In the three years since the launch of the Women’s Leadership Institute, participants have added several programs to the Valley’s Jewish communal landscape, including a family camp experience, a teen leadership program and Passover seders for individuals with special needs.

Now, other communities have taken note of the WLI’s success and want to bring the program to their cities.

The Women’s Leadership Institute, co-sponsored by the Women’s Jewish Learning Center and PJ Library, was developed by Rabbi Elana Kanter, WJLC founder and director, as well as Harriet Rosen, a member of the WJLC steering committee, and Alison Betts, one of the founders of PJ Library of Phoenix. The program trains female communal leaders by providing a formal leadership training curriculum presented through a Jewish lens, and matching the women with mentors who are leaders in the local Jewish community.

“The mission of the institute is to expand the number of women in leadership roles in the community and also to deepen the Jewish character of the leadership,” Kanter said.

Mentees select an existing community program to work with or develop a new program. In the above examples, the family camp was affiliated with PJ Library, the teen leadership program with the East Valley JCC and the seders with Gesher Disability Resources.

The first pilot city to replicate the program is a group from Birmingham, Alabama, where Kanter and her family lived before moving to Arizona.

“We offered to train them and help them get the program off the ground,” Kanter said. The WLI shared its curriculum and procedures with the group and provided funding. The Birmingham program is scheduled to start in August.

“It’s really replicable because it’s a pretty simple idea and all the materials have already been prepared,” Kanter said.

On May 8, approximately 200 people gathered at The New Shul of Scottsdale for a “Celebration of New Leadership” to honor members of the WLI’s third cohort.

The latest round of graduates are Meghan Dorn, Jennifer Farrell, Maryn Gordon, Michelle Kass, Jessielyn Kreitzer, Jill Roig, Anna Oren Taylor, Lani Turri, Liz Vaisben and Marian Willis.

Programs developed by this third cohort include a Jewish storytellers program, a synagogue children’s program, a financial literacy guide, a program connecting the Jewish community to the Syrian refugee resettlement effort and a research project on the employee policies of Jewish organizations.

Liz Vaisben, a member of the third cohort and the mother of two young daughters, said she has appreciated the program’s mix of networking, personal development and Jewish learning, as well as the opportunity to give back to the community. She developed a new program called Girls Read and Do (G-RAD), a book and social justice club for girls where they will read books, learn from Jewish community leaders and put what they learn into action with social justice work.

Projects from the first two cohorts include synagogue programming, training for preschool teachers, a preschool literacy project, a website for young Jewish professionals, resources for interfaith families and converts, a booklet listing b'nai mitzvah project ideas, and a breast cancer support group.

One project, a group email list for PTAs of Jewish day schools to share best practices, was started by Andrea Kravets and was implemented on a national level through Prizmah: Center for Jewish Day Schools.

So far, 27 women have completed the program and the fourth cohort will begin in the fall.

This year’s funding for the WLI comes from the Georgia-based Molly Blank Fund and Devorah Joseph Davey, a board member of the Jim Joseph Foundation in San Francisco, according to Kanter. WLI also has received a grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix for its first alumni retreat, scheduled for January 2019.

The Women’s Jewish Learning Center, founded by Kanter in 2010, was listed in Slingshot, a national resource guide featuring innovative Jewish programming, from 2012 to 2015. It is the only local organization to ever be included in the guide. JN

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