Midweek snow could not chill the enthusiasm of the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta luncheon at The Temple on Friday, Jan. 19. Despite a two-day postponement from Wednesday because of the weather, over 300 enthusiastic women and a few men rode the wave of the sea change in women’s rights.
“JWFA Ignites: 5 Years, 3 Founders and 1 Mission” celebrated the fifth anniversary of the only organization in Atlanta focused on social change for Jewish women and girls and honored founders Carol Cooper, Ilene Engel, and Sara Franco. The event drove home JWFA’s gender equality mission and its mantra that women collectively have might and impact.
JWFA Chair Debbie Kuniansky thanked all who made the logistics of the last-minute date change work, “from Steve Selig, who had the parking lot cleared of snow, to Sandra Bank, whose kosher catering carried the days over, to The Temple and staff. … Everyone got the job done.”
Jewish women and girls are just as limited by gender inequality as is the general female population, Kuniansky said. “Economic insecurity, domestic violence and lack of leadership opportunities hold women back from reaching their full potential.”
She lavished praise on the fund’s executive director, Rachel Wasserman, who “without a doubt is the best Jewish professional I have ever had the pleasure of working with.”
Wasserman spoke about her four children, two of whom are twins, a boy and a girl. “In reality, their opportunity to become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a scientist or mathematician is not equal. But I am confident that this will change.”
She described the panoply of projects receiving JWFA grants, such as mentoring Orthodox girls in career opportunities, helping those in abusive marriages or with eating disorders, and supporting a range of projects in Israel.
Her role is more than a job, Wasserman said. “It’s a passion and duty.”
As the three founders took the stage, a video portrayed how they poured their hearts and souls into creating this “powerful magic” five years ago: “These three got it done. Soft-hearted yet strong, honest, giving, respected and admired.”
Engel quoted Melinda Gates, “‘A woman with a voice is a strong woman.’ We are moving the needle. We have 32 partner organizations where we are seeing broad and sustainable changes.”
Cooper said, “We have learned philanthropy together.”
Franco added, “Our work truly feels important.”
Aliza Abusch-Magder, a Weber School junior, captured the podium in describing her participation in two JWFA-funded programs: jGirls Magazine, which serves as an online connector for national Jewish community and Jewish female role models and explores topical teenage concerns, and Weber’s Respect My Red/iClub, a pilot program to prevent sexual assault, harassment and abuse.
“We want girls to be believed and feel supported. We dialogue on issues like date rape and the #MeToo movement,” Abusch-Magder said. She identifies as a “post-denominational Jew” and said JWFA runs the gamut of religious vectors in Judaism.
A message was read from trailblazer Rabba Sara Hurwitz, a grantee who could not rearrange her flight from New York. Rabba Hurwitz is the president and co-founder of Yeshivat Maharat, the first Orthodox yeshiva to ordain women. “The formula for success is not IQ, but grit, passion and persistence,” she said. “Our yeshiva recently graduated 19 female rabbis.”
In the audience, trustee Debbie Sonenshine said: “The beauty of JWFA is our ability to make social change. Many organizations are Band-Aids. This promotes foundation changes. I also appreciate that we all have an equal vote … not related to the check we write or our level of activity.”
Event chairs Martha Berlin, Lisa Greenberg and Laura Soshnik executed a grand theme from start to finish. Those approaching the podium were showered with upbeat songs, such as Katy Perry’s “Roar.” Wasserman was introduced with Wonder Woman banners.
The scrumptious healthy buffet included “Oprah’s Chopped Salad,” “Oprah’s Tuscan Kale Salad” and “Oprah’s Fragrant Quinoa” alongside maple-glazed salmon with mango salsa. The Hawaiian bean and Mulligatawny soups sated winter appetites.
Kuniansky closed the session with an emotional plea to keep our hands dirty (with work) and collectively make an impact.