Barbara Kaufman, former president and now program chair of the National Council Section that will host Gloria Steinem Sept. 21, said the group is “always interested in finding speakers who share the same point of view we do – pro-women, pro-children, pro-families.”
She pointed out that the Bergen County Section, with some 1,200 members, is one of the largest contingents in the 100,000-member national volunteer organization.
Kaufman, a Bergenfield resident who has been a member of the group for some 45 years – though she was not active during the years she pursued her own career in public relations – remembers that “the key issues in the 1960s were equal pay, still a key issue, and a woman’s right to work. In those days, men were leaders of the workforce and there were few women heads of companies.”
“Women were in a whole different place,” she said, noting that most of her peers were stay-at-home moms. But at a time when activists such as Betty Friedan were encouraging women to become more independent, “many of my friends went to graduate school and then went back to work.”
Kaufman pointed out that the history of NCJW itself reflects the changing role of women. According to the group’s website, in 1893 Hannah G. Solomon of Chicago was asked to organize the participation of Jewish women in the Chicago World’s Fair. When Solomon and her recruits discovered that participation would consist of pouring coffee and other hostess duties, they walked out.
“They wanted to become part of the brain trust,” said Kaufman, adding that today’s NCJW president, Nancy Ratzan, was appointed to the White House Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in 2009 by President Obama and was present for the signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act.
Despite such legislative gains, Lisa Fedder, executive director of the Teaneck-based Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson, said that the issue of equal pay has yet to be resolved.
Fedder, whose agency includes a Job Search Network, said that she has not seen obstacles to women getting jobs.
“In fact,” she said, “and recent findings reflect this, it is sometimes easier for women to find work, perhaps because they are generally paid less than men for equal work.” She estimated that women earn about 80 percent of what men do.
In addition, she noted, “There are some issues resulting from women leaving the workforce for years to raise children and having a hard time getting back at the same level or higher.”
“We have also seen a lot of women who were homemakers who have been forced into the job market because of the economy. They have had a very hard time getting the skills necessary for today’s workforce and translating their activities into a rÃ©sumÃ© that will catch [an employer’s] eye.”
She said the agency’s Job Search Network, which collects and publicizes job listings, can help women deal with some of these problems through career counseling, job search coaching, support groups, and computer training.