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NCJW Honors Local ‘Sheroes’

Four women were honored for their tikkun olam approach to service and volunteering.

By Marcia Caller Jaffe | Atlanta Jewish Times

Crowd of more than 270 women enjoying lunch at tables in ballroom.

More than 270 women set the attendance record for the fifth annual NCJW lunch.

More than 270 women (and a few supportive men) gathered at The Temple on Peachtree for the fifth annual National Council of Jewish Women’s “Women Who Dare” luncheon on April 12 to celebrate a panel of “sheroes” — Paige Alexander, Gabby Spatt, Ronnie van Gelder, and Cheryl Yagoda.

Immediate past NCJW president Sherry Frank stated, “This year’s turnout is by far the largest. Especially meaningful is honoring different generations. NCJW is stronger than ever and should be really proud.”

Temple Rabbi Lydia Medwin offered a rousing invocation addressing the past year in which “not a soul in this room has not had heartache over hostages, rapes, and innocents swept up in war.” She summarized the audience as being “brilliant, talented, well read, tired and nervous.”

Her fall back is the Torah’s mention of truth and love … the need for safety, peace, and for truth to become justice. “Love is the vehicle for healing; and chesed means action and humility. This is our yoga pose.”

After lunch, Co-President Stacey Hader Epstein relayed specific projects that NCJW fostered ranging from reproductive health to a teen pilot program. She stated, “This year, more than 50 Atlanta-area rabbis and cantors are part of NCJW’s Rabbis/Clergy for Repro initiative. During our annual Repro Shabbat … several of these clergy spoke from their pulpits or held study sessions looking at abortion through a Jewish lens.”

Four smiling women standing together.

Four “sheroes” were honored: (from left) Paige Alexander, Gabby Spatt, Ronnie van Gelder, and Cheryl Yagoda.

Susan Gordon and Stacey Hader Epstein

NCJW Co-Presidents Susan Gordon and Stacey Hader Epstein spoke of the meaningful projects in NCJW’s Year of Impact.

She noted the sponsorship of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival entry, “Without Precedent: The Supreme Life of Rosalie Abella,” and the importance of staying on top of legislative bills. She closed by emphasizing, “Remember, May 21 is a primary election, and expected to have a low turnout. The votes of the people in this room can make quite an impact!”

Then, fellow Co-President Susan Gordon spoke of NCJW’s literary program in Title 1 schools, as well as a program where kids could select from 2,500 pieces of jewelry for their loved ones. She lauded the countless volunteer hours for delivering post-abortion care kits, sandwiches, baby kits, coordinating with Jewish Family & Career Services on Shalom Bayit, and working with immigrant women.
A lively video featured each “shero” who ended their segment in a cape saluting their own “sheroes,” many of whom were their own mothers.

Paige Alexander is active globally affecting positive change (see her Ted Talk, “When You Inform Women, You Transform Lives”) and gladly returned to Atlanta, her hometown, to be the CEO of the Carter Center.

Gabby Spatt was recognized for her advocacy in the arena of Jewish mental health. She said, “I’m not afraid to talk about these tough topics based on personal experiences, like with my sister.” She also noted her service in the multicultural space with the Jewish Black Coalition.

Gabby Spatt, Dr. Arthur Bodner, and Cheryl Yagoda.

Dr. Arthur Bodner (center) was proud of daughter, Cheryl Yagoda (right), and co-honoree Gabby Spatt (left).

Honoree Ronnie van Gelder shared about her years working for the American Jewish Committee, followed by 25 years at The Temple. She said, “I always felt that Jews should be a light unto the nations … Atlanta is cohesive when necessary … doing good work for the city at-large and connecting to elected officials.”

Her humor included, “Because of my advocacy, my children are afraid that the FBI is going to come knocking on my door.”

Last up (only because of the alphabet), Cheryl Yagoda dared to challenge the health care system when her young son, Ian, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. She established Ian’s Friends Foundation as a mission for change and research. “Now, Ian is a college student; and $1.5 million has been raised chiefly because of the Jewish community.” She saluted her twin daughters who call Ian five times a day to check on him. “Family is the most important thing!”

One of the generational families, longstanding community leader Marilyn Shubin, stepped back in time to share her original inspiration beginning with a book by Hannah Solomon, “Fabric of My Life,” as her foremother inspiration for philanthropy and leaving grandchildren a foundation for religious education.

Before arriving in Atlanta, Shubin’s journey included Philadelphia and Cleveland, where she said “yes” to everything and learned about the power of volunteerism. Earlier in the program, Marilyn’s progeny, Debbie Shubin Levinson and Molly Shubin Light, made opening remarks.

Earlier, attorney and future NCJW Secretary Deborah Harris told the AJT, “NCJW works on many levels to help families, mothers, and children. We’re also vigilant about monitoring federal and state judges.”

Dr. Mimi Zieman exclaimed, “We are here celebrating women doing amazing things in the community!”