If there are glass ceilings in Jewish organizations, Woodcliff Lake resident Paula Cantor has clearly penetrated the invisible barrier holding women back from leadership positions. But the new president of the Bergen County YJCC in Washington Township does not think it’s worth making a fuss over the fact that she is the first woman to hold this position.
"I think everyone else feels that it’s much more unusual than I do," said Cantor, who took over the YJCC leadership in June. "Other people make a fuss over it, but I just think of myself as next in line."
Cantor doesn’t consider herself to be a feminist, she said. "I’m just a person who’s right for the job at the right time."
Cantor has been leading her community for years. She was the first woman president of the United Jewish Community a precursor to UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey and of her high school student council. "I’ve never been held back from doing anything for the Jewish community because I’m a woman," she said, adding, "I’m sure that many more women will follow in my footsteps." There has already been another woman federation president, Eva Gans, since Cantor left the position.
Cantor has many goals for her new presidency. She said she hopes both to gain new members for the YJCC and to keep the old members. She also wants to work on leadership development. In addition, she noted, "We want to see ourselves in context with the greater Jewish community, and do what’s best for the community as a whole." Cantor said she feels "excited and challenged" by her task. As a member of the YJCC board, she initiated two projects that she hopes to continue this year. The first, the annual YJCC Israel Family Experience which she co-chairs with Julie Eisen introduces participants to Israel through what Cantor calls an "intense, personal, and wonderful trip." The Jewish Learning Project, Cantor’s second venture, brings scholars to the community for one-day symposia, followed by three weeks of discussions led by local rabbis.
This summer, the YJCC engaged in projects such as Open Hearts, Open Homes, which brought Israeli children to America for three weeks’ respite from the situation in Israel. The Israeli youngsters lived in members’ homes and went to the YJCC’s teen camp. "Israeli children had the opportunity to forget about everything aside from being children," said Cantor. She added that the program "established wonderful relationships between American host families and the children."
Also this summer, the YJCC ran a theater program for youngsters, as a way to teach them self-confidence and how to work with others, as well as Camp Shalom for disabled children.
"I think that right now, we Jews in America take a lot for granted," Cantor said. "We have become very comfortable as Jews." However, she noted, "when all is said and done, we need [the YJCC] for future generations, to keep the Jewish community strong. We do wonderful things."