A Special Commencement Celebrates Women Who Learn in Order to Do
Lander College for Women, Touro Graduate School of Social Work and UJA Partner to Offer Professional Training to Orthodox Jewish Women Leading Social Service Organizations
September heralds fall, back-to-school, the beginning of a new year and is not usually the height of graduation season. Yet, this week a group of unusual women experienced a commencement that is sure to be the start of new initiatives and inspiration for themselves and the thousands they serve. They celebrated the completion of the Chesed Leadership Program, a fellowship designed to nurture and advance Orthodox Jewish women leading nonprofit and social service organization. This program was a partnership between UJA-Federation of New York, Lander College for Women and the Touro College Graduate School of Social Work.
“The Chesed Leadership Program represents a wonderful ‘shidduch’ between Touro and UJA. Both share a commitment to the future of the Jewish people and a mutual understanding of the power of a caring community,” said Dr. Steven Huberman, dean of the Touro College Graduate School of Social Work. Huberman cited a Harvard study that looked at common traits of successful people and found that two C’s were essential--caring was number one and competency was number two. “The women in this program already care –they are directing organizations that address key challenges facing our community and they are dedicated to serving those in need every day. Through the Chesed Leadership Program, we helped them build the skills they need to develop competency so they can lead and serve in a more professional way. We are proud to help them master the 2 C’s and know they will achieve success.”
Over the course of the six-month fellowship, the women explored key topics in organizational development and strategic planning, volunteer and board development, public relations and social media, fundraising, financial management, technology and human resources
Touro President Alan Kadish highlighted a fundamental idea in the Jewish community, “Everyone has a unique role to play. We have a long history of empowering women dating back to the days of Deborah the prophetess who was a judge and teacher of the Jewish people. Touro has always been at the forefront when it comes to harmonizing traditional Jewish values with leadership and professional accomplishment and hearing about what the women in this fellowship program are accomplishing through their chesed is powerful.”
The graduates are leading a variety of critical organizations in the community addressing issues such as addiction prevention, coping with autism, patient advocacy, support for pregnancy loss, training for Orthodox mental health professionals and more. Many are mothers and grandmothers with full-time jobs, whose charitable work is voluntary and represents a commitment to a cause by which they were personally touched.
According to Sara Rivka Kohn, commencement speaker and director of LINKS, an organization that supports grieving children and teens, “We are all part of a community of women for whom NOT doing is not an option. This program taught us the skills so that when we say yes to another project, we will do it right. I lost my mother at age nine and there were no support services for me at the time. I felt so alone and as I grew up, I was determined to dispel the isolation for other children in this situation. Now I’m professionalizing my operation. My staff actually held their breath every time I came in to the office the day after one of my classes. I was so motivated and eager to implement everything I learned right away. It meant more work for all of us, but better service for those who need us.”
“I’m so proud of our graduates who are making the most vulnerable among us feel part of the Jewish community,” said Alexandra Roth-Kahn, Managing Director of the Caring Department at UJA-Federation. “Through their work, they are affirming the diversity of our community and expanding and strengthening it to include so many in need.”
“The program exceeded all expectations we had when we conceived of this initiative,” said Dr. Marian Stoltz-Loike, dean of Touro’s Lander College for Women/The Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten School and vice president of online education at Touro College. “The program participants were not content to see an issue and let someone else take care of it. They are creators and influencers who stepped up to the plate themselves to transform lives. Through this program, they were encouraged ‘lilmod al minas laasos’—to learn in order to do, as Pirkei Avos teaches. These women were already doing. They came to learn so they could do more and do better.”
The organizations led by the second class of Chesed Leadership Program participants run the gamut of needs in the Jewish community and include Madraigos, Agudah Women, Marion & Aaron Gural JCC of the Five Towns, Sephardic Bikur Cholim, NEFESH International, Vaad Refuah, NCSY Camp Maor and more.
Each of the Chesed Leadership Program participants was paired with a mentor who is a seasoned nonprofit executive. Mentors are working one on one with participants to expand on what was covered in the classes, answer questions specific to the needs of a particular organization and help students with planning for the future.
“Everyone here is a living embodiment of Olam Chesed Yibaneh,” said Eric Goldstein, UJA-Federation CEO. “As with every commencement, this is the beginning, not the end. I know you will keep learning with and from each other and relying on the resources of UJA and Touro as we continue to build the Jewish community.”
The ceremony ended when Chesed Leadership Program Director Cynthia Darrison presented each participant with a certificate of completion. “What I love about teaching and mentoring is that I’m always learning,” said Darrison. “These women keep me on my toes and inspire me to think about how to improve and do things better.”
Women leading nonprofit organizations in the Orthodox community who are interested in more information or who wish to apply for the next Chesed Leadership Program cohort should contact Cindy Darrison at firstname.lastname@example.org