From Our CEO
For Women, With Women
March 10th, 2023

This past Wednesday marked International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate women’s achievements and raise awareness of persisting inequities. Many have noted the serendipitous proximity to Purim — the Jewish holiday we celebrated this week, which is driven by a female-led narrative, with Esther’s heroism saving the Jewish people, and Vashti’s rebellion setting events in motion.

We literally read a whole megillah about indomitable women. But we also know that history is replete with stories of women silenced and stymied, and the fight — still being waged — to achieve parity.

An interesting case study: Along the corridor of UJA’s 6th floor, there’s a wall of photographs of our past leaders, beginning in 1917 with Felix Warburg, the first president of what was then known as the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York City. The first rows of photographs are all men, save for Madeleine Borg, who in 1938 became the ninth president of Federation.

What we know about Madeleine: She was born in 1878 and was a founder of the Federation. She created the women’s division, chaired it for 27 years, helped found the Jewish Big Sister movement, and was president of the Jewish Board of Guardians (one of the predecessors of today's Jewish Board, a major UJA partner).

One wonders what Esther-like courage she possessed to sit at the head of male-dominated tables and lead our community during the final years of the Great Depression and the start of World War II.    

UJA Federation of New York >>

Madeleine’s leadership is followed by a long — and to our modern eyes, inexcusable— dry spell till 1980, when Wilma “Billie” Tisch served as president of Federation. Then we see a real shift on these walls: Elaine Winik, UJA president, 1982; Peggy Tishman, first president of the merged UJA-Federation, 1986; Louise Greilsheimer, president, 1995; Judith Stern Peck, chair of the board, 1997; Susie Stern, chair of the board, 2004; Alisa Doctoroff, chair of the board, 2010, and president, 2013; Linda Mirels, chair of the board, 2013 (and incoming president, July 2023).

Lastly, Amy A. B. Bressman, who began her term as president in 2019, guiding our response to the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the alarming increase in antisemitism.

Progress comes with an understanding that we need to keep driving forward, both within the walls of UJA and, more broadly, the communities we serve.

Locally and globally, UJA partners with many organizations that are both led by women and focused specifically on meeting the economic, educational, emotional, and healthcare needs of women.

Just a few examples of the work we fund:  

  • Mental health services for Ukrainian women and girls. And responding to a devastating reality, we’ve also funded first-aid rape kits for women in Ukraine, which include emergency contraception.
  • Safe housing, financial assistance, and mental health support for survivors of domestic violence.
  • Career services and social programing for single mothers at area JCCs.
  • Mental health support for teen girls and their parents in the Orthodox community through the Jewish Orthodox Women's Medical Association (JOWMA).
  • Financial assistance and food subsidies for women fighting breast and/or ovarian cancer.
  • Career services for low-income Sephardic women.
  • Cash assistance for low-income women who are CUNY Hillel college students.
  • Emergency support for Afghan refugees through Women for Afghan Women.
  • In Israel, a program to help employ Bedouin women in agriculture.
  • Advocacy for reproductive rights by working with rabbis and Jewish New Yorkers across the spectrum to give voice to this critical issue.  

There’s more to do, much more, to create a world where women of all backgrounds feel safe, seen, heard, and equal. But guided by the courage of Esther, the audacity of Vashti, and the women — and men — who work in our community every day with and for women, we'll keep moving and evolving, till we get there.  

Shabbat shalom