Community StudyFrom day 1, our founders knew that we needed data. Real numbers to tell us what the needs are for Atlanta’s Jewish women and girls. Last year we invested in ourselves and hired a research team from Brandeis University to conduct a year-long needs assessment here in our backyard. It wasn’t enough to take anecdotal evidence as fact; we wanted research. We needed the proof that the issues affecting the greater community were affecting women in the Jewish community. Now we have that confirmation.
JWFA Announces Results of Groundbreaking Study on Needs of Jewish Women in Atlanta
ATLANTA, GA, March 18, 2020 – A landmark study conducted by researchers at Brandeis University’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies, on behalf of Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta (JWFA), has uncovered critical new details regarding challenges faced by Jewish women and girls in Atlanta. The study is the first of its kind to delve into issues specific to this population. Themes exposed through the study include ongoing work-life balance for both teens and working women, resulting mental health struggles and an increase in anxiety and stress levels, and the need for quality mentor resources for women and girls within our community.
“To our knowledge, this is the first in-depth look at core issues affecting Jewish women in a particular geographic area,” says Rachel Wasserman, Executive Director of JWFA. “These findings will not only inspire a healthy and robust conversation within the broader Jewish community, they provide a unique window into the lives of women and girls, their hidden struggles and the ways in which we can work to help them address those ongoing challenges.”
Prior to the launch of the study, JWFA convened a Jewish Community Needs Assessment Taskforce to serve as the main lay leadership advisory group for the community study, representing Jewish Family & Career Services, Sojourn, Jump Spark, the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, and Jewish HomeLife. Data collection began in summer 2019, concluded in early 2020 and goes well beyond standard Jewish community demographics.
JWFA engaged the Maurice and Marilyn Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies (Cohen Center) at Brandeis University, a renowned multi-disciplinary research institute dedicated to the study of American Jewry and religious and cultural identity. The Cohen Center provided a skilled research team led by principal researcher, Fern Chertok, who used the most advanced techniques to create a high-quality survey and generate reliable and relevant findings. Key learnings include constituent wants and needs both personally and professionally; the urgent call to redefine “having it all”; as well as behaviors and attitudes that mirror issues of significance confronted by all working women in the 21st century.
“When the Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta set out to conduct the first study that would uncover issues of critical importance to Jewish women in our community, we were hoping to collect input from enough women locally to ensure that our data was thorough, accurate, and meaningful,” says Andrea Jaron, Chair of JWFA. “When all was said and done, nearly 800 Jewish working women participated in our survey, giving us an unprecedented look into their challenges, hopes for the future, and most urgent areas of opportunity to make a positive impact in their lives.”
In addition to the working women survey, JWFA’s research also included focus groups, key informant interviews with community leaders, both lay and professional, educators, rabbis, thought leaders and local activists. The study’s findings create a virtual roadmap of vital guidelines to identify a path forward in terms of communal funding, policy, and planning. The results of the survey generated a multitude of actionable findings that meet the long-term needs and priorities of JWFA and represent a broad spectrum of perspectives.
“I’ve worked on multiple Community Needs Assessments over the years and the JWFA study is significant because it gave me the chance ask specific questions of Jewish women that we’ve never had occasion to ask before,” says lead Brandeis researcher, Fern Chertok. “Most Community Studies are demographic in nature, but JWFA wanted to go deeper into the primary interests, needs, and concerns of Jewish women and girls. For instance, one of the findings that struck me was the desire for female mentors to provide emotional support and stress relief for both teen girls and adult women. It was clear through our discussions with the teens that forming meaningful relationships with adults outside of their family, is an invaluable source of support. Likewise, the working women we spoke with bemoaned the lack of access to quality mentors to serve as sounding boards, role models and coaches. If addressed properly, increased access to mentors could conceivably alleviate some of the work-life balance struggles within both these populations.”
The parallels between the many of the challenges experienced by working women and teen girls were strikingly similar. The studies found that both groups grapple with an ever-increasing pressure to be perfect, to exceed already impossibly high expectations, and anxieties stemming from a drive to excel in all areas of life while still attending to their personal needs and the needs of others around them. Both populations live with the daily challenge of feeling they must “do it all,” and that failure to do so will result in irrevocable damage to their futures. JWFA is already working on a variety of initiatives to raise awareness of these key concerns and will continue to explore ways in which the organization can create social change surrounding these life-long issues.
“February’s Change the Culture Summit was directly related to the findings that came out of the working women report,” notes Wasserman. “That program garnered the highest attendance rate of almost any event JWFA has ever hosted. I think that speaks to the fact that the themes uncovered in these reports truly paint a narrative of the life-long challenges women in our community are facing, beginning in their teens and continuing throughout adulthood. If we come up with solutions designed to address these issues earlier in the lives of Jewish women, we can reduce the chances that these same issues will continue to negatively impact their lives in the future.”
JWFA will further delve into issues surround sexual harassment raised within the study by hosting the regional premier of the documentary feature, Nevertheless, on March 29 at 7pm. The film shines a light behind the headlines of #MeToo and Time’s Up, through intimate stories of individuals who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace or school context. The screening will be followed by a panel discussion that will further explore this topic with experts in the field.