Sexual violence awareness workshop is for high schoolers


“Unless we are educated, everybody in this room is a potential victim, a potential perpetrator and a potential bystander.”

De Toledo High School senior Roni Farkash’s opening comments about sexual violence came during a National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) event Aug. 30 that gave audience members a taste of what the nonprofit is doing to educate high school students and incoming college freshmen about the issue.

The timing couldn’t have been more relevant — it happened just a few days before former Stanford University student Brock Turner was released from jail after being convicted of sexually assaulting an unconscious woman in a trial that made national headlines.

The local presentation at NCJW’s Fairfax Boulevard headquarters was intended to give about 40 parents, teachers and school administrators insight into The Talk Project, a self-described “peer-to-peer sexual violence awareness workshop for high school students [in Los Angeles].”

“This workshop needs to be heard by every high school student in the country,” Maya Paley, director of legislative and community engagement at NCJW/LA and principal investigator of The Talk Project, said during kickoff remarks. 

Launched in February by NCJW/LA teen volunteers involved with creating the NCJW/LA Teen Advocacy Working Group, the program’s goal is to fill a gap in education about sexual violence in high schools. So far, The Talk Project has reached 1,100 students across Los Angeles in six high schools, including public, private and magnet schools: Oakwood School, deToledo High School, Milken Community Schools, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies, Palisades Charter High School and Brighton Hall School.. 

The four presenters Aug. 30 included two Jewish day school students, Farkash and Romy Dolgin, also a senior at de Toledo High School. The others — founding co-chairs of the initiative — were incoming UC Davis freshman Brianna Tuomi, a graduate of Oakwood School in North Hollywood, and Lauren Foley, a USC sophomore and 2015 graduate of Westridge School for Girls in Pasadena.

During the 90-minute discussion, the students acted out scenarios to spotlight what constitutes consensual sex and showed clips of the documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which examines the sexual assault epidemic on college campuses.

The presenters also revealed a number of statistics showing that only 2 to 8 percent of reported sexual assaults turn out to be false, a disproportionate number of reported assaults occur between those who previously knew each other, and the LGBTQ community experiences sexual violence at double the rate of the heterosexual community.

The presentation at NCJW/LA, which was open to the public, was the same one the trained peer educators of The Talk Project deliver at local high schools to student-only audiences. As of Aug. 30, the program had 20 trained peer educators, all women, although it is open to men, and its leaders are hoping men eventually sign up. 

They also hope to increase funding for it so that it can spread across additional high schools in Los Angeles, according to Paley. 

The initiative, which is run under the social justice advocacy arm of NCJW/LA, is funded internally, Paley said. Outside help has come from The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which provided the project with a $5,000 ChangeMaker Challenge grant at the beginning of the year.

“We feel that this should be a priority issue and project for the Jewish community to support and we hope that our community can commit to fighting sexual violence together by supporting The Talk Project,” Paley wrote in an email. 

In May, NCJW/LA released a 19-page evaluation of the program by Hannah Barth, a UCLA master’s of social work student and an intern for NCJW/LA, that found the program was having a positive impact on students’ “understanding of the societal and systemic causes of sexual violence.” It also noted room for improvement in terms of males’ understanding of consent. The report examined three high schools that had held the workshops. 

The presentation concluded with a Q-and-A session and emphasized that girls and boys can be victims of sexual violence: 1 in 4 female college students experiences sexual violence in college, while 1 in 16 males does, according to the presenters.

One mother in the audience expressed frustration over how to handle the dressing habits of teenage girls, wanting to allow her daughter to wear trendy short shorts but also feeling nervous about letting her go out dressed that way. 

“Why should I tell my kid, ‘You can’t wear what’s popular right now because you are making yourself look like a sexualized being and you might not be one yet’? So it’s very confusing as a parent as well to know what the line is,” she said. 

The presenters stood between an American flag and an Israeli flag. Artwork from the recent NCJW/LA student art exhibition, titled “Rise,” which features art that explores sexual violence and rape culture, decorated the walls.

Educating about sexual violence is a fulfillment of the Jewish obligation to perform acts of tikkun olam, or healing the world, Farkash told the Journal. 

“I think that a really big part of Judaism is getting involved in the community. We have this whole concept of tikkun olam, and I think that in this program, we’re trying to do that,” she said. “We’re trying to better society. We’re doing that with education. We’re trying to improve the lives of everybody by starting the conversation about such a taboo topic.”

Jewish Women’s Conference allows women to let down their hair


The fourth annual Jewish Women’s Conference of Southern California, held March 1 at UCLA’s Covel Commons, proved a fertile testing ground for women’s issues today, drawing nearly 200 women of all ages and religious backgrounds to a daylong female-centric confab. Sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Reshet: The Jewish Women’s Network and NA’AMAT USA, the conference offered a relaxed atmosphere where women of various vocations and affiliations could speak candidly about their lives.

What is it like to be a Jewish woman in the world today? What are her struggles? What are her concerns? How can she forge a meaningful path?

Those were some of the questions raised in sessions offered throughout the day, traversing topics that addressed the body, the soul and the seat of power.

During the opening plenary on leadership (which the conference boldly declared “LeadHERship”) moderated by Journal Executive Editor Susan Freudenheim, panelists from the worlds of government, entertainment, business and the nonprofit sector talked about their career paths and the importance of mentoring other women. They also dished on so-called “female” behavior at work, the benefits of failure and the feminist backlash that followed actress Patricia Arquette’s Oscar-speech clarion call for equal wages.

“It’s not so much that [as women] we are different,” Los Angeles County Supervisor/superfeminist Sheila Kuehl said, addressing gender norms, roles and sensibilities. “It’s that we are treated differently from the moment we’re born.”

The 74-year-old Kuehl, a longtime veteran of politics, said that to get ahead, women should ignore naysayers and critics. “Expect that there will be pushback,” she said of women’s advancement. Kuehl said she practices what she preaches: During election cycles, Kuehl confessed that she refuses to watch negative campaign ads or monitor her own polling. And while she is concerned with equal wages on a societal level, she is less concerned on a personal level: “I would never have gone into government work if I cared about money,” she said, noting that her pursuit of politics has landed her in the top 3 percent of female income-earners in the country, but in the bottom 5 percent of her Harvard Law School graduating class.

