Some of the Chesed Leadership Program alums (L–R): Yitty Fisch of Kapayim; Chaya Travis of Sephardic Bikur Holim; Allison Josephs of Jew in the City; and Leba Schwebel of the Amatz Initiative
Some of the Chesed Leadership Program alums (L—R): Yitty Fisch of Kapayim;
Chaya Travis of Sephardic Bikur Holim; Allison Josephs of Jew in the City;
and Leba Schwebel of the Amatz Initiative

There were no caps and gowns, and “Pomp and Circumstance” could not be heard in the background. What was palpable at this commencement of the Chesed Leadership Program was a heavy dose of gratitude, camaraderie, and commitment to growth. The Chesed Leadership Program, a fellowship designed to nurture and advance Orthodox Jewish women leading nonprofit and social-service organizations, was a partnership between UJA-Federation of New York, Lander College for Women, and the Touro College Graduate School of Social Work.

“The Chesed Leadership program demonstrates the shared commitment that UJA and Touro have to the future of the Jewish people and our mutual understanding of the power of a caring community,” said Alexandra Roth-Kahn, managing director of the UJA’s Caring Commission. “Supporting women in their education and skill-building benefits families and communities across New York. We are proud to empower women to continue on an extraordinary path of improving lives and addressing the needs that they see. These women are trailblazers and role models for us all and we are certain they will get the job done.”

The graduates are leading a variety of critical organizations in the community, and many are mothers and grandmothers with full-time jobs whose charitable work is voluntary and represents a commitment to a cause by which they were personally touched. Over the course of the six-month fellowship, the women explored key topics in organizational development and strategic planning, volunteer and board development, public relations and social media, fundraising, financial management, technology, and human resources.

“The program exceeded all expectations we had when we conceived of this initiative,” said Dr. Marian Stoltz-Loike, dean of Touro’s Lander College for Women/The Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten School and vice president of online education at Touro College. “The participants are not assuming others will do the tough job of serving those in need, but rather they take responsibility upon themselves. They are thinking, listening, asking questions, and committed to transforming the world with their actions.”

Leba Schwebel, commencement speaker and director of the Amatz Initiative, says, “As Jews we must always be thankful. When you translate the Hebrew word ‘L’hodot,’ it has a dual meaning–to thank and also to admit. When we thank someone, we are admitting that we needed their help. Today I represent all of the Chesed Leadership Program participants when I thank the organizers at UJA and Touro and admit that the education you provided to us was so needed. You helped us become better leaders and improve our service to our communities.”

Chesed Leadership participants with UJA and Touro leadership at commencement

“Before I started this program, I was running an organization but I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” continued Schwebel. “I learned so much about nonprofit management and planning and now I have goals to reach that will help me do my job so much better. It was a privilege to be part of a group of women who care so much about other Jews, people who have used their own challenges to feel the pain of others and create positive change. Each participant in this program is performing acts of courage and each one is positioned to fill a role that only she can fulfill. This program taught us how to actualize our potential.”

The organizations led by the first-ever class of Chesed Leadership Program participants run the gamut of needs in the Jewish community and include the following: Bread for Israel, Satmar Bikur Cholim of Boro Park, Be’er Hagola Institutes, Kapayim, BINA Stroke and Brain Injury Assistance, Jew in the City/Project Makom, Knafayim/Wings of Hope, Project Menucha, Amatz Initiative, Sephardic Bikur Holim, and RISE: a hotline for families of the disabled.

“The shidduch between Touro and UJA went so well,” said Dr. Steven Huberman, dean of the Touro College Graduate School of Social Work, “that we are going to continue this program next year. As with all graduations, this is not the end but the beginning. Some incredible relationships resulted from this program and we want to keep forging those connections and helping the community.”

Each of the Chesed Leadership Program participants was paired with a mentor who is a seasoned nonprofit executive. Mentors are working one-on-one with participants to expand on what was covered in the classes, answer questions specific to the needs of a particular organization, and help students with planning for the future.

“I have gained tremendously from the Chesed Leadership program. The invaluable lessons that I have learned from the classes and from my mentor range from grant writing to leadership skills. I am inspired by the wonderful women I have met through this program and in awe of the incredible programs and organizations that they have established to meet the needs of the Orthodox community,” said Chaya Travis, director of Counseling Center, Sephardic Bikur Holim.

Her words were echoed by another program participant, Yitty Fisch of Kapayim, an organization dedicated to helping seriously ill children and their families: “I was privileged to unite with like-minded women who are dedicated to making a difference. Each session opened up new vistas of knowledge and taught us the structure and nuts and bolts of running a smooth operation. Most importantly, the Chesed Leadership Program showed me that passion and vision for a cause are critical in order to be successful.”

The commencement program took a surprise turn when participants came to the podium with gifts for the program leadership and both Touro and UJA. The ceremony ended with a time-honored tradition as Chesed Leadership Program director Cynthia Darrison presented each participant with a certificate of completion. “I won’t say goodbye,” said Darrison. “All I can say is ‘see you later’ because we are all going to be in touch and continue learning with and from each other as we continue to build the Jewish community.”

Women leading nonprofit organizations in the Orthodox community who are interested in more information or who wish to apply for the next Chesed Leadership Program cohort should contact Professor Elhanan Marvit at

Touro is a system of nonprofit institutions of higher and professional education. Touro College was chartered in 1970 primarily to enrich the Jewish heritage, and to serve the larger American and global community. Approximately 18,000 students are currently enrolled in its various schools and divisions. For further information on Touro College, please visit

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