(May 15, 2019 / JNS) Stephanie Blumenkranz, the new director of the Hadassah Foundation, is determined to make the organization’s mission of empowering women and girls in the United States and Israel succeed.
Appointed to the role in March, she asserts that if women and girls had the same opportunities as men and boys, the world it would be a safer and more prosperous place.
“I’ve seen time and time again from when I was very little that when you empower a woman or empower a girl, she goes on to empower the lives of so many others,” she states. “It’s actually unbelievable.”
The New York-based Hadassah Foundation was established in 1998 by Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. With a $10 million endowment, it is one of the largest Jewish women’s funds in the United States.
Blumenkranz comes to the role from the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York. She brings with her energy, ideas and passion—drawn in part by the board, which comes from around the country, and the foundation’s long reach, as it helps fund marginalized populations in Israel.
She also takes on her new responsibilities as expectations in the field are placing more emphasis on transparency and metrics. “Now when people make donations, they’re making a social investment; they want to see a social return, not a financial return,” she says, adding that it’s more important than ever to show donors how their support impacts another individual.
In her role, Blumenkranz works with board members and donors for the public foundation, who determine where to allocate money, what strategic direction the foundation will take and how to broaden its network. With so many areas where women and girls remain unequal in society, it can be difficult to determine which gap to fill, she says.
Blumenkranz, who lives in Manhattan with her husband, Gregory, and 1-year-old son, Zachary, says she hopes her work inspires other women. “I want them to stand up and say, ‘OK, she went and did this because she was passionate about it, and was able to make this step. So what can I do?’ People have to think about their goals and the world they want to create, and then go out and create it. That’s why I get out of bed every morning.”
‘For the Jewish future’
Current initiatives include funding in Israel for a nonpartisan policy institute and training for mayoral advisers for gender equality, as well as supporting an organization in the United States that works with Jewish teens to explore their personal and Jewish identities.
The Hadassah Foundation showcases the best of what’s going on in Israel, she says. “It brings out that women are working together, they’re collaborating, and women’s voices are being heard. And when we need to sit down around the table and discuss women’s issues, that cuts between all political lines.”
With Facebook feeds flooded with worthy causes and abundant organizations making asks, Blumenkranz says she’s mindful of the need to keep her organization at the forefront of people’s minds by supporting timely programs and ensuring that they’re making the most of the dollars that are being awarded. Among the pressing issues in Israel are eliminating religious barriers to equality, gender segregation and the exclusion of women in the Israel Defense Forces. In North America, she says, it’s breaking the glass ceiling, regardless of the field.
“We talk a lot about women’s equality and how the world can be better if people of all backgrounds have equal opportunities,” she says. “I want to make the Hadassah Foundation actualize what it looks like when women and girls are empowered. I want us to define what success is in women’s empowerment.”
Driven to address injustices, she says her family values are a meaningful part of what led her to work in the Jewish communal world. Her interest was sparked when Blumenkranz was just 10 years old and she saw her father, then mayor of her Northern New Jersey town, publicly fight for a synagogue that wanted to move in and was facing discrimination. When the situation escalated—their house was targeted and had to fall under police surveillance—and she became frightened, her father took her by the shoulders and told her, “I’m doing this for you. I’m doing this for the Jewish future,” she recalls.
It’s a message that stuck with her.
“To this day, I feel like I’m fighting for a Jewish future for women and girls,” she says. “I find that doing this within a Jewish lens makes it much more personal for everyone. And when people work on something personal, they care a lot more about it and a lot more gets done.”