Dana Post Adler of Tenafly was sitting on a train to Washington, D.C., when she got a call from Lesley Burkeman, an old friend in London. “Dana, have you heard of the Lions of Judah?” Ms. Burkeman asked.
Ms. Adler smiled as she touched the Lions of Judah pin on her chest.
Indeed, not only had she heard about the global Jewish philanthropic organization, but she already was one of the 17,500 women around the world who are proud Lions of Judah. They earn that status by donating at least $5,000 to their local Jewish federation every year, funds that go toward charitable projects at home, in Israel, and in Jewish communities abroad.
So when Ms. Burkeman told Ms. Adler that she was involved in the United Jewish Israel Appeal’s revival of the Lions of Judah UK chapter, which had been dormant for a decade, Ms. Adler decided to fly to London with her two teenage daughters for the group’s inaugural dinner, which was held over the Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend.
“I wanted to set an example for my girls about spreading the strength of women and really taking the future into our own hands,” Ms. Adler said. “Lions of Judah is about women empowering themselves by making a gift in their own name to strengthen Jewish continuity and inspiring others to do the same.”
Ms. Adler, her husband, Jim, and their son, Harrison, went to live in London in 1998. They stayed there for 4 1/2 years, during which time their daughter Caroline was born; Eliana was born once the family came back to the United States. Ms. Adler became close friends with several Jewish women in England — including Ms. Burkeman — through her involvement in Young Presidents Organization, a global network of young chief executives.
“These women became like my sisters,” Ms. Adler said. “They had a huge impact on me as a young woman and as a Jew living in Britain. They really embraced my husband and me and our son and included us in their Jewish lifecycle events. In my view, they never took their Judaism for granted; they always insisted on Friday night dinners with family even if they were not religious.”
In 2002 the family returned to New Jersey, and Ms. Adler was invited to become a Lion of Judah. At the dinner in London, she talked about her experiences over the past 16 years, including the opportunity to accompany 71 Ethiopian Jews on their journey to a new life in Israel.
“Being a Lion of Judah has taken me on both a physical and philanthropic journey that has enriched my life in so many ways,” she said. “I have been to the exotic reaches of eastern Africa, met with the Jewish communities of Berlin, Argentina, and Chile, and have made personal relationships in Israel and at home. I consider myself so lucky to have traveled to see my dollars in action.”
As a board member of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey and co-president of its Women’s Philanthropy Board, Ms. Adler takes an active role in how Lions of Judah contributions are allocated. (She also sits on the National Women’s Philanthropy Board of Jewish Federations of North America.)
The 44 guests at the dinner in London also heard from Israeli Lions of Judah Ruth Oren and Sigal Bar-On. The event raised £111,000, and 37 British women pledged to form a cabinet of founder members.
UJIA trustee and Lions of Judah UK Chairwoman Karen Goodkind announced that in its first year, Lions of Judah UK will fund a UJIA-supported mentoring program in Israel called Youth Futures, for at-risk children ranging from 8 to 18 years old. Founding members also will allocate financial support to another project of their choice.
Ms. Adler told them how philanthropic activities far from home can have a very personal impact. Two years ago, when her son, Harrison, joined the Israel Defense Forces as a lone soldier, she was unable to attend his induction ceremony. So she asked women from the JFNNJ’s partner city of Nahariya to go in her place.
“Five incredible women drove to Harrison’s base with candy, chocolates, smiles, and love,” she said. “They were able to send photographs and videos in real time, and although I could not be there myself, they made me feel as if I was there. Suddenly I was not just a donor, I was not just a Lion of Judah, I was a recipient of the incredible strength and power and love of women’s philanthropy.”
Some of the Lions of Judah UK leaders may go to the International Lions of Judah conference in Miami next January, Ms. Adler said. “We’re hoping we can meet and mentor each other. Who knows what kinds of great things can happen if we work together?”