Needed: Women Of Color In Jewish Women’s Philanthropy

Black Jewish Shabbat in Cleveland; screen capture: Jews for Racial & Economic Justice.

By Jamie Allen Black

In order to stay relevant and effective, Jewish women’s philanthropy must increase the diversity of its supporters. The face of the Jewish community, literally and figuratively, has changed, and just as affluent, white, older women, the historical drivers of Jewish women’s philanthropy, are making way for younger women in their image, we must also recruit women of color, because that’s what’s real in the 21st century.

Importantly, women of color have the means to participate in Jewish philanthropy but their voices until now have been neither sought nor embraced.

The 2014 Pew Religious Landscape Study found that 10 percent of American Jews identify as Black, Asian, Latino or mixed, and a broad-based Jewish community study in 2011 found that 12 percent of all Jewish households in New York City, Long Island and Westchester are biracial or nonwhite. That means 132,000 of the 1.1 million Jews in New York identify as a race other than white.

If only half of the 132,000 were women, then 66,000 additional women of color could be participating in Jewish women’s philanthropy. Of those, if 10 percent are the top income earners or wealth inheritors, some 6,000 women of color in the New York metropolitan area could be philanthropists channeling vital dollars through a Jewish and gender lens. How many of these women are active in your organization? We have none. Yet.

Chava Shervington, an Orthodox African-American Jew and president of the Jewish Multi Racial Network, stated: “The inclusion and empowerment of Jews of color is essential to the community we are, and to the community we are increasingly becoming.” Hence, including women of color will both expand our pool of donors and facilitate more relevant grant-making.

In the current social and political climate, with individual rights being trampled across the culture, it is now incumbent upon those of us who believe in social justice and funding social change to recognize the importance of embracing advocacy, organizing, and civic engagement. In that effort, recognizing that women of all colors are working together toward social justice, the natural next step for Jewish women’s philanthropy is to intentionally seek out and welcome women of color at the table.

Unlike in years past, when women’s philanthropy might have been an extension of their husbands’ success and largesse, women’s philanthropy today is led and funded by women of independent means and stature and focused on supporting women and issues that matter to them.

Along these lines, there is no evidence that women of color have less disposable income than any other women in the 35-65 year-old demographic. In fact, assuming that these women don’t have the means to participate is, in itself, exclusionary.

My experience with women donors is that they are always looking to grow and embrace change. They are intelligent and savvy, and they are committed to staying on the cutting edge. These generous donors can be enrolled in the process of broadening their vision to be more inclusive and expanding their thinking to meet the needs of the Jewish community today.

With a view toward diversifying the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, we started with board training. And on June 7th we’ll host “Women of Color in the Jewish Community,” facilitated by Yavilah McCoy, CEO of Visions, Inc., herself an Orthodox African American woman She will lead a fishbowl discussion with Shoshana Brown, Tamara Fish, and Natasha Stevenson, followed by an opportunity for all present to learn about their experiences and ask questions.

If you are part of a funding institution that has yet to reach out to women of color, start the conversation with your board to prepare the organization to broaden its reach. We like to learn from others, so if you are already working in this way, we’d like to hear from you. And if you are a woman of color and interested in philanthropy, join us.

Jamie Allen Black is the executive director of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York.

This article first appeared in The Jewish Week; reprinted with permission.