Celebrating Women's History Month at Federation

In March, we celebrate women’s history month, and the past few weeks have given me many opportunities to reflect on the remarkable depth of women’s leadership here in San Diego and at our own Federation. Last week, we held one of our quarterly Women’s Philanthropy Brunch Club programs. More than 60 women, ranging in age from their early 20’s through 80’s, gathered to share in each other’s company and listen to an inspiring and challenging conversation about lessons in women’s leadership learned from Vashti and Esther. Rabbi Yael Ridberg, Rabbi Alexis Berk and Cantor Heather Hoopes-Seid with moderator Nicole Nevarez drew powerful insight from the choices of Vashti and Esther, and from their own personal experiences, inspiring deep conversations and a desire to continue the dialogue about what is uniquely gratifying and uniquely challenging about leading as a woman.

Earlier this week, I was privileged to be at another gathering of a wonderful group of women who “grew up” together in Federation in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. These women met through Federation programs, traveled to Israel and around the world together, served on our then “Women’s Division” board, Federation Board and subsequently in countless leadership and professional positions throughout our community. These women were some of our strongest supporters at a time when Federation was one of only a handful of organizations that made room for women in leadership. They were visionaries and trailblazers and helped shape the Jewish community of San Diego as we know it today. Their legacy inspires me.

Listening to these women share their stories, I was struck by the deep bonds they formed through Federation programs. Most of them have known each other for decades and volunteered together on important causes over the years. They are proud of what Federation is today and want nothing more than for their own daughters and granddaughters to experience the same sense of community, connection, and agency.

As the first woman (and proud Lion of Judah) to have the privilege of serving as CEO of this institution, it is especially important to me that Federation continues to provide meaningful opportunities for women who will serve this community for decades to come. And through our powerhouse Women’s Philanthropy Board and our prestigious Pauline Foster Women’s Leadership Institute, we are doing just that.

And I also must note that San Diego has an incredible group of women in professional leadership positions across our institutions. In the Jewish nonprofit world, women make up a disproportionately high percentage of staff members, and a disproportionately low percentage of CEOs. Not so in San Diego! So many of our Jewish agencies and synagogues are run by women. I am proud to be part of this group of passionate, creative, brilliant, and caring women who work every day to strengthen Jewish life in San Diego. I am proud that Federation played a role in paving the way for women to take up these important leadership roles.

So as people across the country celebrate women and their historical achievements this month, we celebrate our local Jewish women leaders who set the stage for all of us, and the women who lead us today. They have much to be proud of, and we have a special legacy to carry on.

Shabbat Shalom,
Heidi Gantwerk
President & Chief Executive Officer



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