March 8 is International Women's Day, which is dedicated to the importance of championing equal rights and opportunity for women. It's also a day to celebrate the leaders in our own community who bring passion, focus, and fortitude to their work every day. In Chicago's Jewish community, we are uplifted by so many fierce female leaders working together for good, while inspiring the next generation. We're proud to bring you the words of five incredible women--the leaders of JUF's largest affiliated agencies and the women who hold the top lay leadership positions at JUF. They are each united in their commitment to and gratitude for the communities they serve.
Karen Teitelbaum, President & CEO, Sinai Chicago
Where do you find inspiration?
"Working for Sinai Chicago is so meaningful. Everybody here is important. The transporters, the people passing food, the case management workers- every single person makes a difference.
"Every donor who showed support this past year inspires me. This includes children who made get well cards for patients who could not have loved ones with them, people who delivered meals for caregivers, the person who helped with dry cleaning for health care workers, and people who donated miles so our frontline workers could stay in hotels rather than risk bringing the virus home during the early days of the pandemic. JUF purchased PPE, beyond what we had, for every single person who works in the hospital."
When you look at our community, what makes you hopeful?
"This year, we saw so many examples of how people stepped up. We saw tremendous generosity. Sinai serves the most vulnerable in Chicago. This is what we do as Jews--
Helping our brothers and sisters is in our roots. This is who Sinai Chicago is, this is how we started. Our DNA has not changed since our founding 100 years ago."
Addie Goodman, President & CEO, JCC Chicago
Who in your own life has inspired you?
"As the single child of a single mother, I appreciated my mother's can-do approach to life. She got her master's degrees while teaching full time, installed parquet floors and a mirrored wall (it was the 80s), and could always fit one more thing in a suitcase. She had incredible grit and determination, and as a young mother she instilled in me an innate understanding that I could do all the things I wanted do, and more."
Those who have come before you have helped pave the way for your leadership. How would you like to see the next generation pay it forward?
"Women leaders are role models for both women and for men. As a working parent with a daughter and three sons, demonstrating the power and impact of women in the workforce has been a constant in our home. While they may comment about my hours and how hard I work, I want them to see and recognize that reality. Our kids are growing up in a much less hierarchal society and are more open to the thinking that anyone can accomplish anything. As a community and country, I see us moving towards a society that recognizes the person and their contributions being less about gender and more about capability."
Pam Szokol, JUF Board Chair
What drives you in your work for the community?
"I am inspired by the opportunity to be a part of evolving change--the environment we are working in, the way services and essentials are distributed to people who need them, and how we, as an organization, are looking for opportunities to grow our impact. When I listen to the next generation, and how passionate they are about Jewish life, I feel so much hope and a great sense of pride in the values of our Jewish community and seeing the roots continue to grow. We need to keep expanding the roots of this tree."
What are your hopes for the next generation?
"I have been blessed to work with many outstanding community leaders, all of whom share a true sense of passion and responsibility. I am hopeful that the next generation will rival this and address the myriad of challenges ahead with renewed energy, imagination, dedication, and with a mindset of inclusion."
Stacey Shor, President/CEO, JCFS Chicago
Who has inspired you?
"I am very inspired by my cousin who has developmental disabilities. He is the most social, most engaged person I know. I am inspired that he has built a community around him. I see what he can do and what a community can do. This is a big part of our work at JCFS Chicago.
"The thing that always inspires me about the work is connecting people who want to help with people who need help. The work is hard. Between staff, donors, board members, volunteers, and partners in the community, it's truly remarkable how people step up for people they don't even know."
What is your advice to people looking to make the world a better place?
"There are lots of ways to lead and lots of ways you can help. It doesn't have to be your career that allows you to make your community what you want it to be. You have to be able to marry the ideas of passion and vision, but to do it in a way that brings other people in versus shutting people out. That's the way to lead."
Kim Shwachman, General Campaign Chair, JUF
What advice would you give to young people becoming leaders now?
"There has never been a better time to get involved. Bring your ideas and your passion, but be empathetic and listen to others. Immerse yourself in the work. Get out there to really hear and experience the stories of where the needs are. I think, ultimately, it's about stretching yourself and getting out of your comfort zone. You may think something 'isn't you' but there is no telling what you can achieve if you remain open to the possibilities. If you aren't yet involved, the next time you are invited to participate--say 'yes.' Even if you are not 100% sure it's for you, just jump in--and you will never look back with regret."
What gives you hope when you look at Jewish life today?
"I feel hopeful and optimistic. I see young Jewish families choosing Jewish playgroups and Jewish preschools and I know we are building community and securing our Jewish future. I see many young people choosing to get involved, giving of their time and resources to make things better. I am filled with hope that when our world was turned on its ear during the pandemic, people wanted to help. I am inspired because during the pandemic JUF was able to turn on a dime and respond by pushing critically needed dollars out to our agencies so they could serve their clients in this crisis. Our resilience and determination to care for one another fills me with so much pride and tremendous hope for our future."
Elizabeth Abrams is the Assistant Vice President of Communications for the Jewish United Fund of Chicago.