On the evening of Oct. 26, 150 women gathered for the “Power of the Purse” at a sprawling estate at the base of Camelback Mountain. They came together to celebrate the Center for Jewish Philanthropy of Greater Phoenix’s Women IN Philanthropy’s first event in more than three years.
Decorative flourishes reflected both femininity and the evening’s theme. As guests were ushered outdoors, into the backyard of DeeDee Vecchione’s home, they were welcomed to stop for photos at a giant flower wall in hues of pink. Purse-shaped glass vases adorned the tables and in addition to the white leather chairs and sofas on the patio, there was also pink and gray velvet seating in a grassy area.
The evening began with Rachel Hoffer, incoming board chair of the Center for Jewish Philanthropy of Greater Phoenix (CJP), greeting the Federation’s Lions of Judah and sharing the fact that there are 18,000 members across North America and Israel who have donated more than $200 million to The Jewish Federations of North America. Lion of Judah members commit to an annual contribution of at least $5,000 for work in creating social justice, aiding the vulnerable, preserving human dignity and building Jewish identity.
The next speaker, Leah Bold Mondlick, the chair of Women IN Philanthropy and a board member of CJP, shared a little bit about herself and her family.
She met her husband at a Federation event, took Baby University classes with the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Phoenix, is the recipient of PJ Library books and their children attend Jewish preschool. About her 2-year old daughter, she added that they are “raising a future Lion of Judah.”
Mondlick also explained that the evening had been put on by all women vendors, before sharing the new vision, mission and values of the CJP, created after the integration of the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix and the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix in March 2021. The new vision of the CJP is to be an engaged, vibrant and secure community rooted in Jewish values; its mission is to energize and sustain Jewish life and leadership throughout Greater Phoenix, in Israel and around the world; and its values are to be welcoming, caring, collaborative, responsible and impactful.
“To be able to see 150 women and be together after not gathering for three years is amazing,” Hoffer told Jewish News. “We have been working behind the scenes on the integration of the Federation and Foundation moving into CJP. I am excited to launch it with this group of strong, passionate, intelligent women who make a difference in our community and around the world.”
Mondlick shared similar feelings with Jewish News. “For the first event in three years introducing Women IN Philanthropy with CJP, we wanted to make it impactful and meaningful — to gather with these women to cultivate a stronger Jewish community together.”
Rabbi Emily Segal, senior rabbi of Tempe Chai in Phoenix and co-president of the Women’s Rabbinic Network, shared thoughts with the group before reciting Shehechiyanu.
“Spaces for women coming together with other women is something so core to me in my rabbinate, my work with the Women’s Rabbinic Network and personally,” she said before the blessing. “I know the power of women and Jewish women coming together for tzedakah and to create change and support each other. I am so grateful to be welcomed into this special community in Phoenix and I know that this is not only the first gathering of Women IN Philanthropy for the Center for Jewish Philanthropy but also the first gathering for women post-COVID in this way.”
The keynote speaker was Amy Hirshberg Lederman, an award-winning author, nationally syndicated columnist, Jewish educator and attorney. She practiced law for 14 years until she decided to follow her “true Jewish passion,” which is education and inspiring others. She also served as assistant North American director of the Florence Melton Adult Mini-School for adult Jewish learning and as the director of the Department of Jewish Education Identity for the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona.
Gail Baer, vice president of philanthropy and community engagement for the CJP, introduced Lederman and said, “The litmus test for me for a speaker is when you not only enjoy the speaker for the night but the days, weeks and years after you remember little tidbits of what you learned from that evening.”
Lederman opened her talk by inviting all the women to investigate the content of their purses because “women reveal aspects of their identity from what they have in their purse.” She also shared that the late Queen Elizabeth would send secret messages to staff via her purse, like switching it from one arm to the other if she wanted a conversation to end.
She then talked about the Jewish women that came before those in the room, shared stories of her mother and grandmother and introduced women from the Torah and their roles in history.
“None of us would be the Jewish women we are today without the women who came before us and influenced us,” said Lederman. “The women you are thinking of, and my grandmother and my mother, aren’t all that different from the biblical women of valor. Even though there are thousands of years between then and now, between the women of the biblical age and the women our age, these women had very well-defined and circumscribed roles in the tradition of Jewish women.”
Lederman said the women in the Torah had identities much clearer than present-day women. Women today must juggle work, family and community responsibilities. But it is also an “amazing time for Jewish women.
“Today we say, and with great pride, a woman’s place is everywhere, yes, in the house but in the White House, in the House and Senate, in the Supreme Court, in space as astronauts, in board rooms as CEOs of the world’s largest corporations,” she said.
She ended her talk by encouraging all the women in the room to find “what is calling you at this point in your life.” She said to find something in the Phoenix Jewish community that would make an impact and be meaningful and then find the people who care about those same things and join them.
“Everyone here shares something really powerful and special. We share a bond, a connection like no other, simply because we are Jewish and we are women,” said Lederman.
“Every generation of Jewish women receives a different call. But what never changes is the Jewish woman’s unwavering commitment to answer it.” JN
Jewish News is published by the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Phoenix, a component of the Center for Jewish Philanthropy of Greater Phoenix.