Fall Donor Spotlight

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Zelda R. Stern
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Zelda R. Stern

This fall, JWA is recognizing the contributions of three very different donors. Their stories demonstrate that everyone's contributions, no matter how big or how small, ensure that Jewish women's stories are discovered, taught, and told. Here they explain in their own words why they are driven to give to JWA.

Elise Ginsparg: Educator, book reviewer, and lecturer

Elise Ginsparg leads a series on Jewish Women Hidden in History for audiences including Sisterhoods, book clubs, Jewish Community Centers, retirement homes, and other adult education settings. A former teacher of deaf nursery school children, Elise earned a BS in Education from Loyola University and a MA in Audiology from Northwestern. She is married to Rabbi Colman Ginsparg and is a mother and a grandmother.

For the past 30 years I have given lectures on Jewish Women Hidden in History.

In 2006, my friend Leah Polin and I were writing a script for a show about Jewish women for the annual luncheon of the Yeshiva Women of the Hebrew Theological College. Leah had the syllabus of JWA's Making the Wilderness Bloom curriculum and we used it extensively for our production. (I believe the title was attributed to Rebecca Gratz one of my favorite ladies!)

Shortly after we both received an invitation to JWA's first Institute for Educators and of course we attended this wonderful program.

The accommodations were excellent, the classes were stimulating and diverse, the instructors were knowledgeable and creative and the group of woman who attended were terrific. These women were committed to Jewish education for and about women, and respected the traditional practices and values of Judaism.

I donate to JWA because JWA is a tremendous resource of information for educators. I myself continue to utilize the materials provided on the Internet in my research. For example, I am going to portray Gertrude Elion in a program of Jewish Women Nobel Prize winners and most of my information comes from JWA materials.

I am honored to have been at the first Institute for Educators. Just thinking about those few wonderful days gives me a warm feeling. I am proud to be a donor to JWA.

The Temple Isaiah Sisterhood of Lexington, MA

The members of the Temple Isaiah Sisterhood have been giving to JWA every year since 1999.

Our Sisterhood is an organization of about 350 women who involve themselves in many organizations outside of Temple Isaiah. At the end of each fiscal year, our board meets to decide where the proceeds of our fundraising for the year should go.

In 1999, one of our members suggested that JWA fit into our mission of supporting Jewish organizations and especially fit into the mission of serving and honoring women in our area and worldwide. Our Sisterhood finds it comforting to know that there is an organization out there actively archiving the accomplishments of Jewish women.

The mission of the Temple Isaiah Sisterhood is to bring together women of Temple Isaiah to serve our Temple, support our community, and enrich our lives through personal growth and friendship. We strive to foster and further the highest ideals of Judaism.

We accomplish this mission through social and educational programs, worship, fundraising, community service, and involvement with the Women of Reform Judaism. Our activities, enhanced by the richness of our diversity, further our commitment to Jewish ideals, education, spirituality, social action, and leadership. We believe the goals of JWA fit into our mission; this inspires us to donate and spread the word about JWA.

Zelda R. Stern, Philanthropist

Zelda R. Stern is a donor-activist involved in organizations and projects that enhance the status of Jewish women. She speaks nationally and writes about using strategic philanthropy to effect change. A risk taker, role model and mentor, she helps women think outside of the box and use the power their giving affords them. Along with her five siblings, she served on the Board of Directors of the Harry Stern Family Foundation. A member of the founding board of JOFA, she is a trained psychotherapist who received an MSW from Columbia University and a Post-Masters Certificate in Advanced Clinical Social Work from Hunter College.

In the mid 1990s, I went to a Jewish Funders Network conference where, as it turned out, Gail T. Reimer, soon to become JWA’s founding Executive Director, was giving a workshop critiquing an article that quoted only men. Prior to the conference she had called up the author, who was a friend, and said, “I’m going to talk about how you didn’t quote or reference any women.” The author replied, “I would gladly quote women, but where would I go to find the women?” Gail said, “I'm going to make sure that there is a place for people to go where they can access information about Jewish women -- their lives, struggles and achievements.”

When I first heard Gail speak at the Jewish Funders Network conference, I wasn’t a feminist; at least I didn’t know I was. I didn’t identify as one. Nor was I a philanthropist; I was a psychotherapist. I didn’t want people to know about my money. People talk about a light bulb going off, but when someone has a meaningful insight, it’s usually not in a vacuum. It’s a series of clicks or little flashes of light over a number of years and then something happens that pulls it all together. The founding of the Jewish Women’s Archive was part of my feminist awakening.

In the late 1990s I became co-director of my family’s charitable foundation, the Harry Stern Family Foundation. During this time, Barbara Dobkin, founding chair of the Jewish Women’s Archive, became my mentor in all things having to do with Jewish philanthropy and feminism. I first heard her speak at a Ma’yan-sponsored conference on women and philanthropy in New York City in 1994, and I slowly began looking at life through a gender lens.

Initially I became a donor to JWA because of Barbara. I owe her a debt I cannot ever repay, and I was happy to fund an organization that was so dear to her heart. But after time, I began to appreciate JWA on its own merits, for its own unique mission. And as JWA’s website became more and more substantive and in an increasingly accessible way, I appreciated it all the more for being an excellent tool for learning and for disseminating information. I now know where to go to learn the history, achievements, and contributions of Jewish women in North America, and to be inspired and uplifted when I’m feeling discouraged about all the work yet to be done in enabling Jewish women to have their proper place in our history.

JWA’s mission is unique. I don’t know of any other organization that has a mission to educate the world — women, men, boys, girls — about the contributions of North American Jewish women in every era of our history. If anyone wants to learn what Jewish life in this country was and is all about — what made the organizations, denominations, institutions, and agencies what they are today and how women contributed — one can simply access the JWA website.

It wasn’t until my late 40s that I began understanding the power of money to bring about change. By funding JWA, we are ensuring the continuation of the research and educational initiatives needed to teach successive generations about the contributions of Jewish women. Without funding personnel and projects, this will simply not happen.

In 1997 I attended the first International Conference on Feminism and Orthodoxy, which led to the formation of JOFA . I was on the founding board, and my ongoing work with JOFA is extremely important to me. JOFA works to influence the hearts and minds of women and men in expanding women’s opportunities in all spheres of life within the bounds of halacha. Not enough has yet been written about Orthodox Jewish women; their lives have been obscured and their stories largely hidden. JOFA is changing this, as is JWA. Now there are Orthodox women clergy like Rabba Sara Hurwitz and when people want to learn about these women, they can go to jwa.org.

When I was married in 2001, I became part of a new family, as my husband has two sons. Now we have two daughters-in-law and an infant grandson, and my new family spans the denominational spectrum. I want my stepsons, daughters-in-law, grandson (and future grandchildren!) to learn of the contributions of Jewish women. I want to influence their hearts and minds, but I need facts and information. Where do I access this? Jwa.org. I want to share with both my family of origin and my “new” family the lives of women such as Ray Frank, who was the first Jewish woman to formally preach from a pulpit. This was in 1890.

I support JWA because the history of Jewish women cannot be told unless there is money to fund the research and disseminate the information. Jwa.org is the central address for information about Jewish women in North America. It teaches all of us to remember, honor, appreciate and learn from the women whose shoulders we now stand on.

Honor the lives and achievements of Jewish women. Donate now.

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