The Week That All Jewish Women Turned Invisible

August 15, 2019


By the women* you can’t see and whose voices you can’t hear
(but who are listed at the bottom of the piece to give credit to the women behind the words)

Once upon a time, there was a Jewish community with lots of organizations. These organizations had leaders, and when the leaders were ready to retire, they launched a search for their successors. The leaders retiring were men. The heads of the hiring committees, mostly consisting of men, were also men. And, most of the successors they chose were men. Then, men journalists interviewed these men about their organizations and all the sources were men. And then, one of those organizations, helmed in the past by a man who had just ceded his position to another man, held a panel to talk about serious issues in the Jewish community. That panel had four panelists: all men. Before they spoke, three other men framed the issue. Collectively, these men talked and made important proclamations about the current state of the American Jewish community. They spoke of maintaining tradition and Jewish identity while demanding that their voices be heard in the larger American landscape.

Meanwhile, in a nearby Facebook village, there was a group of bright, talented, insightful, intelligent Jewish women and non-binary people who had been working in various aspects of Jewish communal life for collective centuries. These women collectively had produced hundreds of works of literature and journalism; crafted educational curricula; led social justice movements; spoken out for equality, safety and inclusion; dismantled hierarchies and woven networks; fundraised and overseen budgets of millions, managed hundreds of employees, forged their own organizations and contributed mightily to the organizations that fuel contemporary Jewish communal life. They were rabbis and writers and educators and program directors and theologians and farmers and lawyers and professors and researchers and social activists and CEOs. They were used to being underpaid and overlooked for career advancement, and were making small strides towards the professional spotlight, which always seemed to keep moving as they approached it. In their private Facebook space, they shared empowering and deflating moments and bonded over successes and challenges. When one of them was recognized, they all rejoiced as if the triumph was theirs. And when one of them shared moments of feeling invisible, others stepped forward with their own stories, keeping them company and providing them with inspiration.

But, one week, things went too far.

With all the turnover in these Jewish communal leadership positions – some of which included C-suite level women but whose appointments weren’t considered newsworthy – they couldn’t help but wonder if women had been considered at all. And when journalists omitted women’s voices from their articles, and interviewed the former heads of organizations instead of the women who are currently in those head leadership roles, and when “manels” (i.e. all male panels) continued to proliferate seemingly unchecked, they found themselves understanding that the road ahead was vexingly brambled: to move ahead, they’d have to fight to keep history in the past and forge a different future in solidarity with each other.

Now these women were eminently capable beings. But they wondered, where was the support of men who proclaimed themselves to be feminists, allies or partners? Perhaps the coalition for equality was particularly weak because the few men who identified as and behaved like partners were on sabbatical or taking leaves of absence from social media. And then they realized: they could only name a handful of those outspoken allies. That was part of the problem.

Maybe men didn’t realize what being an ally meant – that it’s not something one can simply claim as an ideology without action. Ally is a verb.

Maybe they viewed it as a women’s fight, with men’s responsibility only to say, “I support you” and “you’ve got this.” Maybe men thought they were helping or didn’t want to be accused of playing Prince Charming, trying to rescue a damsel in distress. Maybe they didn’t want to be accused of mansplaining. Maybe they would have stepped up if they saw open misogyny, but they didn’t even notice the absence of women’s voices. This doesn’t make them bad people. But maybe men needed it spelled out for them. Because women really do need them as partners.

And so these eminently capable beings spelled it out. They said:

