Celebrating Our Stories: Women Who Change the World in the Jewish Community and Beyond

Photo courtesy JDC

By Michele Rosen, Jayne Lipman and Susan Stern

We came of age during the 60’s and 70’s, when the stories of women as activists and leaders, as professionals and volunteers, were just a whisper across the globe.

Today, the strength of women is no quiet secret – it is a mighty roar, echoing everywhere change is made and any place vulnerable lives are strengthened.

We are board presidents, community conveners, activists, advocates, healers, and, as one of our colleagues noted, we’re always hard at work getting things done.

When a natural disaster strikes, when a child is hungry, when a grandmother needs a helping hand anywhere across the world, there is a woman putting her Jewish values into action and doing something to make things better.

Yet despite our centuries of leadership, one of the most critical challenges facing our Jewish community today is a long overdue reckoning over the treatment and role of women. Indeed, this effort is at the heart of Jewish life because we are at the heart of the systems, institutions, shared values, and an enduring Jewish identity that will be passed on to future generations.

We must create an environment where women are fully welcomed, valued, and promoted with full equality and respect.  To foster real change, we must become passionate storytellers and advocates, highlighting women who make our communities thrive through innovation and leadership models often overlooked or taken for granted. We must become their champions and also foster new paths for women to solve seemingly insurmountable challenges. That is the hallmark of our ingenuity: we believe change is possible and once we put our minds to it, we imagine more and change the status quo.

That concept is the centerpiece of a gathering we’re hosting in New York next Wednesday where hundreds of women of all ages and roles – philanthropists, professionals, thought leaders, industry experts, and grassroots activists – will come together to tell the story of women trailblazers and their outsized impact.

Imagine More,” JDC’s Global Women’s Summit emerged from our decades long friendships and passionate activism in the Jewish community and our commitment to sharing the stories we’ve learned in the hopes that they will inspire others to action. Its message derives from our commitment to the idea that women are key to lifting up families and communities. It was catalyzed in our collaborations as senior members of the Board of Directors of JDC, the global Jewish humanitarian group, and the women leaders who we have met through JDC who tirelessly work to change the world.

We know how transformative other women role models can be and how their stories empower others to take up the mantle of leadership. We learned this through years of work on behalf of causes large and small, both within the Jewish community and in the wider social change space.

So we’ve organized this day around telling those stories. And we’re focusing on three pillars: leadership cultivation and resilience, economic empowerment, and fostering women’s health and well-being.

Take Eva Stupka, a 17-year-old from Kishinev, Moldova, who is considered one of her community’s top Jewish leaders. Her efforts to impart Jewish culture and volunteerism informed by Jewish values has had a ripple effect on her peers and people from her parents’ and grandparents’ generation who often hid their Jewish identity under the Soviets. Upending that legacy, she enthusiastically embraced her Jewish roots, inspired by them to make change in the world.

She’ll be joined by Nela Hasic, a leading women’s health advocate from Bosnia and Herzegovina, a country beset by religious and ethnic divides. Today, as a Jewish woman, she leads Think Pink, a local women’s health and breast cancer awareness program that unites many disparate groups in the battle to save women’s lives.

From Suzan Hassan-Daher, an Israeli Arab employment expert, we’ll learn about innovative initiatives for the integration of Arab men and women into the Israeli job market. Her leadership and work of her colleagues have led to many advancements. Indeed JDC’s Arab job center model in Israel was praised by the OECD, the leading global economic organization focused on financial growth and trade.

These voices are but the tip of the iceberg in terms of the sheer number of women around the world engaged in this kind of work. So we’ll also hear from women who inspire us to do more, be more, and demand more on an even wider stage: Dr Paula Johnson, the president of Wellesley College; Amanda Nguyen, the CEO of Rise and a 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Nominee; and Dr. Deborah Lipstadt, the academic and activist whose brave efforts to combat anti-Semitism and highlight the poisonous impact of hate is an inspiration to Jewish women everywhere.

As we witness the integral and consistent role women play in their families, on the job, and in their communities, we must be a megaphone for their achievements. More than that, we must create space for the replication of these models of women’s leadership. Future generations, in the Jewish community and beyond, are counting on us. We cannot let them down.

Michele Rosen, Jayne Lipman, and Susan Stern, are co-Chair of Imagine MORE: JDC’s Global Women’s Summit taking place in Manhattan on September 18, 2019.