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From Elana's Desk

 

Dear SRE Coalition Community and Friends:

When my grandmother applied for her PhD, despite her skill and intelligence, she was rejected. When she appealed the decision, it was denied. The reasoning she was given was that persons over the age of 39 would not be accepted. A 45-year old woman with children, it was clear to her at the time that it was because of her gender. It was a crushing blow that she would continue to recall to me in her later years. Fast forward nearly 60 years, and my daughter is crestfallen. Having just come home from preschool in her worn-out t-shirt, shorts and tennis shoes, she told a passerby excitedly during our neighborhood walk that she is a magical princess. Their response: “A princess? Dressed like that? You can’t be a princess looking like that.” As we walk slowly home together in silence, side-by-side, I sense I am in the presence of a bright flame wavering under the winds of new doubts.

When I reflect on my professional and personal journey, it is clear how far both our Jewish community and wider society has come. Progress has made possible new pathways for me both personally and professionally. I was able to marry my Colombian wife and sponsor her for US citizenship. We are raising our multicultural, interfaith family in a supportive, safe Jewish community. In my most recent professional role, I had the privilege of guiding the investment of millions of dollars each year in both the Jewish and wider community for one of the 10 largest foundations in Los Angeles.

But despite these gains, anti-Semitism is at near-historic levels nationwide, with assaults against Jews having more than doubled, according to the Anti-Defamation League. This week the Supreme Court of the United States will consider whether my wife and I can legally be fired from our jobs based on our sexual orientation, and whether others in our community can likewise lose their livelihoods due to their gender identity.

And while I am privileged to have risen the ranks over the last 15+ years within the nonprofit and Jewish communal sector, I am aware that as a woman, and the inaugural Executive Director of the SRE Coalition, I am joining an esteemed group that is all too small— only 30% of Jewish communal executives are women, despite the fact that women make up 70% of the Jewish communal workforce, according to Leading Edge. (In the nonprofit sector as a whole, women make up 73% of the workforce, but only 45% of the CEOs are women). As someone with enormous privileges of race, class, and circumstance, with access to resources and a network of colleagues and friends, the safety, respect and equity I experience on a daily basis remains fragile at best. It is not something I can count on. And it is hardly something I can count on for my children. And that is because our Jewish community and the wider society in which we live have not made the kind of transformative, lasting change that is needed to make that a reality for all.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” When I hold my grandmother and my daughter in my mind and in my heart, when I hold their hopes, their dreams, their disappointments and their possibilities in my awareness, I am overcome by both loss and longing. Loss for what is not; longing for what can be: a community and society in which people of all genders and backgrounds have the safety, respect and equity to reach their full potential.

We need to create multiple pathways and entry points for all of us—from board members, to community leaders, students, faith leaders, early stage professionals to senior management—to engage in this work. To celebrate, yes, how far we have come, but also to commit to creating the kind of real culture change we need to shape the world we want for ourselves and for our future generations.

In her poem “Jerusalem,” the contemporary Jewish poet Eve Grubin writes:

Keep me close to the flaw,
to the cracked soil. Don’t let me
fly up again; keep me living
inside the laws, and the lightning,
planted
and learning, leaning
into this difficult field.

The field we are moving in is a difficult one. The soil is cracked from the weight of the inequity and injustices too many of us have experienced and continue to experience. What makes the SRE Coalition unique, standing on the shoulders of all of the prior initiatives and efforts that came before it, is that a time came when enough of us— over 115 organizations, funders, individuals, and experts, to date—came together and stood up to say, “Enough. The time for change is now.”

And that “now” will continue to unfold in the months and years to come. And we will persevere. Justice is on our side. The lightning to pursue what is right and equitable and fair is within us. And if we continue to learn and lean into this difficult field together, I have no doubt that we will get there.

I am honored to be joining this initiative, and I look forward to working alongside you.

In partnership,

Elana Wien

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