On June 19, Nancy Kaufman, National Council of Jewish Women CEO, visited Austin. Kaufman’s visit began with a tour of the LBJ Library, where she commented that many of LBJ’s signature issues and achievements still have to be fought to be preserved, such as voting rights, education, health care and ensuring a safety net for low-income families. NCJW is actively continuing these fights.
She also toured the State Capitol, seeing firsthand where a year earlier, many Austin Section of NCJW women spoke out against Senate Bill 5, which included more restrictive reproductive healthcare regulations, including abortion, for Texas. Kaufman explained that NCJW members and supporters around the country were following these historic events on Twitter in real time.
Kaufman’s last engagement in Austin was an evening reception and informal presentation to discuss NCJW’s agenda. Kaufman spoke about the organization’s new campaigns to be launched this fall focusing on sex trafficking and reproductive justice.
Both these issues are front and center in Texas but they are nothing new to the advocates and volunteers of NCJW. In the early 1900’s, NCJW volunteers met Jewish immigrant women at Ellis Island to ensure they did not fall into the hands of traffickers. And women having control over their bodies has long been an NCJW rallying cry since the organization was supportive of Margaret Sanger’s efforts promoting birth control in the 1910s and 1920s.
New and longtime members who met with Kaufman discussed NCJW’s continuing work on gun violence prevention, immigration reform, LGBTQ rights and gender equality in Israel. They discussed the organization’s invitations to the White House, where NCJW leaders met with President Obama on access to health care and contraceptive coverage.
Event attendees learned that in many instances, NCJW is the only Jewish organization at the table with collaborative partners, such as Planned Parenthood, or at rotunda events at Capitol Hill with members of Congress.
Kaufman was one of only three women of 20 Jewish leaders in a meeting in the West Wing with President Obama just prior to his trip to Israel. And while she was in Texas, NCJW president Debbie Hoffman was one of 14 people who attended an Oval Office meeting with President Obama and Israeli President Shimon Peres.
The dialogue with Kaufman also included the challenges that all membership organizations face. Ideas were considered for adapting messages and promoting simpler ways to advocate on issues when women are stretched for time.
Many attendees at the events with Kaufman came away with an appreciation of the uniqueness of NCJW as a faith-based organization, putting ideas into action in the United States and Israel on a wide range of issues. Many group members felt inspired by Kaufman as they began planning for their biennial Day on the Hill, where they will take their message to the Texas Legislature in February 2015.
Kaufman is well known in the nonprofit and public sectors as an advocate on social justice and human services.
She was recently named one of the top 14 people of faith to watch in 2014 by the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative of the Center for American Progress. She has been listed multiple times on The Forward’s “Forward 50” annual list of the country’s most influential American Jewish Leaders.
Prior to joining NCJW as CEO three years ago, Kaufman served as executive director of the JewishCommunity Relations Council of Boston for 20 years, where she led the social justice, Israel advocacy and governmental affairs agendas for Boston’s Jewish Federation.
She has also held positions related to health and human services delivery in state and local government and in the nonprofit sector. She worked for the Dukakis administration in various capacities relating to health and human services and welfare in Massachusetts.
Kaufman is well known to Jewish Federations across the country for her strong stance and active roles on a range of social justice issues, which made her a natural fit to take the helm at NCJW.
But as she told members of the Austin group who gathered with her for a day of discussion and socializing, she accepted the job only after she learned of the breadth of NCJW’s work in Israel. She was amazed to discover that the group’s programs and mission in Israel mirror its work in the United States.
NCJW focuses on a range of issues including gender equality, human trafficking, gay rights, and economic justice in Israeli society. NCJW’s Israel office and its director, based in Jerusalem, oversees funding and advocacy efforts and is active on NCJW’s behalf in international coalitions on issues of concern to NCJW.
By Ellen Sable and Susan Pintchovski