Nevertheless, she said, “I’m an optimist: a person who knows how terrible the world can be and is therefore never disappointed.”


More than 200 people gathered for the Los Angeles National Council of Jewish Women's annual Women's Conference at UCLA.

Nancy Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women, also addressed the burden of low expectations. She told of how, in 1893, when Hannah G. Solomon of Chicago was invited to bring a group of Jewish women to participate in the Chicago World’s Fair, a seat at the table was really just an invitation to waitress: “They were asked to pour tea,” Kaufman said. The women walked out, and in response, founded the NCJW.

Addressing the ways in which the feminist struggle is not yet over — particularly in the area of reproductive choice and the still vastly uneven male-to-female ratio in business and politics — nail-polish guru Suzi Weiss-Fischmann, the co-founder and vice president of OPI nail products, offered a morale boost: “A woman is like a teabag — you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water.”

In between panel discussions, women had the opportunity to partake in instructor-led Zumba dancing or shop the collection of pop-up boutiques featuring spring and summer wares. When lunch was served, one Orthodox attendee gushed about the conference’s first-ever kosher lunch offering (tuna salad). “Next year, I’m going to be a sponsor,” she declared.

During lunchtime, American Jewish World Service President Ruth Messinger put things into perspective when she said that no matter how valid the struggles are for American-Jewish women, the women at the conference still have it infinitely better than “billions” of women around the world, who are victimized daily by gender-based violence, child marriage and LGBT hate crimes.

Her leadership advice? “Shema. Listen,” Messinger said. Listen to the voices of others; attune yourself to actual needs over imposed solutions; reach out to those who are distant, and different, and support them in their goals.

True empowerment, the Nobel Prize-winning Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee once said, is about relinquishing some of your own power in order to give it to another.

Rags or riches? NCJW/LA thrift stores offer vintage treasures


On any given weekday, Bob Klausner can be found at a number of regional thrift stores looking at the most interesting and salable art, overlooked designer handbags and finest of silver. Bob isn’t a vintage dealer or an eagle-eyed bargain hunter, though he embodies all of those qualities and more as director of retail operations for the National Council of Jewish Women’s Thrift Shops. He is tall and affable, with neatly combed silver hair and a well-trimmed mustache — and one wouldn’t immediately suspect that he heads a chain of thrift stores that  have become the ultimate treasure trove for fashionistas and vintage hunters in Los Angeles. 

The fact becomes crystal clear, however, as soon as Klausner enters the Fairfax store; employees light up and eagerly chat with him — they know who their retail savior is. Friendly and gracious to everyone working inside, Klausner and his team talk shop but can barely be heard above the constant sound of hangers slap-clapping against each other as shoppers quickly flip through find after find around the circular racks. Depending on the day, designer clothes and accessories by the likes of Gucci, Lanvin, Chloe and Etro often can be found in the store, mostly for women, but men’s goods are well-represented, too. On a recent day, one handsome shopper crowed aloud at finding an Oscar de la Renta blazer, thrilled to find a collector’s item so soon after the beloved designer’s death. 

Beyond the clothing racks in the Fairfax store lies an impressively arrayed furniture section to the left and behind that a fairly large collection of shoes, handbags and kitchenware. Display cases filled with jewelry and silver artfully line a sales counter in the middle of the store. If this doesn’t look like your typical thrift shop, customers can thank Klausner for that. 

Some 10 years ago, Klausner was set to semi-retire after four decades in the clothing industry. He had been at the helm of T.J. Maxx for 15 years, then moved on to run, co-own and sell Clothestime, a chain of discount retail stores across the country. But the New York transplant was growing restless and wanted to do something where he could give back. He ended up finding his calling in an ad in the back pages of CareerBuilder. It seemed tailor made for Klausner: a challenging job remaking an altruistic operation that was right in his wheelhouse.   

The National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) agreed: “We got a lot of resumes,” said Hillary Selvin, executive director of NCJW/LA, speaking from its headquarters in the heart of the Fairfax District. “When you get a resume like Bob’s, you’re wondering why is he applying for the position. It was all about timing.” 

“In everyone’s mind, a thrift store is a junk store,” Klausner said as he sat enveloped in a comfortable black leather sofa (a donation) in Selvin’s office. “I tried to make them true retail stores rather than thrift stores.”

In addition to revamping the look, he has created a buzz around the chain of thrift shops. He’s drawn customers to the stores in droves by putting on special events, dubbed the “best of the best.” Every six to eight weeks, the most select items, often designer and in good condition, would go on sale at 80 to 90 percent off their retail value prices. People lined up around the block to go to those sales.  

NCJW/LA stopped doing the “best” sales a couple of years ago, however, once the staff saw they could maintain customers more consistently by putting most designer items directly on the floor but also holding a small percentage back to sell on eBay. Klausner’s savvy has tapped into a worldwide customer base eager to buy some of those quality goods, and he has transformed a part of the Fairfax store offices into the home base for its eBay business.

Since taking over retail operations a decade ago, Klausner has tripled the volume of what the Council’s thrift shops brings in per year. Close to 80 percent of NCJW/LA’s revenue comes from its eight thrift stores, which  strategically dot the Los Angeles retail landscape.

They’ve grown to have a sort of cult following, and it isn’t unusual for serious shoppers to visit a couple of the Council thrift shops in a single day. Some crafty bargain hunters lie in wait, eyeing the employees shuttling back and forth from the back room, while others try to anticipate donation drop-offs.  

Donations roll in from all eight stores, and employees like Devi Capowich have an eye for identifying valuable objects from all over the world. But everything is always priced at a fraction of its original cost, as a lure to bring bargain hunters into the stores.  

Employees are nice and known at certain stores to let customers haggle a little; but don’t push your luck with prices that are already so low. The deals can be eye-poppingly fantastic: Yves St. Laurent bags with original tags still on them for less than $100; Alexander McQueen jackets at $65 and pristine vintage mirrored end tables for $110.