  1. Refuse all invitations to serve on a manel,” an allmale panel, and call them out when you see them. If you’d like to learn more about what this means you can begin to change the conversation with these resources provided by Advancing Women Professionals and The Jewish Community.
  2. Cite womens voices equallyIf you write articles about men taking over legacy organizations, also write articles about women and non-binary people taking over legacy organizations. If you write articles about men taking over legacy organizations, invite reactions from men, women and non-binary individuals. If you write anything about anything, make sure diverse voices are included.
  3. Ensure gender representation/balance on hiring committeesWork to make sure that the hiring committee is aware of implicit bias, and that the hiring process is designed to work around implicit bias to hire the most qualified candidate.
  4. Recommend women as candidates for jobs and board positions.Answer queries like, “Do you know anyone who might be interested in this position?” with a gender-balanced list of names. Make sure to consider women for organizational lay leadership roles as well. If you don’t have a list of incredible qualified women at hand, take a moment now to start writing your list or consider asking trusted colleagues for names of smart women they might suggest to fill these roles. And always make sure to list salary ranges on job descriptions so women get fair pay.
  5. Think about the space you take up and commit to listening. Notice when women’s voices are not being heard in a room and elevate them. Be committed to hearing their voices. Engage the best of your listening capacity and create  spaces where we listen first and speak second. And when women tell you they’re uncomfortable, believe them.
  6. Notice interruptions. Are non-male voices being cut off, talked over, or ignored as a conversation is re-directed? Use your voice to include others who are being overlooked or dismissed. Make sure you aren’t the one interrupting. And if someone has cut off a woman’s voice, say, “I was really interested to hear what X person had to say” and redirect back to them.
  7. Dont settle for token inclusion. Adding a woman to a table of men doesn’t create change. Including a few extra women to round out a group of men is nice, but only progressing toward a critical mass – and listening to the women who are included – will lead us toward gender balance. Because when women are represented, we all do better.
  8. Audit your media consumption. Are all the books you read and movies you watch written by men? Are all the protagonists male? Are women given roles more significant than “wife” or “girlfriend” or “damsel in distress”? Do you know about the #seeher campaign? Does that movie you love pass the Bechdel test? Expand your media intake to include women authors, directors and protagonists. If you need some suggestions, ask a woman and then share the recommendations with another male colleague.
  9. Give credit where credit is due. This is a deeply Jewish value drawn from Pirkei Avot 6:6, where we learn that the Torah is acquired in a multitude of ways and the final way we are taught to acquire Torah is this one: “Thus you have learned: everyone who says a thing in the name of the person who said it brings deliverance into the world, as it is said: ‘And Esther told the King in Mordecai’s name’ (Esther 2:22).” If you’re sharing someone’s idea, share the source of the idea and confirm its true origin. If you know someone isn’t getting credit for their creativity, art, idea, or initiative, speak up and take action to make sure their value is seen by others.
  10. Stand up for women. Advocate – in writing, on social media, in the boardroom – for equal pay, better work-life policies, comprehensive family leave policies, and more equitable, transparent methods for recruiting senior executives and awarding prestigious prizes and fellowships for women. Be an advocate: Reproductive health, rights, and justice, as well as violence against women, aren’t just issues for women and women’s groups. Recognize that Jewish women – like the Jewish community – are multiracial, multiethnic, multi-gendered and come from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds, and we experience all the challenges of being women through a multitude of other identities as well. While you should never decide, or even comment on, what women should be doing with their bodies, make sure to engage and advocate alongside women on the issues most critical to their rights today and be a mentor to strong women to strengthen the future of our organizations.
  11. Ensure a safe and comfortable work environment for all. Are you making business decisions with other male colleagues after-hours at bars, in jacuzzis, on golf courses, on boating expeditions, on the other side of the mechitzah, or at other bro-culture outings or experiences without engaging the voices and opinions of your female colleagues? Are you choosing to take closed door meetings with men, but not women? Create rules for yourself that can be applied to all on your team equally. And, yes, it still has to be said: Don’t comment about how women dress or walk or about the pitch of their voice or if or when they might have children or tell them to smile more. Develop and implement business rules and culture that can apply to all team members, regardless of gender.
  12. End the Wage Gap. Women become more visible to you and others when they  are paid adequately and equitably – and for Jewish women of color, this deficiency is even more pronounced. The men being touted by other men as great leaders can demonstrate their greatness by ending the wage gap in their institutions and influencing others to follow their lead.
  13. Read this report on sexual harassment in Jewish institutions. The Safety Respect Equity Coalition released a first-of-its-kind report written by Dr. Guila Bechimol and Marie Huber on sexual harassment and victimization within the Jewish communal world titled “We Need to Talk: A Review of Public Discourse and Survivor Experiences of Safety, Respect and Equity in Jewish Workplaces and Communal Spaces.” This inaugural research examines the experiences of victim-survivors, the factors that contribute to victimization, responses by Jewish institutions and leaders, and how we can improve our institutions to create safer, more respectful environments for work, community, and worship.

Having offered these concrete steps to their male colleagues, the women leaned back from their respective keyboards and thought about what might happen next. They hoped, and some believed, that the men in their lives – personally and professionally – would take the list seriously. They hoped, and some believed, that organizational leadership would understand that they could strengthen themselves by creating gender-equal representation that better reflects the population they serve. They knew that while approximately 70% of the employees of Jewish organizations are women, only 30% of the C-suite are women. They knew women who lead Jewish organizations are less likely to have the title of CEO than men who fill the same role in similar organizations.

