With an eye towards women's advancement and criminal justice reform, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, her Chief of Staff and Chief Diversity Officer, Jennifer Ballard Croft, Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, and K. Sujata, President/CEO of Chicago Foundation for Women, returned on March 10 th from an intense 6-day Women's Political and Civic Leaders Mission to Israel. Chaired by JUF's 2019 Campaign Chair, Wendy Berger, the trip showcased Israel through a gender and legal lens, and increased participants' understanding of the complex geopolitical issues facing country.
"The mission was an enlightening journey into the history, triumphs, and struggles of a land that serves as the center of existence for many faiths," reflected Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx upon her return home. "The country was a beautiful reminder of the complexity of religion and democracy, and the pride of the people who call it home!"
The trip was packed with a busy itinerary that included meetings with leading feminist thinkers and policy makers, members of the Knesset, judges and attorneys working in Israel's criminal justice system, groups working with terror victims such as NATAL, Israel's former Ambassador to Jordan, retired generals, and groups working to bring Israeli Jews and Arabs together to foster peaceful co-existence. Visits and tours were also conducted in the Old City, Yad Vashem and Sderot.
The delegation was briefed on many cutting-edge programs, policies and government practices, several of which participants, including City Clerk Valencia, hope to implement back in Chicago.
"Being part of an all women led delegation was an incredible experience. I was able to get a firsthand look into how government operates halfway around the world," said City Clerk Anna Valencia. "In particular, I was struck by how [Israel's] gender-based budgeting, takes into consideration how both men and women are impacted by the financial decisions the government makes. Even though we were more than 6,000 miles from home, there were many parallels to draw between our countries, which put into perspective that even if our languages, cultures and people seem different, women face similar opportunity gaps. However, if we invest in women around the world and include their voices at the table where decisions are being made, we will be the solution to our own future."
Other members of the women's delegation included the President and CEO of the Michael Reese Health Trust, Gayla Brockman; the Executive Director of the Pritzker Pucker Foundation, Julie Wilen; Strides for Peace founder Margaret Baczkowski, political communications specialist Leslie Fox; Personal PAC Board Chair Melissa Widen; Vice President of External Affair of Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership, Ellen Hattenbach; JUF Board member Phyllis Tabachnick; JUF's Director of Local Government Affairs, Mara Ruff; and JCRC/Government Affairs Executive Director, Emily Sweet.
As a first-time visitor to Israel, K. Sujata was humbled by her experience.
"I am immensely grateful to have had the opportunity to participate in the women's mission to Israel," Sujata said. "It was deeply moving, eye opening and thought provoking. What a gift to spend a week learning from those doing the critical work for women and girls in another part of the world. My sincerest thanks to everyone at Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Chicago for all the work that went into making this trip a success."
This is the latest JUF elected officials mission, which are made possible in part by the Shafton Israel Institute, which was created by a generous Centennial gift by former JUF Chairman Midge Perlman Shafton.
"As we know, there is nothing more impactful than taking someone to Israel both in terms of what they see and learn, and also because of the tight knit relationships that are formed" said Berger. "The bonds that were formed among participants was a critical piece of its success. While we have no way of knowing the full extent of the impact this trip will have, I am certain it will be far-reaching and significant."