Rabbi Elana Kanter

Rabbi Elana Kanter

As part of our alumni association leadership panel series, the Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) recently sponsored an educational panel called the Founder’s Club. The panel was moderated by Jennifer Rogers of the WLI, and featured Becca Hornstein and Andi Minkoff, founders of two of our community’s premier service organizations: Gesher Disability Resources and the Minkoff Center for Jewish Genetics.

This presentation was consonant with the WLI mission, to increase the presence of women in leadership in general, but more specifically the presence of women in places where they can have greater input into Jewish communal decision-making. It was natural that we would look to organizations the WLI partners with regularly, like Gesher and the Minkoff Center, when considering leadership models to educate our alumni. Through our mentees’ community projects, we have been privileged to partner with over 20 different Jewish agencies in the last five years.

The stories of how Gesher and the Minkoff Center started were eye-opening. In the case of Gesher, it was the vision and determination of one woman, Becca Hornstein, and later on, her allies, which launched the program and became a model for similar efforts around the country.

In the case of the Minkoff Center, it was the vision and determination of a husband-and-wife team, Andi Minkoff and her late husband, Dr. Sherman Minkoff, that launched this Greater Phoenix Jewish communal gem.

Each organization is also blessed to have current executive directors who are one-woman powerhouses in their own rights: Amy Hummell at Gesher and Wendy Carriere at the Minkoff Center. Each has taken the organization entrusted to her, and moved it forward in significant, dynamic and

imaginative directions.

Beginning something new is challenging because it requires stepping into the unknown, and going to places no one has been before. At the same time, beginning something new is exhilarating because the new uncharted territory demands creativity, imagination and faith.

In hearing the stories from these agency founders one is reminded that it is only in retrospect that their willingness to take those steps can be appreciated. It is only in looking back that we can realize the courage it took to step into the unknown, to follow “the road less traveled by,” as the poet Robert Frost taught us. And yet, this has been the Jewish paradigm since Abraham and Rebecca and Ruth — all those who answered the call to move our people and our community forward.

I began my rabbinic training the year that the Conservative movement opened up the Jewish Theological Seminary’s rabbinical program to women. Like our predecessors in the Reform and Reconstructionist movements, I and my classmates hoped that the presence of women in Jewish spiritual leadership would bring strength to Jewish tradition and to the Jewish people. The participation of women would open up new, unforeseen areas of growth in Jewish life.

As these founders told us and as my own experience bears out, ultimately being able to start something new is a privilege of the highest order, one that can be a source of blessings to others, but that is most certainly a privilege and blessing for those who get to take those steps.

We are fortunate as a community to benefit from the efforts of these founders and those who have succeeded them. These are organizations of which our Greater Phoenix Jewish Community can be incredibly proud. JN

Rabbi Elana Kanter serves as director of the Women’s Leadership Institute and is co-rabbi of The New Shul. For more information about the Women’s Leadership Institute, go to womenlearning.org.