Empowered Women Change Philanthropy – and JFNA Leads the Effort

By Judy Altenberg

Jean Grossman was 16 when she first got involved in Jewish life. The year was 1943 and she joined friends organizing a program at a local synagogue. “When you grow up without a Jewish community and then you discover one, you want to preserve it,” she said. “For us, strengthening Jewish community back then was about survival; and, today, it’s still about survival.”

Last month Jean became the first woman to set up a Lion of Judah Endowment (LOJE) in honor of the global movement’s 25th anniversary. “You want to see Judaism go on forever,” she explained. “So, we have to get involved and we have to support each other. Otherwise, who will?”

“Jean Grossman is a rare gem,” said Marty Haberer, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. “She is as kind as she is generous; and with this gift she is exemplifying leadership, demonstrating her commitment to Jewish peoplehood and our local Jewish community in a most extraordinary way.”

Though it is not news to the intrepid women leaders of National Women’s Philanthropy of The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the rest of the world is discovering the financial, political and social power and prominence of women in every corner of society. Forty-five percent of American millionaires are women, and women control over 60 percent of the wealth in the U.S.

Moreover, an extraordinary transfer of wealth – many trillions of dollars – is about to exchange hands, and mostly into the hands of women. Women are inheriting most of these estates, and they inherit twice – from spouses and parents. Recognizing the power of women in each of these arenas is not merely a gender issue; it is a communal issue, and it demands attention.

Acting upon the importance of women’s philanthropy and the need for Jewish Federations to help lead the effort toward full gender equality, JFNA is thrilled to launch a new $100 million endowment campaign for women. This is the largest campaign Jewish Federations have undertaken since the emergency campaign to help Israelis during the 2006 Lebanon War.

National Women’s Philanthropy today comprises an annual campaign of over $200 million, and pledged endowed assets in excess of $620 million. The new campaign aims to increase that endowment to $720 million.

The women contributing to National Women’s Philanthropy include 17,500 Lions of Judah, who give $5,000 or more annually to their local Federation. Norma Kipnis-Wilson and Toby Friedland (z”l) created the Lion of Judah, an unparalleled program that has brought together women of all ages and from many walks of life to play an essential role in creating social justice, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, preserving human dignity and building Jewish identity. And more than that, it empowers women as leaders in philanthropy.

Among the Lions of Judah, 22 percent have set up legacy gifts – endowments – knowns as LOJEs (Lion of Judah Endowments). In this 25th anniversary year of the LOJE, the new campaign, dubbed LOJE25, aims to help more women strengthen their philanthropic power and grow that number.

Since Lion of Judah’s creation some 45 years ago, women have made many advances, but gender equality is yet to be achieved. A new report published by the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University documents National Women’s Philanthropy in the U.S. tracing its roots to the 1970s and 1980s. Kipnis-Wilson and Friedland were among a cohort of women who led this charge to empower. Yet even before that, Federation dedicated itself to celebrating women’s philanthropic giving as a movement, not as a trend.

Jean Grossman was also part of that cohort. Living in Minneapolis, she and her husband Harold helped develop what today is one of the most resilient Jewish communities in the United States. “Women didn’t work professionally back then,” said Jean, speaking about Jewish women living in the twin cities around the middle of the century, “we solicited.”

We knew “we had to make giving to Federation the thing to do” she said, “but really it was about education.” Jean hosted all day meetings in her home where they trained women (and often men) about the campaign to help Israel and on how to ask for money; and, then, a few weeks later they would collect cards with pledges to give. Along the way, her children watched her work.

A recent New York Times article lamented how far women lagged behind men in flexing their financial power: “Women are often discouraged from openly promoting themselves and the money they make or generate in the way men are allowed to do.” For more than a quarter of a century, Federation has worked to buck that trend. Nearly three-quarters of Lions of Judah give their largest philanthropic gift to Federation – because they know that through Federation, they can make an impact on the world.

The top three responses when women are asked why they give at and beyond the Lion of Judah level are to help Jews around the world, to help Jews in local communities and to spend time with like-minded women.

With her husband Harold now gone, Jean feels Jewish continuity, as well as survival, is her primary philanthropic goal. And with three daughters just as committed to Jewish giving – and four granddaughters – Jean and her family exemplify multi-generation philanthropy.

Thirty-seven percent of Lions of Judah are like Jean. They like to participate as a family. They have either a mother/mother-in-law or a daughter/daughter-in-law who is a Lion, and seven percent have both. LOJE25 is a way to strengthen and fortify these women’s financial power – steward the full family in philanthropic decisions.

Seventy-two percent of women who have been Lions for 30 or more years have created an endowment; for those who have been Lions for 26-30 years, 84 percent have created an endowment. Giving to Federation is not a phase, it is a way of life – and there’s room for more.

Lions of Judah represent hundreds of thousands of donors at all levels of giving, all around the world. Guided by our tradition of tzedakah and tikkun olam, JFNA’s National Women’s Philanthropy is dedicated to the continuity, connectivity and thriving future of our North American communities, Israel and the Jewish people. Together, with LOJE25, Jewish Federations have the potential to continually nurture new generations of female philanthropic leaders.

JFNA believes that the future well-being of the global Jewish community is inextricably linked to the power of women’s philanthropy, the fastest growing phenomenon in fundraising today. Equality in philanthropy is another step along the path to enable and accelerate solutions to 21st century global challenges.

“People need to be talking to their children and their grandchildren about giving,” said Jean Grossman, “And you’ve got to just start things sometimes. Whatever it takes.”

For more visit, jewishfederations.org/how-you-can-help/lion-of-judah/the-lion-of-judah-endowment

Judy Altenberg is LOJE25 Chair.