And best of all, the NCJW folks are not too upset when a great item has escaped one of their appraising eyes. “Yes, things will slip through,” Selvin admitted with a smile, “but that’s the great thing about the thrift store experience.”

Klausner doesn’t worry whether some items will be priced too low, either. “We try our best to make sure everything is priced correctly, but if someone gets something worth $1,000 for $10, I say God bless them.” With thousands of donations coming in each week, it’s critical to get items out on the floor quickly.

Sophia Orshanky, a kind-hearted, loyal employee, works tirelessly to make sure the process runs smoothly at all the locations and on eBay. She has become Klausner’s right hand for the retail operations. A Russian immigrant, she started more than 30 years ago working on the floor and is now the assistant director of retail operations. “She is a natural at retail,” Klausner said with pride.

The most critical part of the process is keeping the donations coming in. Not only does the second life mean the goods are being put to much greener use than if they had been tossed out, the money earned from their recycling goes directly to helping those most in need. And the proceeds benefit the entire community of Los Angeles, not just the Jewish community: Each donation of furniture, clothing, housewares, toys and books generates revenue that directly serves thousands of women and children, providing everything from counseling to support groups to scholarships to clothing and book giveaways. 

And, with each donation also yielding a tax-deduction receipt (accepted by the IRS), any trip to the NCJW/LA has the potential for providing a great deal — whether you’re dropping in or just dropping off.

And for Klausner himself, the Council thrift shops have been the ultimate find: “It’s the perfect way to end my retail career —  by giving back.”

Channeling Purim’s Esther, Jewish women fast for immigration reform


While many devout Jews across the United States and elsewhere observed the pre-Purim tradition of fasting on Thursday, March 13, more than 200 Jewish women and men are going without food today for a different cause: immigration reform.

This year, members and supporters of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) have recast the Fast of Esther, a minor fast day named for the Purim story’s heroine, as part of a month-long campaign to urge the Republican-controlled House of Representatives to pass comprehensive immigration reform legislation this year.

The “Fast for Families,” a nationwide campaign that began on March 8 and will culminate with an event in Washington, D.C., on April 9, is being led by a coalition of faith groups, labor unions and other organizations pushing for immigration reform legislation. While the broader campaign mentions Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez as models for their current action — all three men fasted to draw attention to their causes – NCJW is looking to Esther for inspiration.

“We hope to draw on Queen Esther’s courage as we fast to call attention to the importance of just, humane, and comprehensive immigration reform that is sensitive to the needs of women, children, and families,” NCJW CEO Nancy K. Kaufman said in a statement.

For the estimated 11 million immigrants believed to be living in the U.S. without legal status, 2013 saw the Senate pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that included a path to citizenship. But any hope for immigration reform in 2014 would require that bill to be taken up by the House, which has not yet happened.

Indeed, House Republicans passed a bill on March 12 that was an implicit rejection of President Obama’s 2012 executive action that offers immigrants brought to the US as very young children – the so-called “Dreamers” – the chance to remain in the country and seek employment, despite not having legalized status.

Despite what appear to be long odds, NCJW and other cosponsors of the Fast for Families are trying to draw attention to the need for immigration reform. That includes the 18 people in Los Angeles who signed up for NCJW’s fast on March 13.

“I usually only fast once a year, and that’s for Yom Kippur,” Maya Paley, director of legislative and community engagement at the National Council of Jewish Women, Los Angeles, said. “I felt like this was an important reason for me to join in and fast, because I feel really saddened by the fact that immigration reform hasn’t moved forward in our Congress.”

NCJW, as a progressive organization that focuses on improving the quality of life for women, children and families, sees the failure to pass immigration reform as affecting women in uniquely challenging ways. Paley used to work with teenage girls in South and East Los Angeles, including some whose parents are living here illegally, or who are themselves illegal immigrants. Having helped many of these young women gain admission to two- and four-year colleges, Paley watched with dismay as their legal status threw up roadblocks that prevented many from enrolling in those schools.

Paley recalled taking some of the teens to immigration lawyers and student-run legal clinics, which ultimately proved largely unhelpful.

“’Just hope for the DREAM Act, or marry someone,’” the advisers told Paley’s students. 

“These are 17- and 18-year-old girls, and the lawyers are advising them, under the table, to do that,” Paley said.

Jewish Americans, Paley said, should be supportive of immigration reform – even if they haven’t met any of the millions of people whose lives and families are negatively impacted by their being here illegally. 

“All of us came as immigrants at one point, but most of us are more recent ,” Paley said. “It’s very close to home for us.” 

Jewish groups praise Senate on Violence Against Women Act


Three Jewish groups praised the U.S. Senate's reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act and urged the House of Representatives to follow suit.

The Senate on Tuesday approved by a 78-22 vote the bill that would reauthorize the act first passed in 1994 for another five years. The bill was guaranteed passage in the Democratic-led Senate, but garnered substantial Republican support as well.

An effort to renew the act last year was stymied by objections in the U.S. House of Representatives. At the time, Republicans objected to expansions that would cover same-sex couples and would reinforce coverage for undocumented immigrants and Native Americans. Many of these expanded protections remain, but House Republican leaders say they now expect to approve the act's extension, with some minor modifications.

“The Violence Against Women Act has already reduced the rate of domestic violence by more than 50 percent since its original passage in 1994,” Jewish Women International said in its statement. It applauded the expanded version, saying it “ensures the continued support of successful programs and services, strengthens legal protections for LGBT victims, immigrants and college students, and gives Native American women equal access to justice.”

Also applauding the reauthorization were the Reform moment and the National Council of Jewish Women. “Domestic violence legislation has a long bipartisan history which we hope will inspire renewed efforts to reauthorize the law as quickly as possible,” the NCJW said.

Heeding religious groups, Obama administration tweaks contraception mandate


The Obama administration simplified its definition of religious groups that would be exempt from allowing staffers contraceptive coverage.

The proposed rule change, posted for comment Friday through April 8, also proposed a mechanism to provide contraceptive coverage for self-insured groups.

