JWFA: Lessons From the Rosh Hashanah Table
Rosh HashanahGuest Column

JWFA: Lessons From the Rosh Hashanah Table

Women and girls should take the lead, look for new opportunities and keep advancing toward their goals.

Rachel Wasserman
Executive Director Rachel Wasserman and trustees of the Jewish Women's Fund of Atlanta visit Israel.
Executive Director Rachel Wasserman and trustees of the Jewish Women's Fund of Atlanta visit Israel.

There is a tradition on Rosh Hashanah to eat symbolic foods — simanim — meant to help ensure a good year ahead. On the first night of Rosh Hashanah, before digging into the main meal, we have a special ceremony for the blessing and eating of these symbolic foods. Each has a different good omen attached to it, and each has a specific blessing.

A sweet year. Increased merits. The removal of adversaries. The list goes on.

One particular blessing, “May it be Your will, Lord our G-d and G-d of our ancestors, that we be like the head (to lead) and not like the tail (to follow),” has particular meaning for Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta.

Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta expands opportunities in the lives of Jewish women and girls via effective grantmaking, advocacy and education through a gender lens. Our trustees are empowered to be leaders, philanthropists and decision-makers. Our grants drive social change and provide sustainable benefits to those we serve.

In the year ahead, we aspire to lead and not follow, as the Rosh Hashanah blessing teaches.

Therefore, as leaders for change in our community, this month we are officially launching our first strategic plan. We are building on our solid foundation to have a robust future and to be the most effective for our grantee partners, our trustees and the greater community.

While it would have been easy to maintain business as usual — after all, we have grown larger and given away more money in five years than our founders ever imagined — that is not the lesson from the Rosh Hashanah table. Rather, we must challenge ourselves to do more and to think critically about opportunities for improvement.

Over the next nine months, all Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta trustees will have the chance to engage in the strategic planning process, which will be led by our expert consultants, Terri Theisen and Mindy Wertheimer.

Even as we take time to pull back the lens and ask big-picture questions, we move forward with our grantmaking, educational efforts and advocacy initiatives. In the coming year, we look forward to continuing our record of making meaningful investments in programs and organizations that facilitate social change for Jewish women and girls.

Locally, we have helped launch several pilot programs, including sexual assault and violence prevention at the Weber School, body positivity and eating disorder prevention through the Eating Disorders Information Network, high-level career counseling at Temima High School and early development of gender equity by SOJOURN.

Each of these pilot programs affords the Atlanta community the opportunity to delve into women’s issues through a Jewish lens and to move toward a level playing field for women and girls.

By encouraging local organizations to engage in pilot programs, Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta reflects the lessons from the Rosh Hashanah table. Take the lead. Look for new opportunities for good, even if they are risky. Keep advancing toward your goal.

As we move forward, we must take the time to appreciate how far we have come.

Recently we celebrated our fifth birthday. In 2012, Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta was simply a dream of our three founders, Carol Cooper, Ilene Engel and Sara Franco. Here we are now: a collective of 120 local female philanthropists who pool their resources to expand opportunities and make positive change for Jewish women and girls.

We have grown quickly yet deliberately, and in five years we have invested over half a million dollars in over 500,000 Jewish women and girls domestically and in Israel. We are proud of our achievements, and we invite the entire community to join us as we honor our five years, three founders and one mission Jan. 17, 2018 (learn more at www.jwfatlanta.org/ignite).

This Rosh Hashanah, as we fill our plates with apples and honey, pomegranates, and raisin challah and give one another wishes of sweetness, prosperity and renewal, let’s also remember to lead and not follow.

As you celebrate the personal goals you have attained and continue to challenge yourself with new aspirations, it is important to focus on your progress and always look for new opportunities to do good. L’shana tova u’metuka.

Rachel Wasserman is the executive director of Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta.

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