But they still needed partners: the men who notice when the boys’ club starts making decisions over cigars and whiskey, the men who serve as gatekeepers to conversations women should be included in. They needed men to invite women to have a seat – their seat, if necessary – at the table. They needed men to acknowledge and respect their level of educational achievement and intellectual inquiry, to call them “rabbi” and “cantor” and “doctor” and “professor” or by the other titles that they have earned. That’s what being an ally looks like.

It took a while for the men who read these suggestions to understand that they were being called-in, not called-out, and to implement changes in their own lives and respective workplaces. But soon, they were working in partnership with the women whom they respected and admired to ensure diverse voices were helping to shape the Jewish future…

Boards of directors achieved gender equality, women were considered for – and, at least 50% of the time, appointed to – top positions, with equal pay. And when they saw women being erased in any form – their voices suppressed or their images digitally removed from flyers and newspapers or not being represented on expert panels – these men always spoke up, despite the emotional energy it required. When the world became a space for equality and partnership, people soon forgot it had been anything else. And as for “manels”? Well, that was never really a word to begin with – so when the concept became obsolete, no one even noticed when the word faded away.

And the men, and the women, and the gender non-conforming, and the Jews of color, and the LGBTQ Jews, and the affiliated and the unafilliated Jews, the working-class Jews, and the intermarried, the intramarried, the unmarried, and the people who didn’t define themselves by a marital stage, and the CEOs and consultants and board members and lay leaders and fundraisers and network weavers and writers and educators and everyone else all lived in a thriving Jewish community together, happily ever after.

Are you in? Because we need you with us. Share this article, use the hashtag #EquityEverAfter, tag the women leaders whose voices you admire and want to uplift, and make your own personal commitment to elevating women’s voices going forward. Let’s build this new reality together.

*By ‘women,’ we refer to cisgender women, trans women, and anyone who identifies with the term ‘woman’.

**And yes, this is bad for all women and it’s even worse for women of color and women with disabilities who disproportionately become invisible in the national conversation and every day meetings.