The move aims to address two of the reasons religious groups had objected to in an earlier version, which they considered too restrictive because it required an exempt group to primarily employ or serve those who share its faith.

The amended rule proposed Friday hews to the tax code's definition of a house of worship, which more broadly encompasses all houses of worship and affiliates.

Religiously-run institutions that do not primarily serve spiritual needs — such as universities, hospitals and orphanages — would still be required to provide contraceptive coverage. 

Religious groups had also objected to the original proposal because it had required contracted insurers, and not the faith-based employer, to cover contraception and did not adequately take into account the many organizations that self-insure, albeit through third-party administrators.

The new proposal extends the requirement for contraceptive coverage to such third party administrators, mandating that they provide employees with separate contraceptive coverage plans.

A broad array of Jewish groups had welcomed the original proposal, but Orthodox Jewish groups objected — not because they oppose contraception coverage, but because of what they regarded as the government's unwarranted determination of what is and is not a religious organization.

Conservative Christian groups said that because the “two-tiered” designation remained, the proposal remained flawed.

“Today’s proposed rule does nothing to protect the religious liberty of millions of Americans,” said the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a group that represents a number of plaintiffs challenging the rule in court.

The Orthodox Union tentatively welcomed the changes in the new proposal, pending a full reading.

“We appreciate the Obama Administration's ongoing effort to resolve this balance properly and, reportedly, its abandonment of what would have been a very harmful precedent,” Nathan Diament, its Washington director, said in a statement. “We look forward to examining the proposal more closely and filing formal comments with the Administration in the coming weeks.”

The National Council of Jewish Women, which has friend of the court briefs attached to some of the legal challenges to the original rule, also welcomed the changes, noting that its protections of contraceptive coverage remained intact.

“We're pleased that the administration has once again made it clear in pretty strong terms that contraception must be available as part of the wome's health package to all women if they want it,” NCJW's Washington director, Sammie Moshenberg, told JTA.

Jewish groups push for action on gun control


In the wake of the shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., Jewish groups are looking to build alliances and back legislation to strengthen gun control laws.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), said his group is assembling a coalition that would be ready to act once the right legislation comes along.

“The point now is to create the atmosphere in which there is a demand for action, using our voices, organizing the parents in our pews,” Saperstein said in an interview. “When the parents across America start crying out for effective action, if there’s religious leadership, it will galvanize the community to create the moral demand that moves toward sensible legislation.”

Staff at the RAC, the locus in the Jewish community for gun control initiatives in past decades, spent Dec. 17 reaching out to other Jewish leaders, as well as to leaders of other faith communities.

“The best way is to rally the faith community and come together around shared policy,” said RAC spokeswoman Rachel Laser.

A number of Jewish groups have indicated that they will back a gun control bill proposed Monday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the first since the Newtown shooting. It would ban more than 100 assault weapons and ammunition clips that contain more than 10 rounds.

The Newtown killer, Adam Lanza, used a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle registered in the name of his mother, whom he killed before heading to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where he murdered 20 children and six adults before killing himself. Police have said he used multiple clips, although their capacity has not been publicly reported.

Jared Loughner, the gunman in the January 2011 attack in Tucson, Ariz., that grievously wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six others, had a 33-round magazine.

The legislation, Feinstein said in a statement Monday, “will be carefully focused on the most dangerous guns that have killed so many people over the years while protecting the rights of gun owners by exempting hundreds of weapons that fall outside the bill’s scope.”

Feinstein helped draft the last iteration of an assault weapons ban, in 1994. It lapsed in 2004, after the National Rifle Association fought against its renewal.

B’nai B’rith International on Monday demanded the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.

“Assault weapons enable a shooter to fire multiple rounds without stopping to reload as they automatically expel and load ammunition with each trigger-pull,” B’nai B’rith said in a statement. “There is no sane, acceptable, reasonable need in a civilian setting to fire off large rounds of ammunition.”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs circulated a petition through its constituent Jewish community relations councils that calls for “meaningful legislation to limit access to assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines, aggressive enforcement of firearm regulations, robust efforts to ensure that every person in need has access to quality mental health care, and a serious national conversation about violence in media and games.”

Officials of Jewish groups planning on action said the likeliest vehicle would be Feinstein’s legislation, which she plans to introduce as soon as Congress reconvenes, in January.

“We have been in touch with Sen. Feinstein,” said Susan Turnbull, who chairs Jewish Women International, a group that has as a principal focus combating domestic violence. “We support her bill.”

The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), which has also taken a leading role in the Jewish community on gun control initiatives in the past, announced its support on Dec. 18 for the Feinstein legislation and for legislation proposed by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would tighten background checks. The NCJW has in the past mobilized a grass-roots network of activists to push for gun control legislation. Hadassah also called on Congress to introduce reforms.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly on Monday called not only for a ban on assault weapons, but for longer purchase times, deeper background checks, coding ammunition for identification and banning online sales of ammunition.

President Barack Obama, attending a prayer vigil in Newtown on Dec. 16, said that he was ready to back action that would address such violence.

“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?” he said.  “Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?” Although he was short on specifics, a number of observers said that Obama’s strong language suggested he was ready to do what he had avoided in his first term: advance assault weapons restrictions.

In addition to Feinstein and Schumer, a number of other Jewish lawmakers also have weighed in. Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), who in the next Congress will be the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, said in a statement that “expressions of sympathy must be matched by concrete actions.”

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), who is retiring, expressed support for an assault weapons ban and proposed a national commission on mass shootings.

In addition to banning assault weapons, Jewish groups also are seeking broader initiatives to address violence.

Rabbi Levi Shemtov, who directs American Friends of Lubavitch, said he would bring to the attention of lawmakers a study that links mandatory moments of silence to drops in juvenile violence.

Turnbull of Jewish Women International said that any legislation also should deal with identifying and treating individuals whose mental health should preclude access to weapons.

“We will back any legislation that bans assault weapons and the ammunition as well as giving families what they need to treat individuals with a proclivity toward violence,” said Turnbull, a former vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee. “I think this will be the ‘big idea,’ that the president is not going to limit the conversation to just guns.”

