The power of women’s ‘yesses’ in philanthropic decision-making

PROVIDENCE –The Women’s Alliance of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island has returned – with great vigor and vibrancy – thanks to new staff support, said Cheryl Greenfeld Teverow, chair of the Women’s Alliance Rosh Hodesh (new moon) programs.

Nearly 60 women attended Dr. Deborah Skolnick Einhorn’s Rosh Hodesh presentation, “Silver/Gold/All the Colors of the Rainbow: Why Women Own Rosh Hodesh,” which inspired women to think about their personal philanthropic decisions and actions.

Referencing her mother – the consummate volunteer who owns an oversize t-shirt with this message: “Stop me before I volunteer again” – and Torah texts that demonstrated the power of women’s giving, Skolnick Einhorn led the women through an engaging and interactive Torah study experience during a buffet lunch.

Trine Lustig, development consultant to the Alliance, noted that Skolnick Einhorn’s Oct. 15 presentation “inspired the group to think about their own philanthropy in the context of the Torah. Does it get any better?”

Skolnick Einhorn used texts from the Torah to demonstrate the power of women’s “yesses” and “nos.”

When women said “yes” to helping build and adorn the Mishkan, sanctuary, the outpouring of support was so significant that they were eventually told to cease contributing. In contrast, when women declined to participate in the creation of the Golden Calf, an idolatrous entity, the project happened, although absent widespread support and engagement.

How did women come to have for themselves the holiday of Rosh Hodesh, which permitted our foremothers to refrain from daily work? God “rewarded” them with Rosh Hodesh, explained Skolnick Einhorn, precisely because they said “no” to contributing to the creation of an idolatrous figure.

The Women’s Alliance was basically moribund since March 2010, due to lack lack of staff support at the federation, now the Alliance. Those last few years were “horrible,” said Greenfeld Teverow, “I would bump into women across the spectrum [who felt that] we’d lost that sense of community.”

Greenfeld Teverow, the Women’s Alliance first president, also led the strategic plan to create it after merging the Women’s Division and the Women’s Business and Professional Division. “We created, instead, an all-new and inclusive Women’s Alliance for women across the state,” she said.

The resurgence of Women’s Alliance programming – thanks largely to staff support from Lustig and Michele Gallagher, campaign operations manager, and a committed cadre of lay leaders – “is wonderful. It’s so energizing to see women coming to the Rosh Hodesh programs who say, ‘It’s so good to be back.’ [These programs offer] something that we can feel connected to and learn from,” Greenfeld Teverow said.

Another program is already generating some buzz and excitement among members of the Women’s Alliance, Lustig said. Alyson Richman, author of “The Lost Wife,” will speak at a Nov. 8 event at Ledgemont Country Club, in Seekonk, Mass., for women who give a minimum gift of $118.

Stacy Emanuel, a former Women’s Alliance board member and vice president of programming, chairs the upcoming event at Ledgemont.

She, like Greenfeld Teverow, missed the sense of community and excitement among women in the absence of Women’s Alliance programming. “Women are the backbone of our community,” said Emanuel.

Of “The Lost Wife” event, Emanuel said, “[Women] should come and see that we have a lot of strong and smart women in our community. The fact that we’re going to draw people of all ages shows the strength of who we are; the intergenerational group of women makes for a vibrant Jewish community.”

A broad cross-section of women ranging in age from mid-30s to mid-70s or older attended the Rosh Hodesh event with Skolnick Einhorn. Judy Levitt, who serves on the Rosh Hodesh committee, said that she was thrilled by the crowd, one which included many new faces.

In referencing the value of intergenerational connections that arise from the Women’s Alliance, Greenfeld Teverow said, “There are women I would never have known if there had been separate divisions. [Including] women of all generations – across the generations – is such a special thing,” she said.

Recalling times when she brought her then-newborn daughter Erica (who is now an adult) to board meetings, Greenfeld Teverow said that she and many of her peers began their volunteer activities as young professionals in their 20s, when they were pregnant or already mothers. “We still got involved, we made time… there has to be something meaningful in it that [women] really want to do,” she said.

When women say “yes,” as they are saying to these events, they demonstrate their passion for and commitment to the Jewish community, Lustig said.

When women identify their passions and contribute time, energy and money to the Women’s Alliance, Lustig said, they honor the legacy of their foremothers –- and Skolnick Einhorn’s mother.