Empowering Female Leaders Year Round
March marks Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. While the J recognizes these important dates, supporting women and empowering female leaders is engrained in the fabric of JCC Chicago year-round. From Addie Goodman being the first female President and CEO of JCC Chicago since our founding in 1903, to establishing the JCC Chicago Women’s Board, a group of nearly 50 women volunteering to continue the legacy of providing scholarship assistance to JCC Chicago day and overnight camps, to the establishment of Seed613 and Women inPower, two female development programs. Seed613 Fellowship is designed for Jewish teens to gain business and entrepreneurial skills and work together to create socially responsible projects in response to identified community need. Women inPower is our 10-month fellowship pairing local business leaders as mentors with ambitious women looking to advance in their professional lives.
In honor of this month, we asked three female members of our J community: “How has JCC Chicago empowered you to be a female leader?”
Ayelet Lazar, 2023 Seed613 Fellow
“The Seed613 Fellowship is my first touchpoint with JCC Chicago. I was eager to join the fellowship to work alongside my peers to identify challenges in our community and create solutions, whether big or small, that would make a meaningful difference. As a 16-year-old, I’ve wanted an opportunity to grow my professional skills and learn more about issues such as breaking through the gender bias, risk-taking, and overcoming fears and self-doubt. I’ve always been interested in social issues and this past year, I took a literacy activism class at school where we discussed social topics ranging from racism, misogyny, environmental issues and more. It really inspired me on this journey to want to learn more about how I can grow my mindset and make an impact. In my time with Seed613, I have learned how to achieve short-term and long-term goals through planning. It had also showed me that I can have an impact on the world around me and empower others in the process to help improve our society. Seed613 has overall taught me that as a Jewish woman, I am more than capable of making change whether it be in my community or globally.”
Jacqueline Carroll, 2021-2022 Women inPower Fellow
“Life is an interesting journey. I would have never predicted I would become a Director at a Jewish human rights organization within two years of entering JCC Chicago’s Women inPower cohort, but I do believe that joining the program helped lead me in that direction. I look back at when I first applied to be a mentee in Women inPower. I guess to the outside world I was seen as a Jewish woman in power due to the work I did serving on boards and committees, but I did not feel that way internally. In fact, I was going through a huge transition in my life and felt very unclear as to my path.
For 15 years, I had been a litigator. That was my identity. However, shortly before Covid started, I experienced a verbal anti-Semitic attack while getting a manicure-of all places. It was a surreal experience. I asked myself what advice I would give someone else if they had the same thing happen to them… and then took my own advice. With the President of Decalogue’s help, the beautician had to go through sensitivity training. That incident sat with me. Then Covid hit and the world went off-kilter. I felt a pull towards human rights advocacy but did not know what that looked like. I ended up leaving litigation and created a legal consulting firm that focused on human rights work and was asked to chair the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Community Engagement Committee. I was at a crossroads. I was unsure if I should grow my business or join a non-profit organization which aligned with my beliefs. It was at this moment in time that my friend, Candice Silver, recommended that I apply to Women inPower.
Joining the cohort was quite liberating. I learned that many other women in the group changed their priorities during the pandemic and wanted to live more community-oriented lives. I also learned that I was not alone in my struggle to find my true life’s purpose. That was a main reason many of my fellow mentees joined the program as well.
I learned a lot from the speakers but even more so from my mentor and other mentees. My mentor, Stacey Dembo, went above and beyond for me. While Stacey had made the decision to start her own law firm and turned it into a huge success, she assisted me in looking for jobs in Jewish organizations and helped role play mock interviews. Within a few months from joining the cohort, I took on the role of Senior Manager of Programming and Development for the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Midwest Region and less than eight months after that I was promoted to the Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Mobile Museum of Tolerance. In other words, every day I get to live my authentic self, fighting against discrimination and anti-Semitism and promoting tolerance and human dignity. In this role, I have also lent support to my fellow mentees in their quest to find new careers. In fact, more than half of the members in my cohort were promoted or transitioned into powerful positions in our designated fields within less than a year! Being surrounded by other women who wanted to help me learn and grow was an immeasurable benefit, and I am beyond grateful that the JCC provided me with that opportunity.”
Suzie Ritter, President of JCC Chicago’s Women’s Board
“We’ve all heard the saying ‘lead by example’ and I must admit that JCC Chicago has had wonderful examples of female leadership over the last several years. There are many people who have served as role models for me and who I have chosen to emulate. For you see, my tenure at JCC Chicago did not start with me in a position of leadership. Rather it was the people who I have met through my involvement with JCC Chicago and particularly the Women’s Board that have caused me to heighten my interest in learning, helping, and leading.
