Empowering a New Generation of Young Jewish Women

by Abigail Pickus

Jewish Women International (JWI) is set to launch an innovative new venture: a professional leadership network for young Jewish women.

“Our goal is to support women’s leadership,” said Susan Turnbull, JWI’s Chair of the Board of Trustees. “With this network we will be giving young women the opportunity to interact with spectacular role models while meeting each other and creating a sense of community.”

The network will target Jewish women in their 20s and 30s and will debut in New York and Washington, D.C., with the goal of expanding to other major U.S. cities.

JWI bills itself as the leading Jewish organization empowering women and girls. Through a combination of advocacy, educational programs and philanthropic initiatives, they work to end violence against women, safeguard reproductive rights, protect and support youth-at-risk and empower Jewish women.

Every year, JWI honors ten “Women to Watch,” a signature program in which Jewish women across the country from a spectrum of backgrounds, professions and life experiences are feted at a festive luncheon and profiled in the organization’s magazine, Jewish Woman.

JWI was established at the end of the 19th century as the women’s auxiliary to B’nai B’rith. In 1995, the group declared its independence and renamed itself Jewish Women International. “One of the things that JWI has done since we re-branded ourselves and recreated ourselves from formerly being B’nai B’rith Women is we have gone from being a member driven organization to a mission driven organization and our mission is all about strong, capable women in safe homes with healthy relationships,” said Turnbull.

The new network will focus on empowering a new generation of young Jewish women. This will include introducing them the growing list of Women to Watch. Former Women to Watch include Dana Bash, the CNN anchorwoman who covers Capitol Hill and Julie Morgenstern, the de-clutter queen, who has made a name for herself as an organizing and time management expert.

“One thing JWI has honed in on is the amazing world of Jewish women leadership in every single career, from entertainment to politics to journalism and more,” said Lauren Levine, JWI’s Executive Associate and Library Project Coordinator. “We want to extract the Jewish women who are emerging to become those leaders and create a supportive environment where women can support each other throughout their career development and also receive the benefit of mentorship that can be so inspiring for someone just starting her career.”

What is unique about this new network is it will be up to the young women themselves to craft the agenda and focus that will best suit their needs. “We will certainly kick it off with an event but the plan is for this to become more network than mission driven,” said Turnbull, herself a former Woman to Watch. “What we are finding when you look at Facebook and Twitter is that people like being in communities. They want to join something, but they don’t want all the rules and regulations about who is the chair or how many meetings you have to attend to be on the board or any other governance issues that go along with boards. Particularly young women don’t want to be part of that. We wanted to respond to that so if this group wants to get together to volunteer at a soup kitchen or read to children at the libraries we’ve helped establish at domestic violence shelters or have conversations and sessions with women about negotiating a salary or the best places to work – we want them to be able to do whatever it is that works best for them and we are giving them the vehicle in which to do it.”

Organizers say the new young women’s network will enhance the work done by the 74 JWI chapters throughout the country, whose members include original members of B’nai B’rith Women, according to Turnbull. For example, one constant throughout the years has been the residential treatment center for children in Jerusalem that JWI built in 1952 and has since given more than $75 million in support.

For more information about the young women’s network or to nominate a participant, contact Lauren Levine of Jewish Women International at llevine@jwi.org.