Reflections on the 2016 International Lion of Judah Conference

For several days beginning September 11, 2016, I had the wonderful honor of joining 1,200 women from five countries for the International Lion of Judah Conference (ILOJC) in Washington, DC. It opened with a powerful evening of tribute to the victims and survivors of 9/11 and an opportunity to learn from leaders like Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State, and Tom Ridge, former Secretary of Homeland Security, both of whom set the tone for the conference. Their knowledge and candor was appreciated by all.

Especially impressive was the opportunity to hear from – and later meet in person – Lt. Commander Alexa Jenkins, Commanding Officer of the USS Tornado, and the first female Commander in the US Navy, who happens to be Jewish. Her Jewish values are exhibited every day within and without her work, creating a role model for women and girls everywhere she goes.

Also on display was the importance of the work of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), and the many federations from San Francisco to Boston, which collectively have a huge impact on lives around the world.

The conference offered more than 25 varied and fascinating programs, with enticing topics such as: Risk and Reality – Antisemitism in Europe, Beyond our Borders – The Syrian Refugee Crisis, Israel Advocacy and Action – The College Campus Perspective, PJ Library Growth Avenues, Access Opportunities For All, Growing Goodness – Developing the Next Generation of Philanthropy, and Not a Labor of Love – Modern Day Slavery and Labor Trafficking. A session titled The Millennial Mindset inspired us with the good news that 93% of millennials do give to nonprofits, that they want to make their own decisions, and that they want to give of their time with the confidence that they can make a brighter future. They are the most diverse and most educated of this age group ever. The challenge we have is to engage them first and trust that they will give back later.

As we gathered in our caucuses on the final day, we shared our individual, unique Jewish journeys and our commitments for the coming year. Often in tears, we remembered those who mentored us along the Federation path.

One of the most moving and heartfelt moments was when the mother of Gilad Shaar (one of three Israeli boys kidnapped and murdered in 2014) spoke of her unspeakable loss and her hope for the future. To have her spend the rest of the day with us on into the evening, sharing our joyful dancing at the conclusion of the conference – as women in solidarity with one another – was humbling, inspiring and empowering. It gave us renewed cause to support our mission to do as much as we can to repair the world.

New friends were made, old acquaintances renewed, and a feeling of energy, warmth, and love for one another and our work surrounded us throughout the entire event. Lions – we have the best “sisterhood” of all!!

Carol Weitz is past president of Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund; she is a board member of the Federation and of National Women’s Philanthropy.


September 26, 2016


Carol Weitz