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Letter | We are the Jewish AOCs

“Where are the Jewish leaders who speak for women?”

Dr. Susannah Heschel asks this critical question in her July 27th opinion piece in these pages. She celebrates Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s recent speech on the House floor condemning Rep. Ted Yoho’s demeaning and insulting language and behavior which, unfortunately, is not unusual for women – especially women of color – to experience.

Heschel accurately addresses the ever-present and pervasive marginalization, inequity and, often, harassment that many – if not most – women experience in the Jewish communal world. In particular, she focuses on the professional Jewish landscape.

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez was speaking for Jewish women because she was sharing an experience to which all women can relate. Her experience as a woman is not “other” than Jewish women, it is inclusive of all of us.

While Heschel poses a critical question and shines light yet again on the very issues that have been fueled by the #MeToo moment, we believe that she, in fact, makes her own point.

“Where are the Jewish leaders who speak for women?” We are right here!

We are working tirelessly every day individually and collectively across our community to speak and advocate for Jewish (and all) women, to shine a light on Jewish women’s work and leadership. We are curating forums, events, and now, webinars, working to end inequity, harassment, assault and abuse. We are speaking and teaching, gathering and organizing, hosting (currently virtual) events, planning and strategizing.

We stand today as a diverse coalition, representing Jewish women from all across the country and the globe, from all walks of life, identities, and religious affiliations: Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal and otherwise affiliated or not; we are Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrachi; we are Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, White, and Multiracial; we are LGBTQ+ and straight; we are philanthropists, CEOs, educators, journalists, volunteers, stay-at-home parents, and more.

And today, as a global pandemic swirls around us, we continue to keep that fight alive even while issues deemed more urgent understandably rise to the top.

Last August, [an article titled “The Week That All Jewish Women Turned Invisible” appeared in eJewish Philanthropy, a daily newsletter followed by a majority of Jewish professionals. It was a response to a week where once again, many new male CEOs were announced at legacy institutions, multiple articles were published celebrating male-only leadership, and panels featuring exclusively male-only leadership were convened.

An effort began on a highly active Facebook Group, “Year of the Jewish Woman and Allies” – now home to 3,261 members, and heavily populated with heads of organizations and public speakers and writers who speak out for women every day, and who are in collegial dialogue there – to grow a movement that speaks loudly and powerfully on behalf of Jewish women.

We thank Professor Heschel for shining a light, again, as we seemingly continue to need to, on the egregious inequities and abuses of women in the Jewish community. Doing so as a public figure whose name garners much respect and reverence only helps our cause.

However, we pose a question in return. If someone with her extraordinary background, education, awareness and engagement in the Jewish community is asking: “Where are the Jewish leaders who speak for women?” then how can we expect those who are less informed to support and join this effort? Whose responsibility is it to know who our female Jewish leaders are and raise up our voices and our work? If we do not take an active role in educating ourselves as well as promoting the work of Jewish women’s leadership every day – then how can we rightfully express frustration and anger when others’ voices are not “loud enough” and remain unheard?

“Where are the Jewish leaders who speak for women?” WE ARE RIGHT HERE.

But we ask different questions: Where are the Jewish leaders actively seeking out the organizations, initiatives, and women themselves whose voices deserve amplification? Where are the Jewish leaders actively choosing to fund our work? Where are the Jewish leaders with influence and power who are saying “Look here, these bold Jewish women leaders are valiant and persistent in their struggle for justice, for equity, for safety, and for respect. Let’s join them.”

We are here. We don’t need to be found or for others to speak on our behalf. What we need is the Jewish organizational world to see us as leaders and position us at the heads of our largest tables.

People of stature and influence in the Jewish community: You are part of this work. Make it your business to elevate and amplify Jewish women’s voices, follow our work, use your own voice to give the work greater visibility and credibility. So many women (and men) have stepped up to challenge gender and other inequities, and have spoken as eloquently and forcefully as AOC. Support us, engage with us, listen to our stories.

By Nicole Nevarez, National Director, Ta’amod: Stand Up!, with Jamie Allen Black, CEO, Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, and Naomi Eisenberger, Executive Director, The Good People Fund

Ruth Messinger / Jewish Social Justice Consultant
Barbara Dobkin / Dobkin Family Foundation
Meredith Jacobs, CEO / Jewish Women International (JWI)
Sara Shapiro-Plevan, Co-Founder / Gender Equity in Hiring Project; Founder and Lead Consultant / Rimonim Consulting
Sally Gottesman
Rachel Weinstein, President / Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York
Dr. Judith Rosenbaum, CEO / Jewish Women’s Archive
Eve Landau
Ginna Green, Strategist and Consultant
Tania Laden, Executive Director / LivelyHoods
Sarah Chandler, CEO / Shamir Collective
Rabba Melissa Scholten-Gutierrez
Hazzan Joanna Selznick Dulkin
Rabbi Rebecca W. Sirbu, Co-Founder / Gender Equity in Hiring Project; CEO /; Engagement Division Director / Hadassah
Rabbi Steven Bayar, Emeritus / Bnai Israel, Millburn, NJ / Director JSurge
Naama Haviv, Director of Community Engagement / MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
Ann Cohen / Ann Cohen & Associates
Susan Weidman Schneider, Editor in Chief / Lilith Magazine
Samantha Anderson, Founder & Managing Partner / Ceres Group Advisors
Jordan Namerow, Founder and Principal / Jordan Namerow Communications
Rachel Gildiner, Executive Director / GatherDC
Dana Levinson Steiner, Board of Directors / Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York
Amanda Katz, Executive Director/JCADA
Rebecca Youngerman, Founder and Principal / RGY Consulting
Jodi Bromberg, CEO / 18Doors (formerly InterfaithFamily)
Deborah Meyer, CEO / Moving Traditions
Naomi Tucker, Executive Director / SHALOM BAYIT, Ending Domestic Violence in Jewish Homes
Larisa Klebe, Director / Nishmah: The St. Louis Jewish Women’s Project (a program of the J)
Dan Brown, Founder and Publisher / eJewishPhilanthropy
Rabbi Dena Klein / The Jewish Education Project
Laura Mandel, Executive Director / The Jewish Arts Collaborative
Rabbi Yael Ridberg / Congregation Dor Hadash
Rachel Eisen, Co-Founder / Mentoring for Equity
Sara Miller-Paul, Co-Founder / Mentoring for Equity
Rabbi Andrea M. Gouze, Temple Beth Emunah / Director of Pastoral Care, New England Sinai Hospital
Cindy Rowe, Executive Director / Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action
Susan Adler, Executive Director / Boston Jewish Film
Idit Klein, President & CEO / Keshet
Stephanie Levin, Chief Engagement & Innovation Officer / Peninsula JCC
Karyn Grossman Gershon, Executive Director / Project Kesher
Allison Fine
Dana Sheanin, CEO / JewishLearningWorks
Rabbi Rachel Ain
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg
Jacqueline Ulin Levey, CEO / WashU Hillel
Carrie Bornstein, Executive Director / Mayyim Hayyim Living Waters Community Mikveh and Paula Brody & Family Education Center
Rachel Wasserman
Daphne Lazar Price, Executive Director / Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance
Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, President / Hebrew College
Laura Hyman, Director / Genesis Precollege Program at Brandeis University
Rivka Cohen, Director of Partnerships and Strategic Development / Lissan
Molly Wernick, Community Director/Habonim Dror Camp Galil
Rabbi Melinda Zalma / Commander, Navy Chaplain Corps / Program Director, Jewish Community Relations Council-NY
Rabbi Lisa Gelber
Susan Weiss, Executive Director / Center for Women’s Justice

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