A first-ever event for JDC, Imagine More — our global women’s summit being held tomorrow, Sept. 18, in New York City — stems from a simple idea, sparked by the power of women and by the power of stories to inspire and ignite action.
We sat down with the event’s co-chairs — Jayne Lipman, Michele Rosen, and Susie Stern — to find out what motivates them and why they’re so passionate about women’s issues and JDC.
Q: What excites you about Imagine More?
Susie: I think women today are at the core of change, and I think it may take a bunch of crazy women to change this world.
Jayne: The energy in the room with a group of women is so empowering. It’s kind of indescribable. It’s like being in a great soccer game where nobody’s pushing each other.
Michele: Jewish women are pretty special. We don’t take no for an answer. Sometimes we can be a little cranky, but we know what we want and we go after it in effective ways. We understand the power of community, and we rely on one another, even though we often disagree with one another. My work in the Jewish community has defined me, and it’s awakened me. It’s made me less fearful, it’s made me more confident, and it has given me the gift of friendship, many of whom are part of this conference, as well as the sense that I’m part of a long tradition.
Q: When women think of their own power and potential, what do you want them to focus on?
Michele: Women are so pivotal to the well-being and health of their communities, in such fundamental and yet profound ways.
Susie: Somebody once asked a wonderful leader how she became a leader and her comment was, “I raised five kids. My job is to keep peace and get everybody to where they have to go,” and I think that’s how women operate. They just get it all done and do it because it’s the right thing to do.
Michele: Exactly. When I’ve been to Ethiopia, to Cuba, to Haiti, to the Philippines, to Nepal, I’ve met these incredibly strong, powerful women, who have very little resources behind them. Still, they’re the backbones of their families. They work, they care for their kids, they raise up their communities, but they need our help — and we’re at the ready to assist them.
Jayne: We’re all in this together, and to effect change, we’ve got to be the force that we are and demonstrate our unity and our strength and our passion to make it happen.
Q: What first connected you to JDC?
Jayne: I was hooked from my first mission. Talking to people one-on-one, and hearing about their experiences, and acquiring a 360-degree view of what goes on in their lives and the fabric of the culture … after that, I wanted to go everywhere to see the work that JDC had done.
Susie: Traveling around the world and meeting the clients and also our boots on the ground, our professional staff in these countries, has been a sort of Jewish education for me. It was through my involvement in the Federation world, and with JDC and seeing the work we did, that I said, “This is who I am as a Jew, and I feel really good about that, and maybe I want to learn a little more.”
Michele: My JDC origin story … wow, it began a long time ago. It was revolutionary for me to understand that our Jewish responsibility didn’t just apply to how we felt about our hometown or Israel, but for people in our community who live in places all around the world. What I found in these desperate communities around the world was extreme poverty, but also extreme hope. That struck me. I grew up in my grandparents’ home, and many of these folks feel like they could have been my grandparents. That’s had a deep effect on me.
Q: What do you love about JDC?
Michele: Quite honestly, I love JDC because I love the fact that they focus on both the Jewish community and the general community. We are not bystanders. I love that. Don’t you? I think it’s fantastic to be able to not be paralyzed with fear or indifference or apathy. And what we’ve observed in community after community, whether it was rescuing children during the Holocaust, or working with the poorest of poor in the former Soviet Union, or working to alleviate post-traumatic stress in western Europe, is that women are central and key to that work.
Jayne: When I tell people about JDC, I describe us as the pre-eminent global Jewish organization that aids Jews in need all over the world.
Susie: Whatever you care about Jewishly, and wherever you are in the world, JDC’s probably there, on the ground, dealing with it. We’re the hands that are taking care of people when they’re frightened. We’re the hands that feed people when they’re hungry. JDC, for me, has been that place where I can wake up in the world and know that what I’m doing is making a difference in people’s lives.
Jayne: Helping one person at a time, truly helping them — it’s so empowering and gratifying, and one just has to hold on to that and have the vision of that person in one’s mind, and that gives me hope. This organization gives me hope.
Q: What do you hope the women and men who attend Imagine More take away from the day?
Jayne: I think that what JDC does is, it goes into a community and listens and observes. We’re not telling these people what they need, and I think that’s really powerful. It’s been really effective, regardless of the country, and it’s coming from a Jewish place — at the risk of sounding cliché — of repairing the world, of saving one person’s life as a Jewish woman.
Michele: So many of us sit in our living rooms or around our kitchen tables, or in board rooms and think, “The world is not so pretty,” but I’m way more hopeful than that. I’m hopeful for my kids, for my grandkids, for my friends, for my neighbors, because I know I can make a teense of a difference. I don’t want us to not be hopeful. I want us to see that we have the power, the expertise, the grit, and the enthusiasm to make things better for everyone, not just women.
Susie: I want women to hear us when we say, “You can make a difference. Embrace it. This is your time to change this world and have fun with it. Be empowered by it and just go for it.”
If you’re not attending Imagine More, you can follow along on Instagram — we’ll be posting updates from the event all day. Make sure you’re following @jdcjoint and keep an eye on #ImagineMore so you don’t miss a thing!