“Leadership is one of the core pillars of our work,” Loribeth Weinstein, CEO of Jewish Women International, told more than 125 students during her keynote speech at the Jewish Women’s Leadership Conference held Sunday at the University of Maryland Hillel.
“There is nothing more important for every one of you as you go out and get started in your career and your life than to take on the challenges of your own economic empowerment,” she said.
The event, a way to network, mingle and learn from speakers, was co-chaired by students Rivka Golding and Raquel Weinberg, was sponsored by the Career Center at the University of Maryland, Keshet, Alpha Epsilon Phi, Sigma Delta Tau, JewelErry, Quartermaine Coffee Roasters, OPI and Baked by Melissa.
“I hope that [the students] make lasting connections with the women they’ve talked to today and that they follow up and email the people they’ve met,” said Golding, who emphasized the conference was focused on the concept of mentorship. “I also hope they walk away feeling empowered and they see these women as role models. [I want them to] walk away knowing that in five or 20 years, this could be them.”
The range of women speaking at the conference varied from recent university alumnae to corporate executives.
“It’s really gratifying and fun [to speak at my alma mater],” said Jenna Gebel, who graduated in 2010 and is now an MBA candidate at the University of Pennsylvania. “I think [the fact] they do this conference is incredible, and anything I can do to better the school and help other women is wonderful.”
Gebel’s presentation, “Building and Maintaining a Professional Network,” focused on her experiences networking and offering practical advice on the subject. She spoke about meeting Goodwill Industries International senior vice president Wendi Copeland.
While attending a conference about social entrepreneurship, she was seated next to Copeland and decided to start a conversation. After being “blown away” by Copeland’s work, she decided to give her a phone call that afternoon
“What’s even [crazier] is that [despite how busy Copeland was], she actually picked up the phone when I called,” said Gebel.
After meeting for coffee and discussing Copeland’s work, Gebel saw a position open up at GII. She was chosen for the position and later discovered that Copeland vouched for her from a pool of more than 100 candidates.
“That, for me, was the first lesson that networking is powerful,” said Gebel.
Another leader at the conference who was reaching out to students during the opening cocktail hour was Melissa Rosen, director of national outreach at Sharsheret, an organization that supports young Jewish women and families facing breast and ovarian cancer.
“This is a great time [to talk about family health history], as men and women are forming health habits and living as adults for the first time,” said Rosen.
One in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carries a BRCA gene mutation, according to Shasheret, nearly 10 times the rate of the general population for the breast cancer genetic mutation. This makes Jewish families more susceptible to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
Abbie Weisberg is the CEO of Keshet, a Chicago-based organization providing educational, recreational, vocational and social programs for individuals with intellectual disabilities that operates according to traditional Jewish values.
Her presentation, “Pursuing Your Passion,” focused on how she became the head of the nonprofit and on how to turn a passion into a career.
“Always start backwards. Ask yourself where you want to be, what is your goal,” Weisberg said to the 50 students who attended her session. “It’s OK if you don’t know. … When I started at Keshet, I had no idea where my career was going to go.”
Weisberg, who has devoted more than 25 years to children with special needs, was named Jewish Chicagoan of the Year by the Chicago Jewish News and placed on JWI’s list of 10 Women to Watch.
Other speakers included Julie Kantor, president and CEO of Twomentor; Shulamith Klein, chief risk office for Emory University and Emory Healthcare; Juanita Weaver, owner of Creative Connections; and Erica Bernstein, founder and CEO of JewelErry.
Weisberg’s advice to the women in attendance was concise: “Continue to learn.”