Tag : Philanthropy

April 2, 2019 by

Are You Prepared to Listen?

Are you prepared to listen?

This issue of Lilith has revelations aplenty, some from unexpected sources, as we discovered while the magazine was in its editing stages. I’m asked about once a week—and more often than that when we’re in the process of interviewing prospective interns—how we decide what to publish, and whether there’s a theme for the issue in process. Truth is, we rarely start with one overarching idea for an issue’s content, but sometimes the zeitgeist or the current preoccupations of Jewish feminists will jump out at us as we shape the magazine. That’s what happened this time as we were led to our cover line: Unfaithful.

Listening to the writers in this issue, I’ve learned many things; your takeaways may differ. When I listened to women proposing questions for any next big survey of North American Jews, I learned what (and, importantly, who) those previous agenda-shaping demographic studies missed about how people actually live out our diverse Jewish identities. When I read the three short stories here, I became privy to lurking dissatisfactions in marriage. Although no subject was suggested to writers when Lilith announced its annual fiction contest, this year the winning works are all, coincidentally, driven by challenges to these intimate relationships. One of them, to my surprise, hints that mother-daughter closeness might be a driver.

Listening to an Other who is a stranger is part of the hard work going on at the School for Peace created by Nava Sonnenschein, as Israeli Jews and Arabs try to dissolve calcified suspicions and really hear what’s being spoken about violence, women’s issues and the obstacles to overcoming ingrained hostility.

And then there are foremothers. While I didn’t always listen attentively enough to my own mother’s life experiences, I found Alice Shalvi’s multivalent activism and Matilda Robbins’s unflinching toughness—both featured in this issue—to be exemplars of brave resiliency. Both are worth knowing better. Here’s to many more opportunities for listening, attentively, to strong women.

A change in this issue.

You may already have noticed something new on the facing page. Lilith, as a nonprofit organization, depends for its strength and survival on the generosity of donors like you. And we’re changing the ways we recognize our indispensable donors. Not only are there new (and more Lilith-like) names for our the donation categories, but we’ve also added a dollar range with these donation levels.

Why? Because philanthropy is changing. According to the Women’s Funding Network, the future of philanthropy is female. Almost three out of four donors worldwide are women. Of the impending $41 trillion wealth transfer between generations, 70% will be inherited by women. And women give away almost twice as much of their wealth away as men do.

At the same time, for many women, our philanthropy has been in the shadows. One of Lilith’s longtime fans articulated a valuable response when I asked her opinion about listing levels of support on our donor page: “My support for Lilith is not at the level of a bake sale. It takes real money for this very real magazine to do the work it does. And I’m realizing how proud I am of helping make this happen.”

Lilith is thankful to all the women and the men who make our work possible at every level of support and we proudly list our partners. There is gratitude all around—for the donors and readers, writers, artists and staffers alike who make Lilith happen. To all, we say… Thank you!

Susan Weidman Schneider

Editor in Chief

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

January 10, 2019 by

On Class, Identity, and Prejudice

In uncertain times, you want to improve the world and still hold on to what you value. It’s hard, and this issue of Lilith explores some of the tensions. How to ensure reproductive justice; why it’s so hard to slough off shame around having—or not having—money; what kept Jewish women out of good jobs, and more. Money can affect what we think of ourselves, though its inflection has changed for women in different eras.

What class are you?

When I was a college student, a history professor opened his first class of the term by hollering, “What class are you?” The students, a little weirded out, called back the year each expected to graduate. The professor then launched into his lecture on how in bygone times the answers would have been “working class” or “shopkeeper,” or maybe “landed gentry.”

Class distinctions have percolated into people’s consciousness once again. On the campus and on the street (i.e., on social media), there’s steady commentary on privilege, both from those uncomfortable possessing it and from those suffering its absence. Stratification by social class is always clear to those on the ladder’s lower rungs, and others need to keep their empathy handy. Example: At a college gathering, I heard an alumna announce that she’d never understood her fellow students’ chronic complaints about the facilities. “The dorm rooms were warm in winter. There was always enough heat and always enough food,” she recalled. As my late grandmother would have responded, “Some people complain that the pearls are too thin, and some people complain that the soup is too thin.”

Earning money and growing it.

