWI’s Flower Project, which sends bouquets and financial literacy resources to 200 domestic violence shelters on Mother’s Day.
“This was the event that brought me into a leadership position and really is the reason I wanted to join the board,” Weiner says. “Seeing the success of the event – over 40 women and girls came and we raised about $2,000 for the Flower Project – was amazing.”
Attendees heard powerful stories from Naomi Taffet, assistant director at CHANA, a Baltimore-based program for people experiencing abuse and interpersonal trauma. She spoke about JWI’s impact on women’s lives. Kyle Lierman, head of the It's On Us sexual assault prevention campaign, spoke about White House efforts to improve conditions for women.
“You could really see how influential JWI is in the lives of women everywhere,” Weiner says.
“The tea was such a beautiful way of connecting the members of the Network with the work of JWI,” Meredith Jacobs, JWI’s vice president of marketing and communications, said after the event. “What I keep hearing from network members is that it’s wonderful that we provide these leadership and growth opportunities, but what they most appreciate is connecting with a Jewish women’s organization working on issues they care about.”
In addition to its events, the Network hosts a conference held annually in conjunction with JWI’s Women to Watch luncheon in Washington. Luncheon honorees, notable women from a variety of fields, speak at the conference and interact with Network members. This year’s conference will take place on Sunday, December 11.
Sasha Altschuler is national manager of the Network. As a millennial, she’s also solidly within its target demographic, which she says gives her a better perspective and ability to run the group, not to mention a stronger handle on adulthood.
“The financial workshops have been extremely beneficial in my life and building my financial literacy,” she says.
Like D.C. and New York, Denver is a hub for young professionals. “Millennials are flocking to the Mile High City,” The Wall Street Journal declared last year. For newcomers seeking friends, professional mentors, and a connection to their Jewish identity, the Network plays a key role.
“Millennials are moving here all the time and they have so much to offer,” Adriane Greenberg says. “[The Network] is a great avenue for young Jewish women to be able to learn about leadership and make a difference in the community.”
“Denver is a very different landscape from New York and Washington, D.C., so I hope we can put our own Colorado spin on things,” Rachael Greenberg says. “It’s definitely a different work-life balance here, a different work culture, but I think all the same education that the Network has been instilling in its members is so needed here.”
Altschuler says she wants Network board members in Denver, New York and D.C. to feel a sense of independence and ownership. “I want this really to be theirs,” she says. “That’s why I encourage them to invite their friends and their own networks so that when they show up to an event, there are people they recognize, people they’re close with and people they have been connected with.”
She hopes the Network will build enough of those connections to support future launches and ultimately, a national board with roots in cities across the U.S.
Solomon would also like to see an expanded, collaborative network. She says whether a young woman is new to a city or just visiting, it would be a huge asset to have “a net of Jewish women there to help you in any way you need.”
Lauren Landau is communications manager at JWI.