The Power of Women & Philanthropy

0315coverWomen’s Voices is the largest annual gathering of Jewish women in Orange County and the signature campaign event of Women’s Philanthropy, supporting the Generations Fund of Jewish Federation & Family Services (JFFS). Women’s Voices was named the #1 Luncheon in Orange County for 2013 by the OC Business Journal Charity Event Guide in the Top 5 Luncheons category. Last year in Orange County, Women’s Philanthropy raised over $1,000,000 of the total JFFS campaign.

This year Voices will honor Debbie Margolis with the Anne Entin 2014 Woman of the Year award, which recognizes a woman who has gone above and beyond in contributing to the community, a community where the face and voice of philanthropy is changing. In a sense, the well-orchestrated philanthropy of Orange County has gained a soprano and alto section. It is not just suits and ties at board meetings anymore; women are contributing in record numbers both financially and by showing up.

Debbie Margolis also believes the look of philanthropy in the Orange County Jewish Community is changing. “Women’s Philanthropy has made that happen by allowing women to not only have a voice in the community, but also make her own gift. When I was asked for my gift it had a lot of relevance because it was from me,” says Margolis. Women’s Philanthropy is like the idea of the Red Tent – a place where women can connect, feel empowered, and have a place where they can “be.” Margolis goes on to say, “Having the right bag and hairstyle is not what defines Women’s Philanthropy. It is the hard work the group does.”

Margolis grew up in Boulder, Colorado and moved to Orange County in 1994 for “just a year,” and has been here ever since. She and her husband, Jeff Margolis, whom she met in high school, moved here with their two daughters, Alexandria and Allegra. The Margolises have been together 30 years and have both been very involved in philanthropy. A teacher by training, Margolis changed careers to be a stay at home mother to their two daughters. Now both daughters are adults and she has found a place in the Orange County Jewish Community. “President of Women’s Philanthropy was the best job I have ever had,” says Margolis.

A Jew by choice, Margolis has been a long time and committed volunteer in the Jewish Community. She served on the board of Temple Bat Yahm before getting involved at JFFS nine years ago. Serving on the Women’s Philanthropy board allowed her to find her own path. “My involvement is so important to me because I really believe in what we are doing.” Margolis also believes that Women’s Philanthropy offers a place for all Jewish women in Orange County. “There are not that many Jews in Orange County; we have to make an effort to raise Jewish children, create Jewish homes and educate people about Israel.”

Margolis is engaging, articulate, and genuine – a natural leader. So it is not surprising that she adapted to leadership so effortlessly. She was approached by Sharon Wiedberg, who at the time was Women’s Philanthropy’s President, to join the board, came on as Social Action Chair and soon thereafter took on the role as president. “As president of Women’s Philanthropy I was automatically on the Board [of what was then JFOC – Jewish Federation of Orange County]. I just decided to stay on the board.” It was during a trip to Israel that Margolis said, “I had an epiphany… that it was my turn to serve as Chair [of JFFS].”

Margolis’ well-honed leadership skills have served her well and she has worked hard to be the leader that she is. “Leadership is a gift. Understanding what people need and knowing how to respond to it is natural to me,” she says. Margolis was also in the first cohort of Skill Set, JFFS’s Jewish leadership program. She stated it was an “extraordinary commitment” to be a part of the program. “The things I learned still impact me today.” There is no doubt that what she learned supports her in her role of serving on the National Women’s Philanthropy Board, where she is involved in Jewish philanthropy at a national level. She relates that all of the models of the national organization are a great place for women to be. It is an opportunity to understand what is going on locally, internationally and in Israel. This is likely the reason Orange County’s Women’s Philanthropy has become so successful. But, there is hard work, says Margolis. “Eileen Garbutt [JFFS​’ Director, Women’s Philanthropy] works tirelessly to keep people engaged. The women are willing to try just about anything!”

Margolis is honored to be Voices 2015 Woman of the Year, “It is such an honor to be included in that group of women.” Yet the idea of empowering women goes beyond a Woman of the Year. The name of the event speaks for itself: Voices. With over 700 women in the room last year, the power is palpable. “Every woman in the room on March 16 will have made a gift of her own to make a difference,” says Margolis.

The event also draws talent. Bestselling author, screenwriter, journalist, and playwright Delia Ephron will be the keynote speaker for the luncheon. She is a frequent op-ed contributor to The New York Times. Her most recent book, Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.), a memoir, was published last fall.

Her career began when she wrote a bestselling book of humor called How to Eat Like a Child and Other Lessons in Not Being a Grownup, which became a television special and theater piece, performed all over the US and Canada. She then became a contributor to New York Magazine and continued writing books of humor and essays about modern life. Eventually she became a screenwriter (as well as a producer), usually collaborating with sister Nora Ephron on many movies including You’ve Got Mail, Michael and Hanging Up (based on her novel). She also wrote The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Her original screenplay, Sammy, will begin production this spring. Ephron has written and spoken about the importance of collaboration in work and life based on her experience of making movies.

Throughout her movie career she continued to write books: novels for adults (her most recent is The Lion Is In), teens, and children. Her journalistic work has appeared in Vogue, Oprah and More magazines, as well as the Wall Street Journal and, most regularly, The New York Times.

She collaborated with her sister Nora Ephron on the play, Love, Loss and What I Wore, which played for two years off-Broadway and has been performed in cities around the world, including Paris, Rio and Sydney.

During this 50th anniversary year for JFFS, Women’s Philanthropy is also taking a moment to reflect upon the extraordinary contributions of women in our community over the past five decades. Women’s Division of the United Jewish Appeal (now Jewish Federations of North America) was founded in 1946 in response to the needs of the more than one and a half survivors of the Holocaust. As the Orange County Jewish community grew in the 1970s, JFFS [then “Jewish Federation of Orange County”] established its own women’s group (now “Women’s Philanthropy”) in 1975. The involvement of women in the community has greatly contributed to its strength and vitality, helping to develop a network of services in the community and around the globe.

“Jewish women coming together to celebrate and to raise funds for philanthropy is my favorite part of the event,” said past Women’s Philanthropy president Amy Rousso.

Join hundreds of women on March 16, 2015 at the Hilton Orange County for Women’s Voices Luncheon 2015. For more information go to: jewishorangecounty.org/get-involved/women/voices or contact (949) 435-3484 for more information.

Dr. Lisa Grajewski is a therapist with Jewish Federation & Family Services in Orange County and an Adjunct Professor at Argosy University and The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Dr. Grajewski has been with Jlife Magazine since 2004.

Tanya Schwied graduated from New York University, studied abroad in Israel, and works for the CEO and President of Jewish Federation & Family Services.

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