What happens when 20 Jewish women come together in one room? Something magical.

What happens when these same 20 women come together once a month, for an entire year, to participate in a leadership program led by Rabbi Elana Kanter, director of the Women’s Jewish Learning Center? Something unprecedented and a force for change in our community. 

I am fortunate enough to know this from firsthand experience. As a mentor in the first cohort of the Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI), I have had the privilege of witnessing the ideas, energy and excitement generated when Jewish women come together with the shared goals of cultivating new leadership and building community. The collective passion in the room and the commitment to the Phoenix Jewish community is nothing short of awe-inspiring. 

The participants in the WLI, a program co-sponsored by the Women’s Jewish Learning Center and PJ Library, include 10 mentees (Penni Golub, Andrea Kravets, Dr. Jolene Kuty, Jessie Rubenstein, Chantelle Sabbath, Jennifer Starrett, Suzanne Trevino, Rachel Wallach, Amanda Walker and Deborah Winegarden) and 10 mentors (Alison Betts, Fredi Brown, Anita Gutkin, Debbie Kail, Jill Kessler, Ellen Sacks, Tina Sheinbein, Sharona Silverman, Berry Sweet and Connie Wolf). Through one-on-one mentor/mentee meetings and dynamic group learning sessions, participants have explored a wide variety of leadership-related topics, including (but certainly not limited to) communication, negotiation, volunteerism and community building – all through a Jewish lens. 

Each woman brings a unique perspective to the program and experiences and talents that will help shape the future of our community as the mentees embark on year two of their WLI experience. In the second year of the program, mentor/mentee sessions will continue, but the primary focus will be on the volunteer project each woman has selected. The projects cover a wide variety of interest areas and include both the creation of new resources and enhancement of existing programs. The leadership skills these 10 women have been honing over the last year will be put to good use and affect the local Jewish community in immeasurable ways.

It is impossible to adequately capture in words the magic that has taken place during year one of the Women’s Leadership Institute. Good thing that we, as a community, are going to get to see and experience it in the coming months and years as these amazing women continue their leadership journeys and become a true force for change.

The WLI invites the community to a “Celebration of New Leadership,” 7:30-8:30 p.m. Tuesday, June 7, at The New Shul. First cohort projects will be showcased in a video, and members of the second cohort will also be announced and introduced at that time.

The Women’s Leadership Institute is funded in part by a grant from the Jewish Women’s Philanthropy Circle of Arizona. Ellen Sacks is the associate executive director of Jewish Free Loan, and serves as a mentor for cohort 1 of the Women’s Leadership Institute.