R.I. Jewish women’s philanthropy has a long history, bright future


Rhode Island women have been committed philanthropists within the R.I. Jewish Federation system since 1945, when a Women’s Campaign was initiated as part of the federation. Leah Michaelson chaired that effort, and many women have followed in her footsteps, recognizing the importance of women making their own gifts to the Annual Campaign.

In 1957, a Women’s Division of the federation was established, with Helene Bernhardt serving as the first president. In 1979, the Business & Professional Women’s Division was introduced, for women who were unable to attend daytime meetings but still wanted to be an important part of this endeavor, with Alice Goldstein serving as its first president.

For those who have lived in Rhode Island for many years, the names of the women presidents are probably familiar. (Photos of all of these community trailblazers can be found in frames on the walls of the Patty and Melvin G. Alperin Board Room at the Dwares Jewish Community Center!)

Many years later, a Young Women’s Division was formed, creating a space for younger women to become engaged with the federation.

Along with raising much needed money for local and overseas Jewish organizations, the women’s groups were a place to maintain ties both socially and through meaningful programs.

In 1996, through the foresight of Dee Dee Witman, then president of the Women’s Division, WD2000 was established, with Cheryl Greenfeld Teverow as chair. WD2000 was a strategic planning process to create a road map to take R.I. Jewish women into the next century.

This massive undertaking included women from the Women’s Division and the Business & Professional Women’s Division. The in-depth, across-the-board process examined Jewish women from all over Rhode Island, whether they were involved in the federation or not. Outside consultants were hired to help with surveys done both by phone and in-person, and to help compile the data for reporting and planning purposes.

What evolved from the WD2000 process was a restructuring of the two divisions into the Women’s Alliance. Teverow was its first president.

The group’s mission statement reads: “The mission of the Women’s Alliance shall be to instill a sense of Jewish identity for all women through raising funds in support of JFRI [now the Jewish Alliance of Greater R.I.], diversified programming, leadership development, and community service; and to impart to the community on behalf of the Jewish Alliance the evolving needs of the Jewish people locally, nationally, in Israel and overseas. Every woman who makes a financial contribution in her own name to the annual Women’s Alliance Campaign shall be a member for the ensuing year.”

Gifts to the Jewish Alliance from women are extremely important to the total Alliance Campaign. In 2005, women alone raised $1.1 million!

In 2011, the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island was born, through the merger of the Jewish Federation of R.I., the Bureau of Jewish Education and the Jewish Community Center. With these changes, there was less staff to go around and, in the years since, the Women’s Alliance became dormant (although funds were still raised from women who wanted to give in their own names).

During this time, two former presidents of the Women’s Alliance served as presidents of the Jewish Alliance: Sharon Gaines (2013-2016) and Mitzi Berkelhammer (2016-2019). (Prior to this, Doris Feinberg, a past Women’s Division president, served as the first woman president of the Jewish Federation of R.I., from 2008 to 2011.)

Most recently, the Women’s Alliance has been given the go-ahead to jumpstart its efforts, thanks to the persistence of Janet Goldman, the current chair. This aim is to “Engage, Inspire, and Lead.”

For those on the current working committee, both longtime members and newer members who believe in the power of giving in one’s own name, there is excitement to continue the Women’s Alliance well into tomorrow.

On May 11, the Women’s Alliance will host its first women-only event, featuring Meg Waite Clayton, author of “The Postmistress of Paris.”  For information on this event, go to jewishallianceri.org/events/paris

You can join this group of women who are dedicated to helping Jews in need in greater Rhode Island and around the world by emailing donate@jewishallianceri.org or by calling 401-421-4111.

CHERYL GREENFELD TEVEROW of Providence was the first president of the Women’s Alliance.