Sisterhood Blog

Why No Heroines Among the 'Jewish Community Heroes'?

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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When one of our favorite blogs, Jacob Berkman’s The Fundermentalist, over at JTA, throws down the gauntlet, we at The Sisterhood are happy to take it up.

In his post announcing that the Jewish Federations of North America-run Jewish Community Heroes contest has selected its five finalists, he notes that they are all male. Nominees for the contest are selected by popular online vote: This year, more than 311,000 votes were cast. A panel of 16 judges (six of whom are women) selected the finalists and will pick the winner, who is to be announced at the upcoming JFNA General Assembly, in New Orleans November 7–9.

My view of the contest is complex: On the one hand, this kind of popularity contest tends to be finessed by the well-organized, like the Chabad-associated nominees this year and last who are adept at using social media to generate support. On the other hand, we know many Jews who work selflessly to improve things for others and would be able to put the $25,000 grand prize to effective use. And the Jewish community is in real need of inspiration, so the idea of finding unsung heroes to highlight is, well, appealing.

According to JFNA spokesman Joe Berkofsky, the finalists were picked entirely by the judges. “It was subjective, but completely based on merit,” he said.

Whatever the contest’s other virtues or flaws, however, women ought to be among the finalists and the judges ought to keep in mind that being conscious of diversity does not mean disregarding merit.

The contest’s goals are two-fold, Berkofsky said. “One is to really honor and celebrate people who are doing service and really doing tikkun olam, repairing the world. It’s also an effort to connect people through social media.”

Here are some women who, I think, ought to be among the next round of Jewish Community Heroes contest nominees. While my list does not include rabbis, some of those listed on The Sisterhood 50, would also be strong contenders. The just-posted Forward 50 should also be plumbed, of course.

Ruth Messinger, of American Jewish World Service, for highlighting the needs of vulnerable populations around the world and leading Jewish support to help them

• Sally Gottesman of Moving Traditions, for funding and leading critical work on the needs of teen Jewish girls and boys.

Barbara Dobkin, for being a strategic donor when it comes to backing women.

Adena Berkowitz, for being an Orthodox woman who takes the reins of leadership despite a lack of rabbinical training in her new Manahttan congregation, Kol HaNeshama.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, for staying true to her feminist roots and for staying committed to improving the Jewish community.

Loribeth Weinstein, director of Jewish Women International, for keeping the organization focused on issues of domestic violence.

Nancy Ratzan, president of NCJW, for keeping reproductive choice front and center as a Jewish issue

Who would you nominate?


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