ILOJ Conference Was Inspiring

The Louisville contingent of Lions of Judah joined over 1,300 women from across North America and around the globe at the International Lion of Judah Conference in Washington, DC, earlier this month. I was honored to experience the ILOJ conference with Louisville’s Kipnis-Wilson/Frieland Award winner Debbie Friedman, Sandy Hammond and Karen Abrams.

The Lions of Judah are philanthropic Jewish women of all ages, uniting as an international cohort of global advocates who care deeply about the Jewish future.

Our time in Washington was emotional, inspiring and empowering. The scope of speakers and topics was too broad to cover in a single article, but the following is a snapshot of our experience.

Sara Klein Wagner

Sara Klein Wagner

The conference began on Sunday, September 11, with a plenary session, 15 years after 9/11: The Global Landscape. The session featured former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and the first Secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge.

Before these two leaders spoke, Lion of Judah Lisa Friedman Clark shared her choice to remain optimistic in the face of cancer. She said to “dance between the raindrops” explained how Federation supported her.

Lisa was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 24 and the doctors at Mount Sinai Hospital, which receives support from the New York Federation, saved her life and miraculously did not take steps during treatment as anticipated which would have prevented Lisa from having children one day. Lisa described the miracle of surviving ovarian cancer and later giving birth to twins.

Life was perfect until September 11, 2001. Lisa’s husband, Andy Friedman, lost his life when the second tower of the World Trade Center was hit on 9/11. Lisa described the services so many families used that were provided by a Jewish community ready to help. As we marked the 15th anniversary, Lisa encouraged the Lions to stay optimistic and to join her in supporting the Jewish community so it will be here when each of us needs it.

Madeleine Albright and Tom Ridge described the effect of 9/11 on the rise of ISIS and its relationship to the current election. The American psyche changed on September 11. Both stressed the need to work together in a bipartisan way.

The following two days of the conference were filled with thoughtful and thought-provoking sessions and plenaries. One speaker, Alla, a 30-year-old Jewish professional from Ukraine left a significant impression on me.

At age 13, Alla received a call from a Jewish teen asking her to attend an event for Jewish teens. She asked her mother why she received the call. It was only then that she learned that her family was Jewish.

Alla attended the event, and went on to become a teen leader, study Jewish history in college and was later hired by the JDC (the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) to work with Jewish teens.

As I listened to Alla, I remembered my own career journey and my first job working with teens at the JCC of Boston. Alla reminded everyone that teens get involved in the things they are interested in – friends and food. She described the investment and patience it takes to gradually move towards volunteerism, leadership development and Jewish engagement.

Alla’s investment has paid off. What started with pizza parties has developed into more than 300 teens attending leadership retreats where they celebrate their Jewish identity and Israel. Alla connected as a teen because one person reached out to her. Hundreds of young Jews are now embracing their Judaism because of the global support of the Jewish community.

Celebrating outstanding women for their dedication and leadership was also an integral part of the Lion of Judah experience.

Louisville leader Debbie Friedman was one of the women honored by The Jewish Federations of North America’s National Women’s Philanthropy with its prestigious Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award.

The internationally recognized Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award is given to Lions of Judah who have demonstrated the highest ideals of leadership and involvement. Winners are chosen by their communities as “women of valor” with a lifetime of commitment to the Jewish world.

The award was established in recognition of Norma Kipnis-Wilson and Toby Friedland, z”l, co-founders of The Jewish Federation of North America’s Lion of Judah program. Each winner was recognized in Washington. Friedman is one of 75 women to receive this year’s award.

Since 2004, the Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award has honored extraordinary women who have set a high standard for philanthropy and volunteerism.

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