Jewish groups ready to weigh in as Supreme Court considers same-sex marriage


With public acceptance of same-sex marriage growing, liberal Jewish groups are hoping the U.S. Supreme Court will strike down the Defense of Marriage Act that they have long opposed.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear two cases related to same-sex marriage: an appeal of a federal court ruling that struck down a California ballot initiative banning same-sex marriage, and one of the federal court rulings invalidating provisions of the act, known as DOMA, which prevented federal recognition of same-sex unions.

Since DOMA was passed in 1996, Jewish groups such as the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and the National Council of Jewish Women have been among the liberal religious groups arguing against its provisions. At the time, they were pushing against the widespread perception that religious groups almost by definition were opposed to same-sex marriage.

That is no longer the case, said Rabbi David Saperstein, the Religious Action Center’s director and a witness during congressional hearings on DOMA.

[Related: A more modern view of homosexuality]

“There is an increasing religious consciousness across an ever wider spectrum that providing legal protection and religious sanctification to two people who want to create their lives together reflects our highest values,” Saperstein told JTA.

Saperstein said the RAC was planning to file or sign onto an amicus brief in support of same-sex marriage.

Sammie Moshenberg, the Washington director of the National Council of Jewish Women, said that recent victories for same-sex marriage in state referenda vindicate NCJW’s activism against DOMA.

“We saw in the last election popular support for marriage equality, with wins in Maine, Maryland and Washington, and voters in Minnesota rejected” a law that would have entrenched the ban on gay marriage in that state, she said. “We've seen tremendous popular support, and we see it’s growing.”

Orthodox groups, active also during the 1996 congressional hearings before the passage of DOMA, are considering amicus briefs since the Supreme Court agreed last week to consider the two cases.

Orthodox groups have opposed same-sex marriage, maintaing that marriage should be defined as union between a man and a woman. They also have expressed the concern that the push for same-sex marriage will end up infringing upon their religious liberties.

“We do plan to file and let our views be known in reference to DOMA and Proposition 8,” the California referendum that banned same-sex marriage and that was overturned by a federal appeals court in January, said Abba Cohen, who directs the Washington office of Agudath Israel of America. “We don't know whether we'll file on our own or with others — it’s too early for us to make that decision.”

The Orthodox Union was still considering whether to file, said Nathan Diament, the group’s executive director for public policy.

An array of liberal Jewish groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, NCJW, Hadassah, Bend the Arc, and a number of Reform and Conservative bodies had joined in an amicus brief filed for the lower court appeal of the DOMA case, U.S. v. Windsor, in which the widow of a New York woman is appealing the taxes levied on her late wife’s estate that would have been exempted had she been married to a man.

Now that the Supreme Court is considering the cases, the groups and others are considering whether to join others in amicus briefs or file on their own.

Marc Stern, the associate general counsel for the American Jewish Committee, said his group would file a brief backing same-sex marriage but cautioning against a ruling that would be too sweeping and compromise the rights of religious institutions that oppose it.

“You could imagine theories that would lead to that result that would preclude the possibility of protection of religious institutions,” he said.

Jewish Women’s Conference: Putting women first


The talk at the second annual Jewish Women’s Conference of Southern California focused not so much on the Jewish part, as on the women’s part. Some 300 women (and one man — a devoted husband, perhaps?) filled the ballroom of UCLA’s Covel Commons on Nov. 11 for a series of sessions on activism, feminism today, women’s health, the effects of the recession on women, plus one session on Israeli women and another on rabbinical interpretations of women’s equality within Judaism. 

The hall’s main ballroom was packed for the general sessions, and the breakouts were also well attended — there were very few of the usual renegade gossip-sessions in the hallways. Throughout, the thirst for connection on the topics and for engagement in the larger world was obvious. This conference, still nascent but growing in size and organized by the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), is clearly fulfilling a need, despite — or perhaps building upon — the longtime presence in the Jewish world of activist women’s organizations like Hadassah and Na’amat, let alone the many sisterhoods of synagogue congregations. 

Why do Jewish women need to hear from other leading Jewish women? Perhaps because we don’t hear from them often enough. Abby Leibman, in a panel I moderated titled “Jewish Women’s Voices in Activism,” pointed out that as the president and CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, she is one of only a handful of women top executives nationally in Jewish organizations not solely focused on women’s issues. Women are present in executive positions throughout the Jewish world, but most often not as the most senior. Which means that women professionals too often are not seated at the boardroom table, or, at best, are under-represented in a roomful of men. 

Why does this still matter, and will it change? Younger women bristle now at the thought of being labeled “feminists,” preferring to avoid the gender identification. But the generation who grew up forming the women’s movement, or who were early joiners — the boomers, in other words — are aware that being identified as women and as leaders remains important, because it’s crucial to help shape the conversation. 

“Women’s issues are the defining domestic issues in this country,” Leibman said. It is all too often the single mothers who find themselves without adequate money to feed and house their families, abandoned and unable to work and pay for basic needs. The discussions that took place over the course of the last election cycle regarding not just the right to choose to have an abortion, but also of “legitimate rape” and even access to birth control, brought women out in droves to the polls, electing for the first time 20 women to the Senate. (Is 20 percent representation really enough to celebrate? That question arose at the conference, too, and the consensus was: Clearly, it’s a move in the right direction.)

Robin Sax, an attorney and legal analyst for Fox 11 News, as well as a frequent legal commentator on many other TV programs, was also on the activist panel, and she pointed out that women make up the major audience for daytime TV, which is when she usually appears. “In my world, women are valued,” she said. “Women are the No. 1 target audience.” So she’s taken it upon herself to tell tough stories that are often overlooked, notably her recent series about domestic abuse of both women and children. “If media and consumer products need us,” for our buying power and as viewers, she said, “why not use them to tell our stories?” 