Alongside the abstractions of class and caste and privilege are women’s burgeoning practical concerns about finances. I was invited recently into a conversation with Jewish women in their 30s who wanted to explore their feelings about money. They’d mostly, proudly, paid down any education and credit-card debt, and the evening started with “Buy now or keep renting?” and “How much can I give away?” They sounded confident, but half an hour in, every woman in that room had confessed anxiety about not “doing money” well enough. They want to be as good at managing it as they are at their day jobs. They want to get As. They came into young adulthood during the global financial crisis of 2008 and they want to have a hedge against awful things that might happen in the world. None of the dozen women— some married, some in a relationship, some single—was depending on a partner to provide this financial safety net. Avoiding the dependencies of their mothers’ generation, their goal is to hold their future financial security, whether from earnings or inheritance, in their own hands.

Identity, anxiety and prejudice.

How you speak and where you were born can be proxies for money, as status indicators. In the early 1900s, immigrant Jews were thought to be a drain on the economy, and Jewish welfare organizations rushed to assure the authorities that these Jews would not be a public burden. Being indigent was shameful. Fast forward, and the shame has shifted; some are uneasy not about poverty but about having wealth, thanks to damning, millenniaold slurs about Jews and money, while a new wave of immigrants bears the brunt of social and political scapegoating.

Old anti-Semitic tropes about powerful, rich Jews are surfacing again in hate-filled tweets and public rants. Jewish college students hesitant to identify themselves as living in well-off suburbs tell new friends they’re from “New York” rather than Scarsdale, “L.A.” rather than Beverly Hills. And we know that Jewish women in particular feel caught in a classic trap, deplored for being consumers who squander parental or spousal dollars and also put down if they aspire to be the ambitious earners themselves. (See Lilith’s numerous articles on the damaging JAP image and its sister stereotypes.)

Philanthropic models in the shadows?

Perhaps these lingering stereotypes explain why some women are reluctant to stand out from their peers. Take a look at the facing page. A firm feminist principle at Lilith has been to demonstrate that every gift counts, and so all are listed, regardless of size.

There’s a downside, though, when you level donor distinctions. Anonymity, and masking dollar amounts, means that philanthropic role models are in the shadows. Philanthropy— giving of your resources in support of the values you hold—is an important identity marker. Your name on the list demonstrates to others what you hold dear, and you feel good when you give to a cause that inspires or challenges you. Nonetheless, we play down the feel-good aspect.

It’s a little like warning teen girls about the perils of sex (STDs! Pregnancy!) without mentioning that sex can be fun. Keep pleasure in mind as you do your own philanthropy, at any level. We hope you enjoy yourself along the way; it’s a chance to mitigate the gloom.

Here’s wishing you—and all of us—a year of ample resources and deep empathy, a year rich with meaningful connections.

Susan Weidman Schneider

Editor in Chief

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

September 26, 2018 by

Barbara Dobkin: Invest in Women—with a Full Heart and a Full Wallet

Some philanthropists have told me that if you fund an organization for three years and it hasn’t become sustainable, it wasn’t worth the investment. Really? Those are the same people who provide capital to for-profit ventures and know that sustainability requires long-term investment. Some say that perhaps we no longer need these single-sex ventures. Look around and tell me, with everything we see happening inside and outside of the Jewish community, that these organizations are no longer relevant.

For decades I had faith that funding feminism—investing serious money into important ideas—would create transformative change. Indeed, many of those ideas became institutions that have far-reaching impact. I am not surprised by women’s accomplishments in spite of the woefully inadequate support they receive. Women have always needed to be resourceful. Right now there is an explosion of young, smart women in every sector of the Jewish community taking on leadership of these organizations with their visions and energy. We cannot afford to have these talented women become discouraged and burn out.

For too long, people in our community have relegated the job of funding women’s projects to women alone. The result has been a serious lack of support. Yet institutions like the World Bank and the IMF have proven that projects led by women and girls benefit everyone. Add to this the well-documented evidence which demonstrates that funding women creates positive change for our entire society, and you should be convinced, as I am, that the time has come for everyone to fund women.

Right now many organizational leaders and funders are reeling from discovering what many feminists always knew: that sexism is rooted deeply our communities and institutions. What feminists also know is that there are real solutions to the challenges we face. Let’s invest in them and do it not only with a full heart, but also with a full wallet. BARBARA DOBKIN in “Funding Women Creates Transformative Change,” eJewish Philanthropy, July 3, 2018.

