Women’s Philanthropy and the Jewish Community

Oct 6, 2022

Philanthropy creates pathways to connect with like-minded individuals, provides opportunities to engage with people in a meaningful way, and makes real and lasting changes in the community. The fundamental core of philanthropy – an active effort to promote human welfare done through an act or a gift – is embraced by three Jewish principles: tzedakah (charitable giving), tikkun olam (repair the world), and hesed (acts of kindness).

Roberta Witkow, Director of Women’s Philanthropy at JEWISHcolorado believes that women embody these principles in their approach to philanthropy. “Women love to welcome, gather, engage, inspire, and create a lasting impact. It’s really about how we show up.”

A brief history

Women’s philanthropy has changed and evolved significantly over the years. In the 1800s, women started to adjust how they engaged with philanthropy, aligning it more with their volunteering – a trend that holds true today. Giving was tied to their husbands’ or family’s wealth, making it so women’s giving focused more on meeting needs rather than addressing the source of inequities.

Increased entry into the workforce, expanded access to higher education, and greater financial independence in the 1900s allowed women to change how they approached their philanthropic giving. No longer limited to their husbands’ or family’s wealth, women sought opportunities that allowed them to create solutions, make changes in their community, commit to organizations with a vision they share, and connect to those whose lives they are changing.

Now, “women are the primary decision-makers in the home,” says Witkow. “They are making gifts in their own name, and in doing so, embracing an identity that is independent of another family member.

Local women embrace philanthropy

A pioneer when it comes to empowering women, Colorado became the second state to allow women the right to vote in 1893 – nearly three decades before the country ratified the 19th amendment. The Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame recognizes women throughout the state and across industries for the contributions they make to their community.

Some of the inspirational women philanthropists who have made a difference in Colorado are:

  • Joy S. Burns – A founding member of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado and a force of positive change in the community, Joy S. Burns made her philanthropic mark on the Colorado community through her work on shaping the University of Denver campus.
  • Merle Chambers – Committed to long-term economic opportunity and social/political justice, Merle Chambers dedicated her time and resources to improving the lives of women and families throughout Colorado.
  • Anne Evans –  Influenced by arts, culture, and literature, Anne Evans focused her philanthropic ventures to create the change she wanted to see in the Colorado art community. She dedicated her time, resources, and influence to the causes she was involved in.
  • Arlene Hirschfeld – Working tirelessly on behalf of women, children, education, and the arts, Arlene Hirschfield values the importance of using volunteerism to enact change and enhance the lives of individuals in her community. Her unique approach to civic engagement has served as a model for modern philanthropic leadership.

Women’s Philanthropy and the Jewish Community

“Women give differently. They are connected to the cause,” says Witkow. “Women use money as a means to help others, to help the future, to sustain and help the future of our community.”

Women’s philanthropy is deeply connected to the future well-being of the global Jewish community and according to the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), the fastest growing phenomenon in philanthropy today.

In 1972, in recognition of the impact women have in the Jewish community, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) created the “Lion of Judah,” a national network of women who make an annual gift of $5,000 or more to the Federation system. Lions work to create social justice, aid the vulnerable, preserve human dignity, and build Jewish identity.

In line with the Lion of Judah’s mission, JEWISHcolorado Women’s Philanthropy seeks to build and support Jewish life for today and generations to come. “It’s not our job to finish the work but it’s upon us to continue it from generation to generation,” shared Witkow.

Monday, October 24, JEWISHcolorado is hosting its “Cultivating Hope” event with JFNA Chair, Julie Platt. Platt is the second woman in the history of the Jewish Federations to serve as Board Chair. Further, she has served as the Chair of the Foundation for Jewish Camp and holds a position on the Board of Trustees of her alma mater, University of Pennsylvania. She also is the mother of actor Ben Platt, known for his work in the film, “Pitch Perfect,” and the Broadway musical, “Dear Evan Hanson.” Colorado State Representative Dafna Michelson Janet will deliver opening remarks.

Also at the event, JEWISHColorado will honor Jacqueline Sprinces Wong of Boulder, a 25-year Lion of Judah and the recipient of the 2022 Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award, which recognizes one woman from each Federation community who has set a high standard of philanthropy through her lifetime commitment to volunteerism, leadership, and philanthropy.

Proceeds from this event will benefit the many community programs and grants that JEWISHcolorado provides throughout the year and will continue to empower and inspire the community for generations to come. Find out more about Women’s Philanthropy at JEWISHcolorado.