It is the forgotten women, the sex-trade workers in Guatemala, that have become the cause of Jodi Finkel, an associate professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University. She is also founder of MuJER, a wholly volunteer effort in Guatemala to teach literacy to women working in red-light districts, thereby helping to free them from believing they can survive only by selling their bodies. Finkel’s inspiration for this effort came just from hearing an interview with one woman on National Pubic Radio, and with the aid of her students, Finkel set out to find this woman and teach her to read — which they did, empowering her to find new jobs.

Can men focus on these same issues? Of course, and they do. President Barack Obama has spoken eloquently on the importance of protecting women’s rights, and this fall at the United Nations, he gave a major speech on the need for a worldwide effort to combat modern-day slavery, from child sex slaves to migrant workers (a speech, by the way, that was overshadowed in the mediasphere by chatter of whether the president should, or could have, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York on that same day). Women’s health, safety and well-being are not just women’s issues, but they often need women’s voices to keep them front-and-center.

Gatherings like the Women’s Conference enable women to focus, to encourage participation — to inspire. It seems so obvious, but it takes an organization like NCJW to put in the work-intensive effort to pull it off. 

Twenty women in the Senate, 300 women in a ballroom — it really isn’t enough. But it’s a move in the right direction — and next time around, hopefully, there will be more.


Susan Freudenheim is executive editor of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. She can be reached at editor@jewishjournal.com. You can follow her on Twitter by clicking here: 

HEALTH CARE DECISION — Jews Respond: Nancy K. Kaufman, CEO of the National Council of Jewish Women


“The US Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the entire Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a huge victory for women and families across the country. This ruling means that women, seniors, children, young adults, the poor – in fact, the vast majority of the population—will reap the benefits of ACA and this historic ruling for years to come. NCJW fought hard to win enactment of the ACA and joined two amicus briefs in support of its legality. We are deeply gratified to see it upheld by the court.

“The court’s ruling means insurance companies may not charge women higher premiums than men. It means a wide range of preventive services important to women will be provided without co-pays or other out-of-pocket expenses, including mammograms, Pap tests, a wide range of prenatal screenings, well-woman visits, the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives, lactation consultations and supplies, and domestic violence screenings.

“Those with pre-existing conditions will no longer be denied insurance coverage – a provision with special significance for women, who have been denied coverage because of a previous Caesarean section or because they have experienced domestic violence or sexual assault and received related treatment.

“The decision also preserved the expansion of Medicaid to millions of poor families, though states will have the option to implement it. NCJW is optimistic that state lawmakers will understand the value of providing critical health coverage to low-income women and families and will choose to expand coverage accordingly.

“The Affordable Care Act means that no family will suffer bankruptcy due to high medical bills, and that all families will have access to routine, chronic, and emergency health care. Perhaps most important, it means that no one will die for lack of health insurance, as did an estimated 40,000 people every year prior to ACA’s enactment.”

How Jewish groups became involved in the contraception coverage debate


What were the Jews doing becoming so involved in a debate over contraception?

It was a question that more than Jewish official asked themselves over recent months as tensions between the Obama administration and leaders of the Catholic Church rose to the boiling point over the issue of contraceptive coverage.

The Catholic Church rejects contraceptive use as immoral, and Catholic bishops protested vigorously when the Obama administration established a federal regulation that would have required an array of Catholic institutions to cover contraception as part of their health insurance plans for employees. By contrast, Jews across the religious spectrum sanction the use of contraception, albeit for different reasons.

Yet Jewish groups ended up weighing in on both sides of the controversy.

How Jews became involved in the debate—even making suggestions regarding the eventual compromise proposal that the White House hoped would put the controversy to rest—is a tale of deep ties between some Jewish groups and the White House, the interfaith alliances forged by the politically like-minded and the tendency of Jewish groups to involve themselves in narrow questions that may not affect them directly but have broader implications for the relationship between religion and state.

Speaking on background, a number of Jewish organizational officials said at times they felt discomfited being drawn into a dispute between the White House and another religion.

Yet Jewish groups weighed in even before the Department of Health and Human Services first issued the regulation that provided only a narrow exception from the contraceptive coverage mandate for houses of worship and other institutions deemed to have a primarily religious purpose—an exemption that effectively excluded many other religiously affiliated institutions such as hospitals, universities and charities.

Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s executive director of public policy, said his group joined a loose alliance of religious groups in writing to the White House seeking reassurances about reports that such a rule was in the offing. When the groups’ fears were realized, the coalition again wrote to protest.

“We signed on with Catholic groups and other Christian groups expressing concern, and there were conversations over the ensuing time,” he said.

Diament noted that the OU does not reject contraception coverage per se.

“Our concerns are less contraception than that some organizations are deserving of protection” from government mandates “and others are not,” he said.

Agudath Israel of America, the haredi Orthodox umbrella group, also weighed in against the rule. Its Washington director, Abba Cohen, cast the implications as broader than contraceptive coverage. Government mandates conceivably could extend to end-of-life issues, he said, where Orthodox practices at times clash with those of the medical community.

“Fundamentally, we believe that constitutional rights of free exercise [of religion] must be honored,” Cohen said. “It’s not just birth control and abortion, it’s the larger issue of health and medical ethical issues.”

At the same time that Orthodox Jews were joining with other critics of the new regulation, another important Jewish organizational constituency, Jewish women’s groups, were praising it.

The National Council of Jewish Women, Jewish Women International and Hadassah all favored the plan because it was a natural for groups dedicated equally to protecting the rights of Jews and women, said Sammie Moshenberg, director of NCJW’s Washington office.

The focus, she said, was “how can we ensure that women in this country have access to no-cost birth control regardless of where they work.”

There was a Jewish issue at play as well, she said, noting that Catholic institutions often employ non-Catholics. It was objectionable, Moshenberg said, “to say that a woman’s employer’s beliefs on this trump her religious beliefs.”

Catholic bishops had pressed so hard by December for the regulation to be changed and the exemption expanded that Moshenberg found herself wondering whether the Obama administration would come out with a new ruling that would unsettle her. She asked for and received a meeting with high-ranking officials. Representatives from JWI and an array of liberal Christian groups joined Moshenberg at the meeting, where they were given the reassurances they sought.

