For women leaders, a little less lonely at the top
Despite a preponderance of women in professional and volunteer roles, the Jewish community has a ways to go in promoting women to top leadership positions.
This year, however, the Central New Jersey community achieved a landmark for local women: For the first time, the federation and its three community agencies all had women presidents at the same time.
That’s no surprise, according to longtime Central volunteer Toby Goldberger, one of the first to take a leadership position at an agency and still one of the federation’s leading fund-raisers, although she now lives in Maplewood.
“We have the most wonderful young women in this community,” she said, listing name after name. “They’re brilliant and educated and articulate. And they don’t even stop to think whether something is a woman’s job or not.”
In 2011-12, the president of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey was Julie Lipsett-Singer; Suzanne Albin Tucker led the JCC of Central NJ, and will do so for a second year; RoAnna Pascher led the YM-YWHA of Union County, and will for a third year; and Jennifer Pollak was president of Jewish Family Service of Central NJ for 2010-12.
Before them, the federation, JFS, and the Y had each had just three women presidents; the JCC had had 10.
At the professional level, all those organizations are headed by men. Barak Hermann, who is leaving the JCC in the fall, has been its executive director for almost five years. The other three leaders — Bryan Fox, executive vice president at the Y; Tom Beck, executive director at JFS; and Stanley Stone, Central federation’s executive vice president — have each served close to 20 years or more. Most of the organizations’ staff members are women.
“The fact of the matter is that we’ve always had far more women volunteers than men, and we have some very capable, intelligent women in this community,” said Amy Cooper, the federation’s associate executive vice president and director of financial resource development — its number two in command.
She noted with regret that fewer men have been volunteering for federation — just as fewer men are entering Jewish communal service, possibly reflecting the lag in salaries as compared to the for-profit world.
On the religious front, the Central community has been evolving in a similar direction. Local Conservative and Reform congregations have more women clergy than ever before, as they do elsewhere in the country, but the top slots are usually held by men.
Only one synagogue in the Central area is headed by a woman, Rabbi Randi Musnitsky at Temple Har Shalom, the Reform congregation in Warren.
At Temple Emanu-El, the Reform synagogue in Westfield, there are two female rabbis, Rabbi Erin Glazer and Rabbi Sarah Smiley, working under the leadership of Rabbi Douglas Sagal. The congregation also has Cantor Martha Novick, who will be joined in July by Cantor Michelle Rubel.
Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim, the Conservative congregation in Cranford, has a female cantor, Shoshana Abrams, and Har Shalom has Cantor Anna Berman.
Shifra Bronznick, founder and president of Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community, has been at the forefront of efforts to boost gender equality. “We are seeing a growing number of women step into key leadership roles in every sphere of Jewish life,” she told NJ Jewish News. “Extraordinary women are leading spiritual communities, building strong social justice organizations, heading foundations, and serving as presidents of major organizations. Some agencies — especially the veteran organizations — are slower to embrace new models of shared leadership and to institutionalize flexible and healthy work life policies. Much has been achieved — and more change is still essential to ensure a vital and vibrant Jewish future.”