Co-authored by the women of the 5779: Year of the Jewish Woman Facebook Group including:
Jamie Allen Black, CEO, Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, @JamieAllenBlack
Joy Ladin, David and Ruth Gottesman Chair in English, Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University, @joyladin
Shifra Bronznick, Founder of Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community
Miriam Brosseau, Principal, Tiny Windows Consulting, @miriamjayne
Rachel Gildiner, Founder, 5779: Year of the Jewish Woman, @rlg131
Ginna Green, Chief Strategy Officer, Bend the Arc, @ginnagreen
Sheila Katz, CEO, National Council of Jewish Women, @SheilaKatz1
Idit Klein, CEO, Keshet
Esther Kustanowitz, Writer and Consultant, @EstherK
Sara Shapiro-Plevan, Founder, Rimonim Consulting/Co-Founder, The Gender Equity in Hiring Project @shaplev
Halie Soifer, Executive Director, Jewish Democratic Council of America, @HalieSoifer
Contributors and co–signers (organizations listed for identification purposes only):
Shaina Abrams-Kornblum, Regional Manager, Moishe House
Rabbi Rachel Adler, Ellenson Professor of Modern Jewish Thought, Hebrew Union College
Rabbi Julia Appel
Rabbi Mona Alfi, Cong. B’nai Israel
Karen Alpert, Vice President of IT Strategy and Measurement, BBYO
Melissa Balaban, CEO and co-Founder, IKAR
Rabbi Jessica Barolsky
Rebecca Barson
April N. Baskin, Racial Justice Director, Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, @joyousjustice
Brianna (Bree) K. Becker, PhD, @BreeSpree3
Rabbi Judith Beiner, Jewish Family and Career Services of Atlanta
Laura Belinfante, Director of Digital Strategy, Repair the World
Rabbi Marci Bellows, Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek, @moosh2
Jamie Beran, Chief Operating Officer, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice
Rabbi Leah Rachel Berkowitz, Co-President, Women’s Rabbinic Network, @rabbilrb
Dana Beyer, MD, @DanaBeyer
Miriam Berkowitz Blue
Amanda Berman, Founder, Zioness
Rabbi Ashley Berns-Chafetz
Michelle Blumenberg, Executive Director, University of Arizona Hillel Foundation
Heather Booth, Organizer, Democracy Partners, #hboothgo
Carrie Bornstein, Executive Director, Mayyim Hayyim, @carolinering
Rabbi Julie Bressler, Temple Beth Shalom
Michaela Brown, Rabbinical Student, Hebrew College, @MichaelaLangB
Nina Bruder
Rabbi Megan Brudney
Rabbi Jillian Cameron, @jillianrc
Jen Cohen, Cantor
Amber Caulkins, Director, Rising Tide Open Waters Mikveh Network , Mayyim Hayyim, @A_Caulkins
Rabbi Judy Cohen-Rosenberg
Rachel Chertkoff, Deputy Executive Director, CJPAC, @chertky
Jessica Chavi Cohen, Orthodox Activist, Former Federation Community Relations Director, @JessCohen18
Rabbi Glynis Conyer
Julia Crantz
Carrie Darsky, VP, Talent Acquisition, Hillel International
Andrea Deck
Emilia Diamant
Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz
Sarah Cohen Domont, Executive Director, Santa Cruz Hillel
Rabbi Megan Doherty, @RabbiMegan
Rabbi Jessy Dressin
Rabbi Denise L. Eger, Congregation Kol Ami, @deniseeger
Rebecca Einstein Schorr, Interim Associate Director of Religious and Spiritual Life/Jewish Chaplain, Lafayette College, @RebeccaSchorr
Rachel Eisen, Director of Development (Mayyim Hayyim) / Co-Founder (Mentoring For Equity), Mayyim Hayyim / Mentoring For Equity
Karen Erlichman, DMin, LCSW
Lievnath Faber, CEO/founder, Oy Vey Amsterdam
Joan Glazer Farber, Rabbi-Executive Director, Derekh: A Pathway into Adult Jewish Learning
Sarah D. Feinberg, Senior Director, Planning and Administration, NCJW
Elizabeth Feldman
Sarah Flatto, Training & Outreach Manager, Ta’amod: Stand Up!
Erica Frankel
Rabbi Ariel J. Friedlander, @ravaj
Rabbi Suri Friedman
Carla Friend, Founder & Executive Director, Tkiya
Rabbi Serena Fujita
Beth Gendler, Executive Director, NCJW Minnesota
Rabbi Kim Geringer
Amanda Glucklich
Eden Gobuty
Faustine Goldberg-Sigal
Raina Goldberg
Malka Goldberg
Suzy Goldenkranz
Anna Goldstein, Outreach and Teen Philanthropy Coordinator, Milwaukee Jewish Federation, @aegoldstein15
Rabbi Linda Henry Goodman
Emily Goodstein, CEO + Founder, Greater Good Strategy, @EmilyGoodstein
Alyssa Gorenberg, Program Coordinator, Moishe House
Rabbi Amy Greenbaum, Beth El Congregation of the South Hills
Cindy Greenberg, Repair the World
Erica Greenblatt, Director of Development, ADL, @ecca_g
Rishe Groner, Founder, The Gene-Sis; Rabbinical student, Jewish Theological Seminary, @thegenesisters
Naama Haviv, Director of Development and Community Relations, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, @naamahaviv
Suzanne Baron Helming, Treasurer, University of Arizona Hillel
Monica Herman, Senior Director, Marketing, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington
Rabbi Joui Hessel
Elizabeth Heyman
Rabbi Lauren Holtzblatt
Laura Hyman
Leora W. Isaacs, Ph.D., Isaacs Consulting LLC, @Aroel
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director, T’ruah, @rabbijilljacobs
Meredith Jacobs, COO, JWI
Rabbi Suzie Jacobson, Temple Israel, Boston, @suziess
Rabbi Marisa James, Director of Social Justice Programming, CBST, @marisaelana
