The Jewish Women's Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago (JWF) has played a pivotal role in supporting Jewish women following October 7. In December 2023, JWF awarded its largest docket to date, which includes 22 grants totaling $409,000. Grantees are working in the Chicago area, across the United States, in Israel, and in Tunisia.
"I'm proud that the trustees took a 'yes/and' approach this year; it was not an 'either/or' mindset," said Ellen Carmell, executive director of JWF. "We need to do more for Israel and, at the same time, continue to build and strengthen the infrastructure of our Jewish communal world in the United States."
The annual JWF grant review process began in June, with trustees reviewing letters of intent, requesting proposals from those they deemed the best. They then reviewed proposals in September, October, and early December. "It's a very thorough comprehensive process. There is a lot of vetting," she added.
In the aftermath of the October 7 attack, Carmell explains the JWF steering committee took atypical kinds of decisions into account.
"One, we reached out to our current grantee partners in Israel to release them from the project restrictions of their grant. We told them that they could convert funds to general operating support or emergency funds, whatever they needed for the final quarter of the grant period," she said. "And two, we allocated $10,000 to JUF's Israel Emergency Fund and made sure those dollars were directed to women."
As for the final grant decisions, JWF took a strategic approach to meet the needs of the immediate crisis as well as consider longer-term initiatives. "We are thinking about where we can make the most impact with our dollars now, while looking ahead in terms of rebuilding the organizations that are the backbone of civil society and working on women's and feminist issues," Carmell said.
One of the recent grantees is the Association of Rape Crises Centers in Israel (ARCCI), which has been advocating for victims of sexual violence atrocities of the October 7 massacre.
"Immediately after the October 7 massacre, we understood that severe incidents of sexual violence occurred," said Orit Sulitzeanu, CEO of ARCCI. "Since then, our entire team has been focusing on the consequences and implications of the war on the survivors and their families, We are advocating for policy changes to support the victims and to promote new rights for those who have experienced such profound trauma."
Another grantee is Metro Chicago Hillel (MCH), a collection of Jewish communities of students and young adults around Chicago, is especially committed to supporting Jewish women at this challenging time.
"The students and young adults we work with are more desperate than I have ever seen them for spaces where they can feel pride and positivity about their Jewish heritage," said Rabbi Sarah Mulhern of MCH. "In particular, in a time where the world is telling them they must choose between their Jewish identities and their feminist commitments, it is more crucial than ever to provide young Jewish women with learning, role models, and communities grounded in the idea that they can and must be both. This is what we have always done with the support of the JWF, and now this work is even more urgent and meaningful."
Highlights of the new grants include:
The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel promotes and advocates for the implementation of strategic interventions in the way the courts, legal system, and police support victims of sexual violence.
WomenTech enables more women to serve in core cyber positions in the IDF's tech units, ultimately advancing their careers post-army.
WePower is a non-partisan organization working to boost women's participation and engagement in civic and political activism at the local, regional, and national levels in Israel.
Metro Chicago Hille l will continue to expand its Jewish and feminist learning offerings. All programs help participants connect to Jewish tradition, unpack their own identities, and apply Jewish wisdom to their lives.
Jewish Women's International's Here for You program empowers local JCC staff and camp directors to intervene in appropriate ways and become community resources for survivors of domestic violence and their children.
Ta'amod is a national organization that provides training and consultation to Jewish institutions around the country to create safe, equitable, and healthy Jewish workplaces. Training is compliant with local, state, and national regulations providing communal leaders with tools to proactively promote a positive, accountable workplace culture.
In an effort to make Jewish leadership and communities more representative of U.S. Jewry's racial diversity, Edot Midwest Regional Jewish Diversity and Racial Justice Collaborative provides leadership coaching and support to prepare Jewish women of color from the Midwest for leadership roles within the Jewish community.
JWF's emergency grant to the IEF, specifically to meet the immediate needs of women and girls in Israel, was designated to the IDF Widows and Orphans Organization (IDFWO). The IDFWO provides care and welfare for widows and orphans of IDF soldiers and members of Israel's security forces killed during service. Currently operating in emergency mode, IDFWO is helping evacuated widows and orphans by supporting all their immediate needs. Post October 7, IDFWO also established a national hotline for widows and orphans in distress from all over the country.
A full list of JWF's 2023 grants is available at jwfchicago.org.