While the Orthodox and women’s groups were coming at the issue from opposite ends, the Reform movement was mulling the inherent contradictions posed by the regulation to two of its core beliefs—the autonomy of religious institutions and of women.

Throughout the process, the White House consulted with Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, who has a strong relationship with the White House and is on the president’s group of faith advisory leaders.

On Jan. 20, the White House reasserted its commitment to its August rule: none but the most strictly defined religious institutions would be exempt. But the ensuing expressions of outrage from Catholics—and condemnations from Republicans, as well as some Democrats—caused the White House to seek a compromise.

Saperstein and Orthodox Union officials were among the religious leaders who contributed ideas toward a potential compromise solution, although most of the work was done in house by the Obama administration.

“I like others pushed for both a robust religious exemption and a goal of covering every woman in ensuring access to contraception,” Saperstein said.

President Obama announced the resulting mechanism last Friday, noting that women would still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where they work.

“But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company—not the hospital, not the charity—will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles,” the president said.

This time, a wide spectrum of Jewish groups was on board. Hadassah, the Reform movement, the Orthodox Union, NCJW and JWI each welcomed the compromise.

Kinks remain, the White House told groups that attended a special briefing on the matter that afternoon—for instance, what to do about institutions that are self-insured.

“The president’s stated commitment is a positive first step forward, the details of implementation are crucial and we look forward to working with the administration to see that through,” the OU said.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops still had strong objections, however, to the administration’s new solution—and for at least one Jewish group, that’s what really matters.

“Whether or not the White House’s new ‘compromise’ proposal adequately addresses the religious freedom concerns raised by the Catholic Church is for the Catholic Church to say, not us—and, frankly, not the White House, either,” Agudah’s Cohen said in a statement. “The important points here are that no religiously sponsored entity, and no religiously motivated individual, should be forced by government to violate its or his sincerely held religious principles; and that the determination of religious propriety must be left to the religious entity or individual, not to the government.”

Indeed, even if the Jewish groups were not as invested in the specific issue of contraception, there was an assumption in some quarters that religious Jews would be sensitive to the religious concerns of others.

On Sunday, CNN’s Candy Crowley asked Jacob Lew, the new White House chief of staff, noting that he was an observant Jew, “Was there anything about this that made you think twice when it first went out?”

Lew avoided the question, saying that under the revised proposal, no religious institution would have to fund contraceptive coverage.

Bullying of LGBTQ teens discussed at NCJW event


During a panel discussion at the National Council of Jewish Women’s (NCJW) Los Angeles office in April, education experts highlighted the pervasiveness of bullying in schools, saying a disproportionate number of gay and lesbian students are victims.

As a result, gay and lesbian youth are “four times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual peers,” said Sarah Train, education manager of the Trevor Project, which provides crisis and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth. “And it’s because of the reaction they receive when they do start questioning their sexuality or gender.”

Along with Train, the panel discussion, which took place on May 11, featured Gail Rolf, education director of Friends of Project 10, a nonprofit that supports programs for

LGBTQ youth; Daniel Solis, Southern California program director of the Gay Straight Alliance Network; Bev Meyer, a facilitator for the Fairfax High School Safe School Ambassadors program; and a student from Fairfax High. CBS/KCAL news anchor Pat Harvey moderated.

NCJW held the discussion in light of several student suicides that occurred in 2010 all over the United States.

A high school-aged panelist, who went simply by the name Haku to protect her identity, discussed her own struggle as a lesbian who isn’t accepted by her heterosexual peers, an artist who is thought of as strange by other students and a Korean outcast among other Korean teens, because she is half-Japanese.

“It’s really hard to be so weird,” Haku, a sophomore, said, before breaking into tears.

Haku, a member of the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, explained that students at her school call her names such as “pickle suit” and “avocado” because of the military uniform she wears at school.

“These things may seem funny, but it’s bullying,” she said.

While acknowledging the hardships teens face, the speakers stressed that there is support they can seek out, such as the Trevor Project’s 24/7 hotline for LGBTQ youth.

“People are prepared to take your call,” Train said, adding, “There are people in this room who want to connect with you.”

Reform, NCJW slam failure to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’


Two Jewish groups expressed regret at the U.S. Senate’s failure to repeal the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gays.

A repeal of the policy, which requires the discharge of gay servicemen and servicewomen who reveal their orientation, was attached to a defense spending bill. It failed Dec. 9 on a procedural vote to garner the 60 votes needed to advance to debate.

“The military’s code of honor is tarnished when service members are required to lie about their identity,” the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center said in a statement. “And as people of faith, we are pained by this affront to the dignity of those in uniform, each of whom, gay or straight, embodies the spark of the Divine presence in every person, and each of whom should be a source of pride for all Americans.”

The National Council of Jewish Women also condemned the failure, but expressed hope that a stand-alone bill introduced by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) in the wake of last week’s failure would reach the floor before Congress ends its session this month.

A similar bill has passed in the U.S. House of Representatives. Military personnel favor repeal, and it appears to have majority backing in the Senate, but the chamber’s Republicans have sworn to block legislation until tax cuts introduced under President George W. Bush are extended. Negotiations are under way and the tax issue may be resolved before week’s end.

Other Jewish groups advocating for the repeal of the ban include the Anti-Defamation League and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Jews Face Awkward Court Fight Position


The political brawl over the replacement for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who announced her resignation last week, could be the most bitter since Justice Clarence Thomas’ 1991 confirmation battle.

And that free-for-all, which liberals and conservatives alike predict could be the “mother of all battles,” could leave many Jewish groups in an awkward position.

The tenor of the debate was evident within hours of O’Connor’s surprise announcement. Christian conservatives, calling in their chits from last year’s presidential election, demanded that President Bush fulfill his promise to nominate judges like his favorites, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas. Just as sternly, groups associated with women’s rights, civil rights and the separation of church and state warned of pitched battles ahead if the president doesn’t make a “mainstream” choice.

Advocacy groups immediately hit the airwaves to sway public opinion. The nomination fight will almost certainly be the most expensive ever.

