Teaching Women What They’re Worth

Hadassah and Jewish Women International team up to educate boomers about financial literacy, with philanthropy as the end goal.

Staff Writer
A Jewish Women’s International “Know your Worth” session earlier this year. Courtesy of JWI
A Jewish Women’s International “Know your Worth” session earlier this year. Courtesy of JWI

For the past 10 years, financial literacy programs for teenage girls and young women have been sprouting up around the country Colleges, including Barnard, New York University and Harvard, have designed courses geared specifically to helping female students manage their finances.

But not only young women need to learn how to manage their purses. Jewish Women International (JWI) and Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America (HWZOA), have joined forces to create “Know Your Worth,” a financial literacy program for women age 50 and older.

“The program addresses a larger systemic issue affecting baby boomers,” said Janice Weinman, Hadassah’s CEO and executive director. “Many women in this demographic depend heavily on their husbands to manage their assets and finances. Now, when they’re facing retirement and post-career planning, they’re at a serious disadvantage, especially because many of these women will outlive their husbands.”

The program will provide community-based seminars for women, educating them about income streams, strategic thinking, and leadership development. Hadassah, which has approximately 900 chapters throughout the country, will be conducting a pilot of the program in Chicago, Greater Washington, Houston and South Florida in January of 2015. The national program is scheduled to launch in 2016.

“This program is for women in transition,” said Weinman, mentioning women who are retired, divorced or widowed.

Karen Finerman, president of a New York-based investment firm, said that conventional gender roles have often stood in the way of women becoming financially literate. 

“Women don’t want to become financially independent because, in some way, they feel it’s conceding defeat in their personal lives,” said Finerman, who is herself a traditional Jew. “Many women imagined that they would be in charge of the domestic duties — the home and kids — and their husbands would take care of the finances,” she said.

This notion, continued Finerman, could be a serious impediment for women later in their lives. “The majority of men die married, while the majority of women die alone,” she said. “It’s very likely a women is going to have to manage her own finances at some point. Knowing this, there’s no excuse to bury your head in the sand.”

Lori Weinstein, CEO of JWI, said there is something “uniquely Jewish” about women depending on men to manage their finances.

“Judaism is a patriarchal culture — a father takes care of his daughter, and then he marries her to a husband who will take care of her. It comes from a place of love, but it’s very disempowering. Many Jewish women grow up with no sense of money or long-term planning.”

The “Know Your Worth” program won’t allow women to turn their backs on their finances, said Weinstein. She explained how the program emerged from work JWI was doing with victims of domestic violence.

“We’ve done a tremendous amount of work with domestic violence prevention and training,” she said, citing JWI’s national alliance, monthly webinars on domestic violence, and the clergy task force on domestic abuse, a group of clergyman who speak widely about resources and training to end abuse.

“If women aren’t savvy about their finances, they leave themselves vulnerable to financial abuse,” said Weinstein. “It became crystal clear that women who have resources of their own, and know how to manage those resources, have more options and more independence.”

Aside from training women to manage their basic finances post-retirement, the program is also intended to educate women about philanthropy. David Elcott, a professor at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service, recently released a study on Jewish baby boomers. The study found that boomers are more likely than ever to get engaged in Jewish life: 20 percent of boomers surveyed expressed interest in long-term, immersive three-month projects.

“There’s a critical misconception that those who are “in,” meaning active in Jewish life, will stay in and those who are “out” will stay out,” said Elcott. “That’s not how it works. Those who are engaged in Jewish life are not guaranteed to stay engaged, and those who are not engaged at all might be looking for a second chance to get involved.” 

For Jewish women, financial stability is key to engaging in philanthropy, said Elcott. “With financial stability comes financial freedom.”

According to Hadassah’s Weinman, the final component of “Know Your Worth” is educating women about tikkun olam.

“We want to give women the opportunity to engage in Jewish life in a philanthropic way,” she said. “That can only happen when they have a full grasp of their finances. It’s a simple model: first, help yourself. Then you can help others.”