Funding Jewish Feminism

Article excerpt

By her own estimate, Barbara Dobkin gave more tzedakah-charity-for Jewish women's causes in the Jewish year 5758 (1996-97) than did the entire New York UJA-Federation! Writing in the Fall 1997 edition of Journey, journal of Ma'yan: The Jewish Women's Project, Dobkin explains:

We can't remain silent about the exclusion, the abuse and the marginalization of Jewish women, here and in Israel. And if we are going to raise these issues, we have to be willing to back up our words with our money.... To me this is a sacred mission.

That mission has been institutionalized since 1994 through Ma'yan, a project of the Jewish Community Center of the Upper West Side of Manhattan (212-580-0099) that Dobkin founded with a $1 million gift payable over five years. Ma'yan works to broadcast the insights of Jewish feminists and nurture the growth of Jewish women's communities and resources. Dobkin explains her funding strategy: "If Ma'yan is going to help Jewish women's organizations, we can't be competing with them for funding. Our success should be measured by the extent that we make Ma'yan unnecessary."

By that standard, however, Ma yan's executive director Eve Landau will not soon be unemployed. "There is more awareness in Jewish life about tapping into women's experience," Landau observes, "but it's not yet happening in terms of funding." She cites the tzedakah appeals on behalf of Jewish women's projects that are woven into Ma'yan's wildly popular feminist seders. Fifteen hundred people attended three seders in 1997-and yet contributed less than $1500.

Dobkin is similarly disappointed by the lack of financial support for Jewish feminism. "I don't expect people to commit on the level that I give to Ma'yan," she says, "but I have labored under the misconception that there were many other women who would put their money where their vision is." Landau adds, "Ma'yan does an enormous amount of handholding for women who are afraid to take responsibility for their wealth and use it for social change."

What inhibits Jewish feminist tzedakah? In a New York Times piece reprinted in our 1993 book, Jews, Money and Social Responsibility, Letty Cottin Pogrebin explains that working women "are in no hurry to part with their hard-won wages, which average only 69 to a man's dollar" (today, pennies more), while "[h]igh rates of divorce and widowhood remind [them] that wives who seem financially secure may be only one man away from welfare." That analysis, however, doesn't explain why women's philanthropy in general has produced a proliferation of women's funds during the past decade while funding for Jewish feminist projects has remained quite limited. …