More than 600 women will gather at the St. Regis Monarch in Dana Point on Monday, March 12, for the Annual Women’s Voices luncheon, the centerpiece event for Women’s Philanthropy, formerly known as Women’s Division, of Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County. Author Dani Shapiro will engage the audience about her work that centers on family life and the choices people make in the name of love and best intentions.
While Eileen Garbutt, director of Women’s Philanthropy for the past 12 years and this year’s Women’s Voices honoree, quipped that the organization “has the lunch down to a science – simply meet the challenge of finding an affordable speaker who will make everybody from women in their 20s to women in their 80s happy,” the event has proven increasingly popular with local women. However, it is, as this year’s luncheon chairs Michelle Prescott and Barbara Shapiro explained, only part of the Women’s Philanthropy story.
“There’s something for everybody, whether it’s helping underprivileged children with their reading, crocheting blankets for premature babies or working in a soup kitchen,” Prescott said. “People move here from out of state or out the area, get invited to lunch and get involved. If you have an idea, Women’s Philanthropy makes it happen.”
“You get to meet and learn from amazing people of all ages who want to make the world a better place,” Shapiro added. “When you go out to help people who don’t have jackets, you realize how fortunate you are. There are so many things you can do if you put your money together and put your efforts together. You get so much more out of it than you put into (volunteering).”
According to Ann Miller, president of Women’s Philanthropy, “We reach out, we touch, we do, we ask, we receive, we work with our hands and we give from our hearts. I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me who gave me a better world as a Jew, and I want to pass that on to generation after generation.”
Garbutt, who is being honored as the 2012 Anne Entin Woman of the Year for her “long-term dedication and commitment” to serving the community, added that the “strength of the organization is the women, the quality of leadership.” She said that each president makes her own mark and is special in some way.
“The women are bright, dedicated, caring and full of great ideas,” she said. “There are 65 women on the board, who get turned on, become ardent supporters and do great humanitarian things.”
Garbutt, who served as president of the organization for three years before joining the staff, has been active at Temple Bat Yahm since she moved to Orange County in 1986. She has served on the congregation’s board of directors, most recently as secretary; has chaired many fundraising events, chaired TBY’s annual food drive and is currently a vice president of the Women of TBY. Garbutt was Sisterhood president, honored as Sisterhood Woman of the Year for community service and also received its continuing service award. She graduated from Rutgers University with a B.A. in sociology.
Dani Shapiro, a novelist, memoirist and essayist, as well as a graduate-level writing teacher, believes that her writing brings her deepening understanding, while, at the same time, she tries to craft stories that are universal and resonate with her readers. Shapiro has written a book approximately every three years while teaching and mentoring.
She was raised in an Orthodox home and had “a complicated childhood as the only child of older parents who were not each other’s first spouses.” Not knowing where she belonged, Shaipro went to college “at a young 17,” started rebelling against her upbringing, ended up in a “dreadful, predatory relationship” and dropped out of college. Then, at age 23, her parents were in a car accident in which her father was killed and her mother badly injured.
“It was the worst possible shock, but it turned my life around,” Shaipro said. “I knew I needed to show up.”
Shapiro’s first best-selling memoir, Slow Motion, is a brutally honest portrayal of that tumultuous coming-of-age. The trauma of what followed the accident — the grief, loss and need to grow up very quickly — has already spoken to generations of young people.
A second shock – that of 9/11 at the time her young son was recovering from an illness – caused Shapiro to do some more evaluating. “We decided not to stay in New York, where there was too much shock,” she said. “We wanted to live a more peaceful, quieter life, so we moved away from New York where the air was Jewish, to Connecticut. I had fled the strict way I was raised but hadn’t replaced it. Nothing ever made me feel so Jewish as being in an area where I felt that I needed to make it known.”
Once again mining her own life experiences in Devotion, Shapiro attempts, in early midlife, to understand the longing she feels to believe in something after having fled the rules and rituals of her youth. A story of motherhood, daughterhood, modern midlife and spiritual crisis, Devotion is an exploration of one woman’s winding path in search of her own definition of grace. Along the way, she meets a rabbi, a Buddhist and a yogi who become her teachers, guides and friends. Her story is a universal one, appealing to skeptics and believers alike.
Shapiro’s next book is about writing. In Still Writing: the Pleasures and Perils of a Creative Life, she will share insights about the practice of writing from novices to well-known writers and show how the writing process is like the practice of prayer, meditation and music.
For more information on Women’s Voices, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.