Continue Reading

  • No Comments

September 20, 2018 by

When a flawed male with a lot of power shapes Jewish priorities.

You may be numb to #MeToo news, but bear with me for a few paragraphs, please.

Allegations of sexual misconduct against noted men in Jewish life are nothing new. One among them this past season is sociologist Steven M. Cohen, who appears to have acknowledged the veracity of such charges from women in his field. Cohen has now stepped down (or been asked to resign) from his many prestigious posts in the Jewish world, including as the head of the Berman Jewish Policy Archive, which he founded, and the flagship academic institution of Reform Judaism, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, where he was on the faculty. Why focus on a situation that seems to stretch at least as far back in time as there have been women in academe?

Here’s why. Steve Cohen was not just some random randy professor with a faulty ethical compass. His considerable influence has included being the American Jewish community’s reigning demographic expert, the go-to guy for an opinion on where resources ought best to be deployed. And because reports that have emerged in the past few months suggest that women who did not yield to his advances were closed out of meaningful career advancement, the perspectives of these women social scientists have been lost.

There have been serious concerns that the damage goes beyond what was experienced by the individual women, and that policies built on Cohen’s many survey findings are flawed because their very questions—lines of investigation about the perils of intermarriage, say—don’t take into account the realities of Jewish women’s lives today. If women had been framing the questionnaires used to determine a community’s priorities, the data yielded might have been different. Maybe they would demonstrate that interfaith couples in which the Jewish partner is a woman are flourishing. Maybe they would demonstrate that if a Jew marries a non-Jew and the couple establishes a Jewish household there’s an advantage to the community as a whole. But without the talents of social scientists who are looking at a community through a gender lens, how can we know? Social science, as a locus of study, should be hypothesis-driven. Thus the researcher has to know what important questions to ask of the subject, needs to really understand clearly the human dimensions of a field in order to develop useful hypotheses. And if the hypotheses are based on faulty perceptions about the subject’s reality, the wrong questions are asked and fruitful data will stay beneath the surface.

A few examples from the Lilith annals.

Jewish women staying single.

In the 1990s, the magazine wanted to report on Jewish women’s expectations of becoming mothers. Since Jewish women then were rarely having children outside of marriage, we sought marriage statistics from the national Jewish population surveys then being commissioned. Lilith asked the late demographer Egon Mayer, who had shaped those surveys, to substantiate our hypothesis that Jewish women, for a variety of reasons, were more likely to remain single through their childbearing years than other women were. (The reasons included many years of higher education and a shrinking pool of eligible Jewish mates as more Jewish men were marrying “out.”) The common wisdom was that Jews were all interested in being fruitful and multiplying as part of a family-oriented religious practice. Professor Mayer, initially skeptical, sifted through the data for information that hadn’t yet surfaced because no one had asked the question from this particular perspective. It turned out that Jewish women at the time were exactly twice as likely to remain single through their childbearing years than their white American peers. If you follow a feminist hunch, the results may surprise you.

Women’s philanthropy.

When Lilith first investigated Jewish women’s philanthropic donations, women’s charitable giving to Jewish causes was viewed as “pin money”—unimportant in the general calculus of a community’s budget. No one had yet asked how heterosexual couples made these money decisions. The man usually got credit in public for the family’s “gift,” even when the woman determined the cause and the amount on the check. In fact, when professional fundraisers failed to recognize women’s role in the couple’s process, the donation was likely to shrink.

Male and female addicts.

Researchers have noted that addiction-cessation programs like Alcoholics Anonymous work well when the sufferer concedes that he needs to recognize a “higher power” and put himself into the hands of that power. Jewish men in these programs may find this process “too Jesus-y,” but in publishing one woman’s revised version of the famous twelve steps, Lilith learned that for many women there is a different impediment. For women who have been in the hands of more powerful others their whole lives, this step may be so counterproductive as to thrust them back into their dependencies. The Jewish universe loses out when women worthy of professional respect are driven from their academic positions by a flawed male with a lot of power. The harm done by Jewish leaders who are also sexual predators goes beyond the considerable damage to individual women; it also skews how the Jewish community will shape its present, and the Jewish future.


Continue Reading

  • No Comments