Setting Priorities: ASSOCIATED Empowers Women to Make New Friends and a Difference in the World

There are countless stories of women who have decided to give of their time and resources for the people of Jewish Baltimore through THE ASSOCIATED: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. Each story begins a little differently. Sometimes, the woman was approached about her involvement by a friend. Other times, she was raised with certain Jewish values that are a natural fit for her decision. Often, a life stage – motherhood or empty nest syndrome – sparked reflection and pushed her to find meaning. The endings of each story, however, tend to be quite similar; women who give through THE ASSOCIATED find friendship, inspiration and fulfillment.

Take Melissa Gerr, a high-powered media producer, Melissa says she was looking for structured, focused discussion and exposure to give her ways to point her interest in philanthropy and volunteerism in the right direction. She learned about The Center for Community Engagement & Leadership’s  (CCEL) Dor Tikvah program, a two-year leadership development program that draws its inspiration from the Jewish traditions of social justice and tikkun olam. Gerr says she has begun to find answers to her questions through exposure to “really amazing speakers and really powerful women leaders in Jewish studies and philanthropy.”
Finding time in her busy schedule wasn’t easy, but Gerr explains that her supervisors saw the value of the program. Dor Tikvah’s leadership training “isn’t just grooming me as a leader for the community, but also leadership training for whatever I do in life, including my job.”

Additionally, she has met a new cadre of friends she terms “motivated and wise Jewish women.”

Clara Klein, chair of this year’s Chapter Two educational and engagement program, also a program of CCEL, participated in Chapter Two last year. She says programs like Dor Tikvah and Chapter Two, while not meant solely as social gatherings, do open women to new and deep friendships. Last year, she instantly bonded with one woman in her group and they – and their husbands – have been friends ever since.

“I think the women who join Chapter Two are looking for new friendships and when people open themselves up, it is easier to find that bond,” she says.

The Woman’s Touch
Women working together, “identify with issues differently than men,” says Randi Hertzberg, chair of the 2011-2012 Dor Tikvah cohort.
Hertzberg says most of the women in her group are mothers and there is an inherent need to teach their children to help others, to lead by example through their involvement in Dor Tikvah.

Quoting the great Jewish thinker, Rashi, Hertzberg says, “’After all is said and done, we leave behind nothing but our good deeds.’ I lead by example and hope that my children will also find community service work rewarding.”

Jessica Grosman has taken that mantra to heart. She is the first woman in THE ASSOCIATED system to “take the Lion Leap,” as part of a 25th Anniversary Lion of Judah Program. Lion of Judah is the nationally recognized giving program for women across the country. This year, explains Lion Leap Chair Linda Hurwitz, THE ASSOCIATED is using the 25th Anniversary of Lion in Baltimore to encourage women to jump off of that $6,000 donation mark and increase their gifts by 10 percent. Any woman that makes the decision to do so, or to go from giving less to the $6,000 Lion level, will leverage an anonymous $2,500 gift to THE ASSOCIATED’s Annual Campaign.

Grosman says she had just returned from a national Jewish conference when she heard about the Lion Leap incentive. At the conference, she had already increased her gift by six percent. An increase of an  additional several hundred dollars would leverage the match.

“I said, ‘Why would I not do that?’ It was so impressive and amazing to think about what my small increase could provide with this matching $2,500 grant,” says Grosman.

Taking the Lion Leap for Jessica was not solely about the financial impact she would have on the system. It was also about setting an example.
“I think it is important that everyone make a gift,” she notes, explaining that she, her five-year-old daughter and her husband all make individual gifts. “My daughter understands the importance of tzedakah – she gets counted as a member of the community. As a woman, I feel incredible to know the impact my one gift can have – a lot more services, programs, aid, whatever needs to be done, will be possible because of those additional matching dollars.”

Grosman’s daughter feels pride in her mother’s philanthropic decisions. She calls her Lion of Judah pin, “Mommy’s tzedakah pin.”

Susan Posner, a member of the 2010-2011 Chapter Two cohort, says she came at giving from the other side. Her youngest son, now in college, had participated in the Diller Baltimore Teen Fellow program, overseen by Jewish Volunteer Connection. He had been a reserved child and Diller taught him about leadership, Jewish identity and a love of Israel. With a mother’s pride, Posner says that her son became an ambassador for the Jewish community – to his friends and family. While volunteering of time and resources was always a priority to Posner, it was usually through her two sons’ schools. With the kids older, she felt compelled to give back to the Jewish community.

Posner says her move to help out through THE ASSOCIATED was embraced by her entire family. Her sons ask about it regularly and are interested to know of her work. Today, Posner is a member of the Baltimore-Ashkelon Partnership Committee, assisting Baltimore’s sister city in Israel.

“It is really important to set an example for your children. My younger son’s participation in Diller spawned me to take action. Now, my older son has become involved in Jewish National Fund and is looking to connect with his Federation in New York. I don’t know if this would have happened without Diller and Chapter Two,” she says.

Like Posner, all others interviewed say they are most proud of the fact that they choose to do their philanthropy through THE ASSOCIATED. Giving of time and money in Jewish Baltimore, “is a no brainer,” says Grosman. “I know people are being helped in Baltimore, in our sister cities of Ashkelon and Odessa, and all over the world.”

“You can always tell what is important to people if you look at their calendars and their checkbooks,” says Posner with a laugh. “Making time for Jewish Baltimore, and spending money on it, is a priority for us. Chapter Two – and other similar ASSOCIATED offerings, help people re-order their priorities. You will always have your job, but it is the things outside, the relationships with people, the inspiration, and the impact that make the difference.”

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