Rabbi Rachel Kahn-Troster, Deputy Director, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, @rkahntroster
Rabbi Beth Kalisch, Beth David Reform Congregation
Allyson Kapin, Founder, Rad Campaign and Women Who Tech, @radcampaign @womenwhotech
Malki Karkowsky, Director of Women’s Philanthropy, Jewish Federation of Greater Washington
Amanda Katz, Executive Director, Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse
Julia E. Katz
Nancy K. Kaufman, Immediate Past CEO, NCJW, @NKKaufman
Rabbi Jessica Kirschner, Executive Director, Hillel at Stanford
Rabbi Beth Klafter, Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth David, Commack, NY
Larisa Klebe, Director of Nishmah, The J – St. Louis
Rabbi Elisa F. Koppel, Director of Lifelong Learning, Congregation Beth Emeth, Wilmington, DE, @rabbiisa
Rabbi Riqi Kosovske, Beit Ahavah Reform Synagogue of Greater Northampton
Rabbi Shira Koch Epstein, @Shirakoch
Danielle Kranjec
Mimi Kravetz, Chief Talent Officer, Hillel International
Lisa Alter Krule, Chicago Director, Moving Traditions
Daphne Lazar-Price, Executive Director, Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, @daphne_price
Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
Rabbi Danielle Leshaw
Naomi Less, Founding Ritual Leader and Associate Director, Lab/Shul, @Jchicksrock
Jamie Levine Daniel, Assistant Professor, IUPUI, jamielevdan
Abby Levine, Director, Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, @absindc
Renanit R. Levy, Principal, R.Levy Consulting
Sarah Livingston, Executive Director, Hillel at Ohio University
Annie Lumerman, Chief Operating Officer
Elizabeth Mandel ,Executive Director, jGirls Magazine
Elisheva Massel
Molly D. May, @themol13
Rabbi Amy L. Memis-Foler
Ruth Messinger, Consultant
Deborah Meyer, CEO, Moving Traditions
Sara Miller-Paul, Co-Founder, Mentoring for Equity –
SooJi Min-Maranda, Executive Director, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal
Liza Moskowitz, MHWOW Associate Director, Moishe House
Carin Mrotz, Executive Director, Jewish Community Action, @mrotzie
Rabbi Lea Muhlstein, Chair, Arzenu – International Federation of Reform and Progressive Religious Zionists
Jordan Namerow, Founder, Jordan Namerow Communications
Dana B. Narter, Ph.D.
Kate Belza O’Bannon, Director of Strategy, Repair the World
Yadaena Osband
Libby Parker, Executive Director, Jewfolk, Inc. @libbygparker
Nancy Parkes, Founder JTeachNOW
Rabbi Ita Paskind
Rabbi Salem Pearce, Rabbi, Director of Organizing, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, @salempearce
Rabbi Hara Person, Central Conference of American Rabbis, @haperson
Rachael Petru, Director of Philanthropic Partnerships, Hillel at UCLA
Liz Polay-Wettengel, Vice President of Digital Strategy and Content, InterfaithFamily @LizPW
Rabbi Audrey S. Pollack, Solel Congregation
Meredith Polsky, Matan
Lauren Post, Senior Researcher
Rabbi Sally J. Priesand, Rabbi, @rabbisally1
Erika Purdy-Patrick, Associate Director of Community Engagement
Jaime Reich
Stefanie Rhodes, @stefanierhodes
Judith Rosenbaum, Executive Director, Jewish Women’s Archive, @jahr
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, @TheRaDR
Rabbi Sara Sapadin
Rabbi Simone Schicker, @RavRainbow
Jamie Schiffman, Vice President & Managing Director, Schusterman International Center, Hillel
Dena Farber Schoenfeld, Branlyn Consulting Solutions
Haley Schreier, Manager of Engagement and Outreach, Michigan Hillel
Michele Schulman, New York Regional Manager, Moishe House
Charlene Seidle, Executive Vice President, Leichtag Foundation
Rebecca Sendor-Israel, Lay Leader
Tilly Shames, Executive Director, University of Michigan Hillel
Mollie Sharfman, Deputy Chief Program Officer – Educating for Impact/Director of Programming – Muslim Jewish Interfaith Coalition, Educating for Impact and the Muslim Jewish Interfaith Coalition
Rabbi Alexandria Shuval-Weiner, Beth Tikvah
Rachel Siegal
Emma Silver
Gila Silverman, PhD
Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu, Co-Founder, Gender Equity in Hiring Project, @rabbirebecca
Helene Sinnreich, Director, Fern and Manfred Steinfeld Program in Judaic Studies, University of Tennessee, @another_idea
Rabbi Marjorie Slome, West End Temple
Devon Spier, Student Rabbi
Rabbi Abby Stein, author, @abbychavastein
Rachel Sumekh, CEO & Founder, Swipe Out Hunger, @rachelsumekh
Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman, author, researcher, activist, @jewfem
Rabbi Shoshanah Tornberg, Old York Road Temple – Beth Am
Danielle Trainis, Moishe House
Rabbi Dr. Kari Tuling, Rabbi and author, Congregation Kol Haverim, @ravkari
Rebecca Tullman
Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath, @Sam_Vinokor
Katie Vogel, co-founder Havayah @katharinevogel
Rabbi Miriam Wajnberg, @mirishira
Rabbi Becca Walker
Rabbi Debi Wechsler
Naomi Korb Weiss, Senior Consultant, TCC Group
Sharon Weiss Greenberg, @notoriuswg
Rabbi Paula Jayne Winnig
Rebecca Youngerman, Principal & Founder, RGY Consulting
Rabbi Mary Zamore, Executive Director, Women’s Rabbinic Network
Rabbi Deborah Zecher
Rabbi Lina Zerbarini, Kehillath Shalom Synagogue