Russians 2, Women 0
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Russians 2, Women 0

It was supposed to “shine a national spotlight on the unsung.”

Instead, the second annual Jewish Federations of North America’s Jewish Community Heroes campaign is drawing attention to the unsung role women continue to play in the top echelons of Jewish communal life.

Soon after the Jewish federation umbrella group announced that its judges had picked five finalists (all of them men) from a pool of 20 semifinalists, the criticism started cropping up on the blogosphere.

The project “fails to accurately reflect the landscape of the Jewish community’s best and brightest,” contended two Jewish communal professionals, Shannon Sarna and Ruthie Warshenbrot, in an opinion piece published on the eJewishPhilanthropy website.

Of course, as Sarna and Warshenbrot acknowledged in their piece, the 17 judges (11 of them men) didn’t bear all the responsibility, considering that the semifinalists chosen by voters in a three-month-long Internet contest were overwhelmingly (14-6) male. (A total of 311,265 votes were cast; participants were allowed to vote for five different nominees every 12 hours.)

“While JFNA cannot control who the Jewish community votes for (or which nominees have the broadest social networks), it is their responsibility as a major Jewish institution to ensure that a campaign of this scale is one that shines a spotlight on all our unsung heroes, including women,” Sarna and Warshenbrot argued. By not doing so, they argued, the group “presents itself as horribly behind the times.”

Dan Brown, the publisher of eJewishPhilanthropy was one of the contest’s judges. While he did not solicit Sarna and Warshenbrot’s piece, he told The Jewish Week he felt they raised important issues.

In casting his five votes, he said he voted for “both genders,” making his choices based on the cause each semifinalist championed.
Last year’s contest featured two women finalists,
although the ultimate winner was a man, JCorps’ Founder Ari Teman.

Andy Neusner, the JFNA’s web content manager and Jewish Community Heroes manager, told The Jewish Week that at least 100 of the nominees were women and “it just happens that the top five selected this year were men.”

In addition, he noted, the federation movement is “very focused” on gender equity, with women represented in top professional and lay leadership positions. “There is not a glass ceiling here,” he said.

A 2004 study done in partnership with Advancing Women Professionals found that while women make up 70 percent of the professional work force in Jewish federations, few filled the highest-paying executive positions.

The five finalists, which include three New Yorkers (two of them Russian immigrants) are: boxer and philanthropist Dimitry Salita; Zvi Gluck, an “advocate for the abused, downtrodden and just anybody down on their luck”; Rabbi Mordechai Tokarsky, the co-founder and director of the Russian Jewish educational organization RAJE; Jay Feinberg, creator of the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation; and Dr. Stephen Kutner, the full-time volunteer medical director of Jewish Healthcare International.

The winner, who will receive $25,000 to donate to the cause of his choice, will be announced next week at the JFNA’s General Assembly in New Orleans.

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