Consecrating Our Possessions: The Changing Face of Hekdesh

There is no question of the impact that women's philanthropy has made on the world. Hadassah alone has come to represent medical service and innovation. While the statistics of women's contributions to philanthropy are impressive, some of the anecdotes we gathered in our interviews perhaps best illustrate some of the unique experiences of women's involvement in Jewish giving.

In meeting with a senior leader in Federation of Los Angeles, she shared with us several of the reasons why she and her friends make giving a part of their lives and identities. One of the primary reasons was that kids watch closely what their parents do perhaps more than listening to what they say. She told us that by investing time energy and money in her philanthropic work, her children have learned what is really important to her. She also added that we wanted giving to be more than an activity and an annual check signing, she wanted it to be part of her identity. Explaining the friendships that are build around philanthropy, we learned that lasting friendships emerge from the cooperation and team work that occurs during committee meetings.

In addition to relationships, we heard time and time again that women emerge as leaders in the context of women's philanthropy. While there is a hope that mixed gender environments are as comfortable for women as a heterogeneous group, several women shared that they were much more willing to take strong leadership roles when men were not present in the group. While many women will make their voices heard regardless of company, some voices need to be coaxed, and a women's only forum can be part of that process.

From the UJC's webpage on National women's philanthropy, they describe that women's philanthropy "provides opportunities for every women to affirm her Jewish identity and spirituality, to take a stand on issues that affect her community, and to inspire other Jewish women by example." This power of strong female role models in philanthropy is something I can attest to. As a college student, I had the opportunity to have a conversation with Marlene Post that has influenced me ever since. Interested in economic justice, I had only worked with small local organization that addressed the needs of a particular community. Hearing about the scope of Hadassah impact and its goals, I was challenged to think more broadly about social change. Beyond that, I was able to see that systems can be changed without disrupting the social order: I did not have to be radical to be invested in making change.

Beyond the vision of women's philanthropy, there are certain symbols that can connect Jewish women across the nation. In a conversation, one woman shared with me that upon seeing a woman wearing a Lion of Judah pin at the airport, she asked her to watch her children for a moment when she went up to the service counter. Like a boy scout uniform the Lion of Judah pin represents an investment in a worldview based on Jewish commitment and hope in a better future. Another woman who works professionally in the Jewish community shared that her desire to be more involved philanthropically inspired her in contract negotiations. After explaining to the supervisor that she was committed to becoming a Lion of Judah her salary was increased and her dream of wearing the strength of her Jewish commitment on her lapel. While the culture of women's philanthropy can span the spectrum there is no doubt that it can be a powerful force both in the philanthropic world and in the lives of those who participate in it.

(Anna Levin Rosen, HUC-JIR: Cincinnati)