Women and Philanthropy

Because of what I do as a volunteer, I've been following the growing field of study surrounding women and philanthropy. So, apparently, has Lisa Belkin, a writer for The New York Times. This week's Sunday Times magazine was devoted entirely to the issues surrounding gender discrimination, especially in the developing world. Belkin, in a column titled "The Power of the Purse," writes about how women of means are uniting to help change the future, including the future of women and girls. "There are more women controlling more wealth in the U.S. than ever before. And unlike the women who preceded them – old-school patrons who gave to the museum and the symphony and their dead husbands' alma maters – these givers are more likely to use their wealth deliberately and systematically to aid women in need."

Women's giving in MetroWest is absolutely in step with this trend. The Jewish Women's Foundation of New Jersey is a group of "female philanthropists, intent upon overcoming the barriers and resolving the issues that prevent women and girls from taking their just place in society and realizing their true potential." To learn more about how you can become a member of this dynamic group, or to find out about their grant-making process and its beneficiaries, go to www.jewishwomensfoundationofnewjersey.org or contact Jocelyn Gilman at jgilman@ujcnj.org. In only a few short years, this group has grown tremendously, both in its numbers and in the number of women and girls who benefit from their thoughtful generosity.

As a donor to the Women's Campaign, you also directly affect the lives of women and girls who need our help. I saw this first hand this summer in Israel. We visited Eschet Chayil in Acco, a JDC-run program for Kavkazi women – Jewish women from the Caucus Mountains – who are part of a very traditional community. Imagine living in a world where everything you do is dictated by your mother-in-law. I don't mean in that "What are you doing for the holidays?" kind of way, but a relationship where the daughter-in-law lives with her husband's family, prepares every meal, does every chore and is not even supposed to leave the house except to fulfill the obligations to the household. The purpose of Eschet Chayil is to build the self-esteem of these women (the program also operates in 40 cities around Israel for Ethiopian and Arab Israeli women who face similar challenges) as they find their way into modern Israeli life, and provides emotional assistance and career preparation while maintaining the important cultural aspects of their heritage.

I will never forget Avigail. She made a point of coming to meet us, even though she was very worried about being late to her job as a driver for autistic children. She said it was important for other women to hear her story. She married shortly after leaving school, before finishing 11th grade. Her entire life was run by her mother-in-law's schedule and according to her rules. Being a "kallah tovah," a good wife, came first, but at the price of Avigail's self-confidence. The mother of three boys, she wanted them to see that there could be more to a woman's life than living "like a machine," as she put it. Although Avigail had never worked outside the home, she wanted her own income, to be independent. Through our overseas partner, the JDC, the Eschet Chayil program gave Avigail that independence. Although her husband divorced her as a consequence of her seeking to be her own person, she has custody of her three boys – and her pride. She told us with tears in her eyes (and therefore in ours) that she used to walk bent over, but now "she can stand up straight on her own two feet."

Why do these kinds of programs speak to us as women? Belkin cites a study from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University that suggests that "while men describe their giving as practical – filling in the gaps that government can't or won't – women describe theirs as emotional, an obligation to help those with less." This is not a knock on men and their philanthropic impetus (I love all you guys for what you do, too!) What makes me very proud is to be part of a movement that is gaining in recognition as a force and to help make change possible.

Have a wonderful week – you make a difference every day!

Leslie

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