The awkwardness for Jewish groups is this: For a variety of reasons, many do not want to endorse or oppose nominees. But depending on Bush’s choice, many will face overwhelming pressure from their traditional coalition partners, and even from some of their own members, to take a direct stand.

The stakes in the upcoming battle are obvious. On many of the most contentious issues, and especially regarding the separation of church and state, the court has been divided 5-4, with O’Connor generally being the swing vote — the panel’s ideological center and the justice to whom lawyers routinely aim their arguments.

Few Jewish groups are eager to weigh in on specific candidates. That reticence has a number of causes, including the fear of risking precious political capital and access by challenging an administration in a fight with a low probability of success.

Umbrella Jewish groups are increasingly divided on key domestic issues, including church-state controversies, such as school vouchers and “charitable choice,” making it harder to arrive at consensus positions.

There is a sense among some that a president, elected by the people, is entitled to nominate judges and other appointees who reflect his views.

“If you want to change the judiciary, get more of your people elected,” said Marshall Breger, a law professor at Catholic University of America and a Jewish Republican.

In some Jewish groups, big donors are increasingly at odds with rank-and-file membership over many of the issues surrounding the judicial debate. Their control of the purse strings, not the views of the community, are what matters.

Groups like the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee, which take a tough line on church-state separation, will submit questions to the Senate Judiciary Committee, but unless a nominee has a particularly egregious church-state record, they are unlikely to take pro or con positions.

Other groups — the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and the Reform movement — won’t be so reticent. In the past few years, both have joined other liberal groups in fighting a number of Bush’s judicial nominees, and both are expected to take active positions in the fight over O’Connor’s replacement.

The NCJW is motivated primarily by its fear that a remade federal judiciary will curtail abortion rights. The Reform movement’s Religious Action Center focuses on a broader range of issues, including abortion rights, gay rights and church-state separation. Both will press hard to get other Jewish groups more directly involved, arguing that the stakes have now become too high to be timorous.

“Anybody who cares about church-state separation, reproductive rights and civil rights can’t afford to be on the sidelines if this shapes up the way I fear,” Pelavin warned.

“There is power in numbers,” said Phyllis Snyder, president of the NCJW. “I would hope the entire Jewish community will participate in the discussions that are about to begin.”

But while many will discuss, few will endorse or oppose.

“None of the other social agenda issues, other than church-state, will push most of the major Jewish groups into getting more directly involved,” said Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn.

Jews may still strongly support abortion rights, but their organizations, he said, are unlikely to regard that position as a top priority in the Supreme Court fight.

Even on church-state issues, the threshold for Jewish opposition is likely to be very high.

“For better or worse, our community sees church-state as a direct threat, and the feeling of threat has been growing,” said an official with a Jewish group that spurns endorsements. “But a nominee’s record would have to be very bad on those issues to abandon the principle of addressing only the issues, not the individuals. Still, it could happen, and there will be a lot of pressure on us to get us more directly involved.”

Most Jewish leaders are hoping for a relatively centrist nominee who will not trigger an all-out Senate battle, relieving them of the pressure to jump into the fray. But with religious right groups mounting an all-out campaign demanding a hard-right nominee, few expect that to happen.

 

Model Volunteer


In many ways, 26-year-old Deborah Jennings is typical of the young volunteers at the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) in the Fairfax district. She’s a passionate, college-educated individual who volunteers four to eight hours each week for Talkline, a counseling hotline developed by the NCJW’s Women Helping Women Committee. But she’s not Jewish.

Born and raised in Chicago, Jennings received her bachelor’s degree in psychology at Calvin College, a small liberal-arts school in Grand Rapids, Mich., affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church. Jennings followed up with a stint as a youth counselor and programs director at a Chicago church.

So how did Jennings wind up volunteering at a Jewish organization? In October 1999, Jennings had just moved with her husband, a movie sound editor, from Chicago to Los Angeles. With no job waiting, she answered a classified ad for Women Helping Women, which did not mention its parent organization — NCJW.

"I didn’t really know until I got into it that it was a Jewish organization," said Jennings, who is now the Talkline shift leader on Thursday nights. "It took a little getting used to."

"It’s a different faith, but the same moral principles apply," she pointed out, "a commitment to helping others, reaching out. And there’s great support within the organization. I feel very appreciated among the volunteers."

As a Talkline volunteer, Jennings counsels callers — Jewish and not — who phone in with domestic violence, relationship and financial issues. Not all of those seeking help are women; many men have phoned as well.

Jennings said that there are times when the emotions of her work affect her.

"Sometimes you’re on the verge of tears," Jennings said. "Other times really judgmental. When talking to a caller, you really have to suspend your own beliefs and emotions. We call it ‘putting it in a bubble.’"

The rewards of her volunteering have carried Jennings far beyond her NCJW work. Soon after training began, she landed a job at Hathaway Children and Family Services (a facility similar to Vista Del Mar) as a youth counselor. Her NCJW training — which began with a 54-hour course over two months — provided her with skills that gave her an edge over other Hathaway rookies.

"I already knew what they were talking about, and I could draw on my experience," Jennings said. "That makes me feel good. Also in my own life, if my friend has a problem, I can help her as well."

Despite her transition to Hathaway and her enrollment at Cal State Northridge — where she is pursuing her master’s in counseling — Jennings said that she will remain at Talkline. "I have no plans to quit," she said.

"She’s really a dynamic young woman," Lori Karny, director of Women Helping Women, said of Jennings. "I’m really proud of her."

Some might be surprised to learn that Jennings is not so unusual — in fact, there are many non-Jewish volunteers at NCJW.

"We have men who are not Jewish, too," the director said. "People are very attracted to the work and what we do and the mission of improving our community, and they want to find a place where they are comfortable. Some might ask, ‘Do I have to be Jewish to be involved?’ initially, but then they feel very welcome."

So what will volunteers following in Jennings’ footsteps find at NCJW?

"Opportunities," said Karny. "Working on the Talkline, fielding those calls. It’s very enriching to learn about the community you live in and ways that you can help." And Karny added that the only requirements to join are "a desire to help and a willingness to learn."

For more information about volunteering at the National Council of Jewish Women, call (877) 655-3807.