Over 150 experienced and emerging female lay leaders from across the U.S. and Israel recently drew inspiration, exchanged ideas and fostered connections at the Orthodox Union’s Women’s Initiative Leadership Summit at the Sheraton Eatontown Hotel in Eatontown, N.J.
Geared for community builders of all ages, the two-day biennial summit launched in 2019 offers participants a chance to learn, grow and network with fellow professionals while learning best practices and honing communication, leadership and fundraising skills in a relaxed environment.
“Seeing so many impressive women leaders gathered in one room to invest in themselves and their communities gives me a sense of optimism for our future,” said OU Women’s Initiative Director Rebbetzin Dr. Adina Shmidman, a featured speaker who also delivered the opening and closing remarks.
The summit’s 35 presenters included Barbara Gottesman, founder of California-based BGCoaching & Consulting and a motivational speaker; Baltimore’s Dr. Leslie Ginsparg Klein, academic dean of Women’s Institute of Torah Seminary/Maalot; Brooklyn’s Cindy Darrison, director of Organizational Advancement of HASC Center Inc., an educational nonprofit involved with school-based Holocaust education; New York’s Rachel Cyrulnik, founder of RAISE, a consulting firm specializing in resource development for nonprofit organizations; and Baltimore’s Chana Siff, executive director of the Neuberger Family Foundation.
“The diversity was truly remarkable and it gave me the opportunity to learn about the extraordinary work of so many women,” said Siff. “The summit provided me with connections, tools and inspiration to continue to grow professionally and contribute to my community.”
Attendees chose from 33 sessions including “Trust or Bust: Building the Critical Foundation for Successful Organizations,” “The Art of Productive Nonprofit Boards,” “Effecting Change: Leadership Lessons from Women in Tanach,” and “Crowdfunding for the First Time.” Themes focused on collaboration, addressing common challenges, achieving successes and making a communal impact. Topics spanned everything from budgeting and effective communication to team-building and volunteer retention.
“The sessions were wonderful and professional and I learned from each one,” said World Emunah President Tema Klauser of Efrat, Israel. “The number of young women in attendance was so impressive. It’s so difficult for Jewish non-profits to bring in young leadership. The OU has tapped into a goldmine of women, each tremendous.”
Rivka Ravitz, who served as chief of staff to former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, delivered the keynote address on “Behind the Scenes of State Leadership—A Personal View.” A networking room enabled attendees to meet with mentors, including OU Chief Human Resources Officer Josh Gottesman, and participants enjoyed night activities including learning at shiurim (Torah classes), swimming, exercising and painting.
Said OU Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Rabbi Dr. Josh Joseph: “The energy at the summit was palpable. I was blown away by the quality of the programming and the level of detail-orientation that the conference planners actualized.”
OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer noted: “What we observe and experience in every realm is the immense power of joining with others in shared experiences of Torah study and Jewish activity. Via the OU’s Women’s Initiative, the Orthodox Union has prioritized creating community amongst women who engage together in meaningful Torah experiences and undertakings. The Women’s Initiative conference was an outstanding example of that, and it was a privilege to see the energy that it generated for participants.”
Marketing and Communications Manager, OU Women’s Initiative