Too few women lead major U.S. Jewish Federations, MK says

Recent report paints picture of ‘communal stagnation in gender equality,’ and asserts that number of women in leadership roles remains at ‘the same low level.’

By Mordechai I. Twersky – Published in Haaretz

Photo by Emil Salman

A special Knesset subcommittee is eliciting candid assessments about the role of women in Jewish community life, while posing searing questions about the relative lack of women in Jewish leadership roles.

Some 10 presenters from leading organizations in Israel and North America addressed a special subcommittee of the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee during a 90-minute session Tuesday, chaired by MK Dr. Einat Wilf (Atzmaut).

“Is the glass half empty or full?” asked Shifra Bronznick, founding president of the New York City-based Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, who addressed the subcommittee for Relations of Israel with World Jewish Communities.

Bronznick mapped female leadership positions according to what she called “spheres” – start-ups, the rabbinate, Jewish media and social justice organizations. “Many more women lead these organizations, and we are seeing a bifurcation between these groups and the veteran agencies of Jewish life,” said Bronznick.

Wilf – who noted in her opening remarks “that there are more Jewish women in the United States Supreme Court than in the leadership of major Jewish Federations” – was quickly corrected.

Both Bronznick and Gail Norry, chairwoman of the National Women’s Philanthropy of Jewish Federation of North America, cited two women who now serve as CEOs of large-city Jewish Federations: Deborah Corber in Montreal, Canada; and Jennifer Gorovitz in San Francisco, California. Of the 157 Jewish Federations, 50 have female executives, according to Norry.

“The more we can understand what links us together and where we can work more constructively going forward, the better,” said Norry, who challenged the Israeli government to become “greater advocates in leadership positions in the Diaspora.” She challenged the government to support scholarships for women and the inclusion of more women in Israel’s premier educational institutions. She also called for the creation of professional cooperative positions for female leaders to work alongside female Israeli leaders, and for the expansion of groups of women involved in established Jewish Federation leadership programs for youth, such as Otzma, the 10-month leadership program for 20-somethings in Israel.

Nadia Ellis, an associate fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, presented a range of data demonstrating that a lack of parity in Jewish leadership of Jewish organizations abroad is comparable to the absence of women in the highest echelons of Israeli and American society in general. “We believe that Israel has to set the example and stand for the values that it expects Jewish organizations to adopt,” she said.

Bronznick – who cited a direct link between equity and effectiveness – said it is both “significant” and “distressing” that there is little to no female advancement or ascension to leadership positions in what she called the “alphabet soup” of century-old U.S. Jewish organizations still headed by men. She maintained that 80 percent of professionals in the Jewish community are women.

“If 80 percent of your talent pool is not being groomed for top leadership positions, then obviously we are not making the most of the talents within these longstanding organizations,” said Bronznick, who cited in her presentation the recent annual Forward survey documenting the salaries of CEOs of 76 national Jewish organizations.

The report, published in December, “paints a picture of communal stagnation in gender equality,” according to the Forward, and asserts that the number of women in leadership roles remains at “the same low level.”

For Bronznick, the question she is posing to “complacent” male Jewish leaders is a charged one: “Which list do you want to be on?” she asked. “The list of people who have not yet made women the public face of your leadership, or the list of organizations that are showing vitality, dynamism and shared leadership?”

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