A Critical Moment – Millennial Inclusion for Social Change
By Sophie Hearne
I recently had the distinct honor of participating in the 9th annual Force for Change Conference with some of the most exceptional, feminist Jewish thought leaders in the country. I returned home feeling energized and empowered. I was the youngest person at the conference for the past two years. Last year, I was more intimidated. This year, I saw the value of my age and my “millennial” perspective.
I am curious when the movement of Jewish Women’s Funds is going to commit to intergenerational conversation. When do the twenty year olds get to be included in the movement’s conversation about how to advance gender equality within and outside of the Jewish community? Are you waiting until millennials have the money to participate? The movement is doing itself a disservice by waiting that long. Turn on the news. Our country, and world, is having a crisis of character. We are seeing the rise of bigotry, hate, and incendiary fear in our political climate. We are seeing rapidly growing anti-Israel, pro BDS sentiments, and anti-Semitism (not all to be conflated) nationally and internationally.
The movement is not going to advance its grant making and advocacy efforts without younger voices. Without the input of millennials, the movement is missing a critical perspective on contemporary activism. Social media, rapid response campaigns do not need to sound daunting to a fund’s membership. Social media is an inextricable part of our lives, and it is now the fabric of our world, as well as any radical change. If the Jewish Women’s Funding Network wants to elevate its collaborative work, its visibility, it must invite young women voices to the table. Millenials have been socialized to “post” and “tweet” about their lives and passions and would welcome the opportunity to do this for the movement. I promise you, you will stop hearing that the network’s work is a best-kept secret.
If you actually want more risk taking then I encourage you to commit to thinking creatively about how to bring millenials into the conversations, the grant making, the learning, and the advocacy. We grew up being told we can do anything as a girl, a woman. Let us have some space where we can explore what that actually would feel like as an adult, now that the sobering realities of subtle sexism are ever clear in our lives.
The movement needs young female leaders who want to dive deeply into complex problems to think of complex solutions. It needs young women who are willing and ready to take risks to have what may be hard, scary, complex conversations. We will challenge you, and we will make you think differently, and we will all – collectively – grow and learn together.
Please know that as feminist millennials we have a particular, unified agenda. We want to come to the conversation with a deep understanding of analyzing social ills through a gender lens, and committing to this lens and its intersectional method, staunchly. We hope to challenge you to really think about how your (and one day, our) grant making is actually, truly affecting social change by advancing gender equity. We will not shy away from difficult conversations around birth control, and reproductive rights, and abortion. We cannot afford to.
We have a lot to learn from you. We need to remember to not take our rights, our voices, and our privilege for granted. I grew up in a generation where I didn’t have to start from a place of fear, as a part of my Jewish identity. I know that I owe that in large part to the progressive women Jewish activists before me. And I will never forget that.
But you need to do a better job of being ready and willing to teach me and my colleagues. We want to learn, we want to engage, and we want to feel empowered and know that our voice matters, somewhere. Generational divides are not new to feminist movements and moments. The Jewish Women’s Funding network is young and I have faith that it will figure out how to best incorporate younger, more diverse voices. Let us think with you about how to best do this or go ask Jennifer Kryshka, the Director of Grants & Programming at the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Palm Beach, who is pioneering this work in the network’s sphere. Jennifer launched a Young Leaders Society in the fall of 2015. Young women who are part of the Society participate in an educational series, networking events, a giving circle, and intergenerational mentoring. Individual funds part of the network need to more boldly commit to this type of programming.
As a women and gender studies academic diehard, this work is my dream. Barbara Dobkin, asked me how I could stand it – referring to the slow pace and careful, complacent grant making. I stand it because I was briefed in college. I am in no way surprised that the current stage of the movement is fairly risk-adverse. It is typical for each new generation to be frustrated by the past – that friction is usually the genesis of change. So I do not think the movement is intentionally excluding us, but I encourage you to invite us in. I encourage you to invite us to shake things up and commit to growing, learning, and empowering ourselves and our movement. We fund young women’s leadership in Israel and in our own communities; let’s do this for ourselves as well.
Sophie is the Grants Specialist for The Miriam Fund, a Jewish women’s philanthropic giving circle in Boston, MA. Through strategic grant making, The Miriam Fund aims to inspire and strengthen women and girls within and beyond the Greater Boston Jewish community and in Israel.