“It was a shock to come into a prominent leadership position in the Jewish community and realize that the Jewish community was behind all of those other systems,” remembers Ruth Messinger who was named to lead American Jewish World Service in 1998.
I interviewed Messinger about gender equality in Jewish not-for-profits and contrasted her voice with the insights of two younger women who had just become CEOs this year: Naomi Adler who is heading the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and Stosh Cotler, who was recently named head of the social justice organization Bend the Arc.
All three women believe the Jewish community is still lagging behind the general population when it comes to gender equality in the workplace, despite paying lip service to equal treatment.
Cotler criticizes the big contradiction between self-declared values and reality: “We have a community that is very much one that is progressive on gender issues and on supporting women’s rights, and yet we see very few women in formal positions of leadership.”
In my short film, Messinger, Adler and Cotler each make suggestions on how to improve career opportunities for women. And even though they don’t always agree with each other on every point, they all echo a growing sense of urgency.
Adler points out that the Jewish community is only hurting itself by squandering the potential of more than half its population.
“There are very talented women right now in middle management positions who could certainly be a CEO,” she said, “if they wanted to and if their community wanted to elevate them to do so.“
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Martyna Starosta is a former digital media producer of the Forward.