In 1994, when I founded Ma’yan: the Jewish Women’s Project of the JCC in Manhattan with Eve Landau, we had two goals: to create and disseminate a community feminist Passover seder and to encourage women donors to understand, advocate for, and fund Jewish feminist projects. Our first goal was attained beyond any expectations. Women/money/philanthropy… well, that is a different and continuing story.
The secular community was already addressing the issue of women’s philanthropy and the scant resources reaching women and girls. The first Wingspread Conference focusing on these themes occurred in 1975. Women’s funds had been established (Ms. Foundation in 1972; eight additional funds by 1980) and Tracy Gary had founded Managing Inherited Wealth in San Francisco (1983), a project which under her leadership morphed into Resourceful Women and the Women Donor’s Network. Yet nothing was happening in the Jewish community. From my personal experience as a funder and activist, I believed that Jewish women were ready and able to step up to the plate.
Ma’yan’s first public event (1994) was a conference on women and money, held at the Jewish Museum in New York. More than 100 women attended the day’s event. We commissioned Elizabeth Swados to compose an opening program for the conference about strong Jewish women to model how the arts can inform the change. Liz’s work-in-progress that she presented that day became Bible Women, a CD and tape that was distributed nationwide. We received an unusually high number of evaluations after the conference, all with glowing remarks and ideas for follow-up that participants wanted Ma’yan to provide. Three programs reflecting the requests were offered, one a month, both in the morning and evening to accommodate busy schedules. Not one had sufficient participation. Knowing that one of our speakers had been extremely well-received and was willing to return to New York, we went back to the drawing board to see if we could determine the obstacles. When we renamed one of the workshops, removing the words feminist and philanthropist (what we have come to call our two “F” words), we were oversubscribed.
Two additional day-long conferences were held (see 1995 brochure) and Ma’yan established Kanfey Nashim, a mechanism to make shiddachs (matches) between Jewish women and Jewish feminist organizations needing money. We wrote about philanthropy in Journey, Ma’yan’s journal, and created a Chanukah mailing with ideas for eight nights of feminist tzedakah (charity).
Ma’yan’s expectations in the area of philanthropy were not realized, and the organization now focuses on women’s leadership (with philanthropy as a part of that). Certainly progress has been made in the last ten years. Several Jewish feminist organizations have been established and are raising money, albeit with difficulty. Jewish women’s foundations are growing around the country. However, the needs of Jewish women and girls in both the U.S. and Israel are still not high priorities for our community.
Barbara Dobkin is the Founding Chair of the Jewish Women’s Archive’s Board of Directors. She is also the founder and Chair of Ma’yan: The Jewish Women’s Project of the JCC in Manhattan and Chair of the Board of The Hadassah Foundation. An advocate for women in both Jewish and secular life, she currently serves on the boards of Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, the White House Project, Lilith Magazine, and the Women's Funding Network. Dobkin is a significant supporter of and advisor to a variety of feminist organizations in the United States and Israel.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Barbara Dobkin." (Viewed on September 16, 2014) <http://jwa.org/feminism/dobkin-barbara>.