Was it the camaraderie, the chance to sing and dance, laugh and cry, as they celebrated 50 years of philanthropic impact made by women from around the world?
Was it the program, with powerhouse speakers focusing on women’s empowerment, Federations’ role in global crises like Iran and Ukraine, security and antisemitism, and mental health?
Was it the power of the collective, with women sharing a bond of philanthropic involvement in the community as they raised $24.2 million at the event?
Or was it a genuine personal moment when Jackie Sprinces Wong joined 57 other women representing Federation communities as they received the 2022 Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award? This award recognizes leaders who embody the spirit and vision of Lions of Judah through a commitment to tzedakah, tikkun olam, and community service.
Instead of going to the stage, awardees stayed with their local groups to be honored. Each group was given a single shawl with the Lion logo. The Colorado women raised it above Jackie’s head, like a chuppah, and then Jackie’s daughter-in-law Ashleigh Wong and her friend Diana Zeff Anderson wrapped her in the shawl as her fellow ‘Lions’ embraced her. There were tears and there were smiles as Jackie looked at her friends and said, simply, “Isn’t this great?”
A powerful program
International Lions of Judah is the signature women’s philanthropic movement of JFNA. “This year’s conference is an opportunity to celebrate this unbelievable cadre of women leaders who are touching countless lives and strengthening Jewish communities around the globe through their collective giving,” said Chair of the National Women’s Philanthropy of JFNA Carolyn Gitlin. “As the influence of women in charitable giving continues to grow, I have no doubt that our ‘Lions’ will continue to make a transformational impact on our Jewish world.”
Attendees at the three-day conference in Phoenix, Ariz., came from 80 Jewish Federations and 5 countries representing 18,000 Lions of Judah around the world. They will not soon forget the national figures who spoke at plenary and break-out sessions. Katie Couric delivered the keynote experience, revisiting the family secret she had written about in her autobiography Going There. Couric’s mother was Jewish, something she kept hidden throughout her daughter’s childhood.
For Couric, this was a moment to acknowledge and embrace her heritage, as her long-time friend Dana Keller, Board Chair
of the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, pinned her as a new Lion of Judah.
“What would you say to your younger self?” Keller asked Couric. “Be bold, and speak up,” Couric replied to a standing ovation.
Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), the former congresswoman, was also greeted with a standing ovation. Giffords, who was shot in 2011 while meeting with constituents, is the embodiment of resilience for her rehabilitation after a bullet caused a life-changing brain injury. She spoke about the need to protect children and the community from gun violence, but her greatest message may have come from her very presence—standing on the stage as a woman who has persevered in the face of adversity, the embodiment of Judaism.
Audrey Glickman, a member of the Pittsburgh Jewish community and the Tree of Life synagogue, spoke about the importance of taking security seriously. To punctuate her point, at the end of her speech this very small woman raised the shofar to her lips and issued a very big call to action.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, spoke about food insecurity in the world, pointing out that 800 million people go hungry every day. She also talked about her focus on women’s rights within the U.N. where, she said, women must have more seats at the table.
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
CNN Chief International Correspondent Clarissa Ward showed videotape of her reporting during the war in Ukraine. “The world is on fire,” she said. “What are we going to do about it? It’s mind-blowing how quickly the Ukrainian people have met and continue to meet the moment. The suffering and pain are devastating and real. And yet, the people show unity, grit, and determination but at a tremendous cost.”
Again and again, the speakers at the conference called on the ‘Lions’ to support and sustain a vibrant Jewish community around the world:
“We must not and will not let the horrors of WWII be repeated. Every Jew that needed rescuing in Ukraine was rescued. We are brought to this place at this time. We must not be complacent. Let’s learn, renew bonds, and act.” –Eric Fingerhut, President and CEO, JFNA
“We identify as Jews because of our amazing heritage, but antisemitism is part of the fabric of the human race. Don’t be afraid to speak out and speak up.” –Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Antisemitism
“There is vast underreporting of hate crimes. We are the only faith-based community with connections to the FBI. We have a Jew-hatred problem and the threat is real. Groups like the ‘Lions’ must be a voice in the community.” –Michael Masters, National Director & CEO, Secure Community Network (SCN)
The Colorado impact
Since Lions of Judah was founded in 1972 by Norma Kipnis-Wilson and Toby Friedland of blessed memory, Lions have collectively raised more than one billion dollars supporting flourishing Jewish communities and aiding vulnerable Jews at home, in Israel, and around the globe.
Through the years, Colorado women have played a significant role in the leadership and philanthropy of ‘Lions.’ At the most recent conference, Colorado was well-represented both in the size of its delegation and its presence in the program:
- Jillian Feiger, JEWISHcolorado Director of Jewish Student Connection and the Joyce Zeff Israel Study Tour, talked about her work with teens and mental health and the national BeWell program;
- Rabbit Emily Hyatt from Temple Emanuel spoke multiple times and led the call to action before each Federation broke into its community conversation;
- Stacey Aviva Flint, the JFNA Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion Education and Community Engagement spoke in a break-out session;
- Rose Savage Levenson spoke about BaMidbar, the only Jewish wilderness therapy program in the United States.
“I am so proud of our women and all they do,” said Roberta Witkow, Director of Women’s Philanthropy at JEWISHcolorado. “Colorado women have been and continue to be leaders at the national level in the Federation community. At the annual conferences, ‘Lions’ make connections and find opportunities to network and learn, and that leads to national leadership roles.”
The Colorado women who attended returned home renewed, inspired, and motivated to continue their philanthropic generosity and involvement. Just stand back and watch them roar.