Eighteen months ago, London-based Karen Goodkind travelled to America for a Washington conference of Lion of Judah, a long-established international philanthropic network of Jewish women. She came away hugely impressed, reflecting: “Women’s philanthropy in America is just on a completely different level from ours.
“I know they are culturally different and many more in numbers. However, I wanted to understand the thinking behind their philanthropy.”
To attend a Lion of Judah conference, you have to be a Lion yourself. But since the UK branch had been dormant for a number of years, she had to first become a member in Israel, where she has a home.
Accompanied by Louise Jacobs — who last year became UJIA’s first female chair — she was “overwhelmed” by the experience. The 1,200 participants raised $33 million. “It was astounding.” To become a Lion in America, women have to pledge a minimum $5,000 (£3,575) annually. If they cannot afford the minimum, they can take a break and rejoin another year.
But, Mrs Goodkind stressed, it was “not positioned as a rich women’s club. I met professional women who made a choice not to go on holiday, not to spend on luxury items, in order to become a Lion of Judah.”
As a result of their visit, the UK group has been revived under UJIA’s aegis with more than three dozen women as the first recruits. The annual pledge has been set a little lower than in the US at £3,000.
“It is about our need as Jewish women to step up in leadership and to be role models for the future,” she said. “It is our responsibility to give in our name and in our own right.”
Although around a third of Jewish women in America give in their own name, in the UK, “we suspect it is maybe six per cent, based on donor gifts at our annual dinner”.
Two years ago, she and Mrs Jacobs co-chaired the first UJIA ladies’ night, which replaced the charity’s women’s lunch, with the aim of attracting more working and younger women. Its pitch was “cross-communal and cross-generational — it became about bringing daughters, bringing mothers, bringing grandmothers”.
Attendance rose from 200 to 300 and donations doubled. At the second ladies’ night, the Joy Cohen Award was instituted in memory of the former chairman of UJIA’s women division, to “honour young women who were already doing great things in the community and put them in the spotlight”.
The campaign was not only about supporting Israel, she said, but also about helping “youth in our community. One of the problems we face is the disengagement of youth. It’s an issue for us as mothers who are Jewishly engaged and concerned about the future of our children — and who want them to remain Jewish.”
Although Mrs Goodkind, who is 60, chaired last year’s event, she has handed the reins to two younger women, Ally Rubin and Pippa Collins, for the third ladies’ night this month.
Originally from Manchester, Mrs Goodkind became a UJIA trustee in 2016, having helped to foster the bnei mitzvah twinning programme for British youth with Ethiopian Jewish counterparts in Israel.
Half the money raised by Lion of Judah here will go to Israel projects in association with Keren Hayesod (the United Israel Appeal); 30 per cent to UJIA schemes to strengthen the British connection with Israel; and 20 per cent to other charitable causes selected by members. “This is where UJIA has been incredibly forward-thinking,” Mrs Goodkind said. “I don’t know of any other charity that would allow 20 per cent of donations to be given by donors wherever.
“It is not just about putting money into a pot, or into an ad hoc project. We wanted to find a way where they were empowered by their giving.”
Jacalyn Sank Da Costa, UJIA’s director of fundraising, said the charity recognised that investing in women benefited the entire community.
Ladies’ night and Lion of Judah are part of a broader UJIA plan for “one big women’s movement, which will have something for everyone”, Mrs Sank Da Costa added. A business networking event for women in June is another example.
Mrs Goodkind said that although many Jewish women earn “good money”, UJIA would look at events to engage them at “all levels because whether they give us £10 or £10,000, they are valued. The engagement to me is the most important step because the philanthropy will then come.”
Echoing her sentiments, Mrs Sank Da Costa concluded: “The intention is to grow so every genre of women in British Jewry is connected to others through philanthropy, through engagement, through Israel, through Jewish identity. Engaging people is the first step towards a strong British Jewry, which is what we are absolutely committed to.”