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Conversations with the Inspiring Rachel Wasserman

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rachel Wasserman.

Rachel, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in a house where fighting against injustice and promoting equality was a strong value. As a middle school student, I discovered that a local ballroom dancing school was discriminating against people of color, and I led a community-wide effort to call them out and make them change their policies. That was my first official bout as a social activist. A few years later, as an independent study project in high school, my best friend and I created a curriculum and facilitated a workshop for elementary students about diversity and acceptance. Fast-forward to post-college, and I spent a year participating in AVODAH, a Jewish social service corps, where we each worked full-time for a different front-line anti-poverty organization (I was a caseworker in an alternative high school for teens with mental illness and drug addiction), lived together in a communal space, and gathered twice a week to explore Jewish values of social justice and repairing the world. That was the year that solidified my path as a Jewish communal professional. From there, I went to grad school and entered the working world with a clear path. However, it wasn’t until 2012 that I moved to Atlanta and began working in the feminist space, at which point I realized my soul had been set on fire with a passion for fighting for women’s rights.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I realize that I am very lucky. I grew up in a very privileged world, and even though I was a minority (growing up Jewish in Kentucky did not make me popular), I had many doors opened for me as I moved along the road to where I am now. That said, I worked hard, I made a lot of connections and developed important relationships, and I always maintained the belief that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to.

My most important piece of advice is one I received from a dear mentor and former boss in New York, Ellen. She said that above everything else, we must be people of integrity. There have been times when I have been asked to compromise my values, and I always come back to that advice. At the end of the day, all we have left is our integrity. We can’t control what other people will say about us, but if you can go to sleep at night knowing you did what is right, you’ll be ok.

What should we know about Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Since 2012, I have been the Executive Director of the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta, whose mission is to promote social change and create positive opportunities for Jewish women and girls. We address women’s issues – such as economic equality, violence prevention, and leadership – in the Jewish community. We are the only organization in Atlanta doing this work, and I am fortunate to work alongside over 100 local Jewish female philanthropists who are Trustees of the Fund. In my role, I have done a fair amount of speaking and writing about young women’s leadership, paid family leave, women in the workforce, and human trafficking. What sets us apart is our collaborative giving model, which empowers women to take an active role in their philanthropy and work together making important decisions. At the same time, every day I interact with our grantees, and I get to hear about the impact of our work and the way it’s truly changing lives. I am confident that the world will be a different place for my daughter as a result of Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta.

Often it feels as if the media, by and large, is only focused on the obstacles faced by women, but we feel it’s important to also look for the opportunities. In your view, are there opportunities that you see that women are particularly well positioned for?
As very young children, we let girls know that when they speak up and give their opinions, they are being bossy. At the same time, boys are told they are being good leaders. We need to flip the script and begin promoting female leadership among the youngest in our society. The Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta has engaged in this work by investing in several leadership programs for young girls, as well as programming that challenges gender norms and allows both boys and girls to expand their understanding of what opportunities lie in front of them. We invest in girls in STEM, young female writers, and teen community leaders. These barriers can become opportunities when we address them in the right way.

There is a lot of room for women to increase their presence in leadership, whether it’s in the C-suites of businesses, the boardroom, or the government. The gender gap in each of these arenas is a significant challenge, but at the same time, it is an exciting opportunity. It will take both women and men together working to prioritize women’s leadership in order to make a shift happen, but we have already begun to see movement, and I am confident it will continue to swing in the right direction.

Contact Info:

  • Website: www.jwfatlanta.org
  • Phone: 6782223716
  • Email: rwasserman@jwfatlanta.org
  • Instagram: @jwfatlanta
  • Facebook: @jwfatlanta
  • Twitter: @jwfatlanta

Image Credit:
Beth Intro Photograph, Paula M. Gould

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