I joined the Women’s Board because of two women – the incoming president, whom I had known and respected for many years, and my mom. Our new president was truly passionate about the work being done by the Women’s Board and her invitation to join her and help make camp scholarship dreams come true for families in need was very heartfelt. I had the time and the availability – I just needed the proper understanding of how I could help. Similarly, my mom had been on the Women’s Board for over two decades. I had long listened to her stories of anonymous families who were being helped because there was a group of women who wanted to be there to assist them and of how wonderful it was to her to be able to help. With all of this in mind, I accepted the invitation to join the Women’s Board.
I was in for a treat because not only was this a board with a wonderful mission, but it was also a board with incredible women who had done more for J camp families than I could have imagined. There were women who had been on the board for over fifty years and women whose families had started the board. There were newer members as well. There were attorneys, accountants, psychologists, physical therapists, teachers, and homemakers. Each woman was more generous, more hard working, kinder and more amazing than the next. Moreover, each had something special to impart with their long-standing knowledge of the J as well as their desire to do something meaningful for families who needed help. I truly was in the presence of powerful and mighty women who had so much to teach me.
My passion for what the Women’s Board stood for kept growing and my desire to become more involved surprised me! I was flattered when asked to become president of our board, but I felt too much of a novice to lead. However, I was reassured there would be strong women to support me and guide me, so I accepted the position. And that is when my true feelings of empowerment erupted.
I had women who I respected so much, and they were interested in the direction that I wanted to see our board move. As I told them when I was inducted, I saw my role as a little bit old school, a little bit new. I felt the need to keep our decision-making process stay in line with the goals and generosity of the past hundred years while still moving forward in a technologically fast-moving environment. We had people to honor who had long been overlooked. We had celebrations and tragedies and everything in between that affected all of us and we stayed strong as a board. I felt like my opinions were sought out and ideas were followed. These very strong and wonderful women raised me up to lead at a level that I hadn’t expected.
I have so much respect and gratitude for the women on the JCC Chicago Women’s Board. While they stand in the shadows and do their good deeds, they set an example of the incredible strength bound in a group of women. I stand on their shoulders and feel strong, capable, and proud. How lucky am I to lead these amazing women!”
Ayelet Lazar is a Junior at Lane Tech High School. She joined JCC Chicago’s Seed613 Fellowship because she is always looking for new ways to help others around her in any way possible. She is a competitive dancer for Inside Out Dance Crew and competes hurdles for her school’s track team. Outside of this, she is a madricha at her synagogue and has attended Ramah Overnight in Wisconsin for 8 years, to which she will return to as a Counselor. Ayelet hopes to go into the medical field in the future so that she can make an impact on the world around her.
Jacqueline Carroll works for the Simon Wiesenthal Center as the Director of the Mobile Museum of Tolerance. She serves on the Board of the Decalogue Society of Lawyers and acts as co-chair to Decalogue’s Committee Against Anti-Semitism and Hate. Jacqueline had been a litigator for 15 years, spending 11 of those years at the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, both as a prosecutor and civil rights attorney. She has published articles about anti-Semitism and was awarded the Decalogue and Arab American Bar Association’s coveted Building Bridges Award in 2021. Her earliest memories of JCC Chicago were attending preschool, swim, and gymnastics classes at Bernard Horwich JCC. In the fall, her step-grandson will be starting preschool at the JCC in Berkley, CA.
Suzie Ritter is the current President of the JCC Chicago Women’s Board and as such, a representative on the JCC Chicago Board. Suzie is a graduate of Cornell University and earned a law degree at Georgetown University Law Center. She was a partner with the law firm of Rosenthal and Schanfield, concentrating her practice in Mergers and Acquisitions before retiring to raise her family and actively serve on several charitable boards, all serving the needs of children and disabled adults. She has held many leadership positions in her 35 years of charitable activities. Suzie and her husband David were part of a group of founding members of KIDSS for Kids, an organization aimed at assisting Lurie Children’s Hospital in contributing to the well-being of children and their families. She was also a member of the Board of the District 103 Learning Fund and of Riverside Foundation. She is passionate about the work done at the J and has worked to provide meaningful opportunities to children at the camp and the preschool levels. She is especially interested in continuing the work done by the JCC Women’s Board in granting opportunities to the Chicago area camps to bring new ideas to life. Suzie and David reside in Riverwoods and have three sons, Danny, Jason, and Brian. Watching her boys grow up and thrive through their own camp experiences has given her the impetus to work toward ensuring that as many needy children as possible can have the opportunity to thrive and enjoy the chance to just be a kid, even if only for a summer!