The National Council for Jewish Women ended its 10-month search for a new chief executive officer last week, as the group announced Nancy K. Kaufman as its new leader. Kaufman, who will replace Stacy Kass, served as the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Boston for the past 20 years, and in Gov. Michael Dukakis’ administration in the 1980s. The NCJW has a long history of supporting liberal public policy issues, including reproductive choice, health reform and welfare benefits. Recently the organization spoke out in support of the planned Islamic center near Ground Zero and criticized the U.S. Senate for delaying a vote on the Army’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Kaufman, who will join the century-old organization in January, spoke about her vision for the future of NCJW.
Q: Your experience is in community relations work. How do you see this affecting the direction of NCJW?
A: NCJW is a premier advocacy and community relations organization focused on women. At JCRC I focused on a variety of different groups; there is a lot of synergy between the two. I’m very excited about an organization that has a reputation as NCJW. They’re terrific at grass-roots work and are a powerful advocacy group for women and children. It’s a logical next step for me.
NCJW has focused on many issues, and abortion rights has always been a main concern. What is your vision for the organization’s priorities, both under your direction and in this decade?
Well, I think obviously the issue of reproductive choice, in order to engage future generations, that is an issue we need to protect. But we also need to look at some of the issues that are of primary importance to younger women in our community, like economic justice, work-family balance and gender equity in the workplace. … There needs to be a powerful voice for women around those issues of economic justice.
The Jewish community has been staunchly liberal for decades, but recent years have seen a veer to the right, especially among the Orthodox. Is this a concern for recruitment?
I think there are many, many women throughout our Jewish community, whether in the Reform, Conservative, Orthodox or secular community who care deeply about issues that affect women and children. I see many of the issues that NCJW works on as issues that cut across any religious or secular line. I don’t think we’ll have any problem expanding our scope.
There is a certain backlash today among some younger women to the term ‘feminist’ and its connotations. Is this a concern?
I have seen national Jewish social justice grow tremendously in this country. … I see no lack of young women who proudly identify themselves as feminist and proudly want to speak out for women and children. If anything, there are many women who have found other ways to be engaged [but] not through a Jewish perspective, and we’re looking to re-engage younger and older Jewish women through a Jewish lens.
NCJW is one of only two major Jewish groups to speak out against extending the Bush-era tax cuts because they are seen benefiting primarily the wealthy. Why is this an important issue for NCJW?
If we want to be about services for people with needs we have to have the money to pay for those services. We can’t on the one hand think we’ll provide services to vulnerable Jews and not have the government be contributing to that. I think there’s a lack of understanding, an education problem — people don’t understand where their tax dollars go, and the connection between taxes and services. We need to connect the dots.