(Courtesy of AMIT) For the first time in its 95-year history, AMIT has included men on its board of directors, a move that leadership said widens the tent by bringing in new perspectives, new opinions and new fundraising potential, and dovetails with a trend in America’s corporate boards to create more diversity and gender parity.
The new board of directors and AMIT’s new national president, Audrey Axelrod Trachtman, were elected in June, at which time the five new men were voted to the formerly all-female board of directors. The men, who began their term in September, include Avi Adelsberg of New York, New York; Evan Green of Los Angeles, California; Evan Jerome of New Rochelle, New York; Alexander Luxenberg of Great Neck, Long Island; and Jared Isaac of New York, New York.
“It became clear that we needed a broader range of opinions,” said AMIT Executive Vice President Andrew Goldsmith. “We wanted to broaden the appeal and bandwidth of the organization and we felt the time was right to ask men to join us as part of our communal conversation. We felt it would be a growth opportunity on every level.”
The AMIT board of directors is charged with setting policy and approving strategic plans, among its other duties. Board members are volunteers who contribute their time and money to the organization.
Chief among the reasons for the change, said Axelrod Trachtman, was that as AMIT moved into the 21st century, its internal structure needed to reflect the new times. “The same way AMIT in Israel represents innovation, education and 21st-century skills, I want the board to be a place that is generating new ideas and developing new constituencies, to be a place of dynamism and excitement, and to generate ideas that will continue to help Israel,” she said.
“It felt wrong to completely exclude men from serving as leaders of AMIT,” Axelrod Trachtman said. “Why exclude half the population? You can get a better board if the pool you are selecting from is greater. We are an educational institution. If we want to teach messages to our students, we should be living them.”
While Goldsmith said that while the discussion to open up the board to men “was percolating for a long time,” it wasn’t exactly easy to break from AMIT’s nearly century-old, all-female tradition. “There were strong and very valid feelings,” he said.
For her part, board member Dr. Francine Stein, a past national president of AMIT and currently chairwoman of the board of the American Zionist Movement, said at first, she was not keen on the change because historically there had been very few leadership opportunities for Orthodox Jewish women.
“Initially, I was very hesitant,” said Dr. Stein. “Not because of men, per se, but because of the position of Orthodox Jewish women on the world stage. AMIT was unique in giving Orthodox women leadership roles. With AMIT, we automatically had a seat at the table. While it’s still early to tell, I think the change will be an exciting one.”
First known as Mizrachi Women, AMIT was founded in 1925 by Bessie Gotsfeld, a housewife-turned-Zionist activist, who pushed the “pushke” culture of women dropping a few coins into their tzedakah boxes before lighting Shabbat candles into a full-blown female fundraising movement on behalf of Palestine. Gotsfeld and her cohorts were unhappy with the status quo. Women were doing a good job of raising money, and the men were deciding how it was to be spent. Gotsfeld took the reins of the organization and decided how those funds would be allocated. From its start, AMIT, a woman’s organization, focused on the educational needs of girls and creating a home for disadvantaged children being resettled in Israel. As Jewish history unfolded, AMIT continued to respond to Israel’s needs.
Today, AMIT is considered an educational powerhouse—ranked number one by Israel’s Education Ministry—and serves more than 36,000 children in more than 30 cities in Israel.
Among the newest male board members is Alex Luxenberg, 30, a client partner at Facebook who works with its largest client partners. He has held a number of roles in media and e-commerce, including leading a retail marketplace at INTURN, sales at Twitter, and FP&A at American Express.
As a new member who already has worked with AMIT’s marketing team, Luxenberg said he “hopes to bring my knowledge and background in marketing, branding and social media to AMIT. My first job is to listen, which men could probably do more of in general. I have a lot to learn from the women who lead AMIT and I am excited to gain from their perspectives. Ultimately, AMIT exists to serve the children in Israel, and I hope through my involvement more men become passionate about the cause,” he said.
Likewise, new board member Evan Green, founder and chairman of Personiv, a business process outsourcing company, said he wanted to bring his business acumen and expertise to AMIT. “I think my background in business, as an entrepreneur and as a visionary, are my strengths and I hope to bring new ideas and get traction with those ideas. AMIT is producing miracles and creating breakthroughs, but we can do better. I hope I can add a fresh perspective and an entrepreneurial approach to the issues and challenges confronting the organization,” Green said.
“Men and women are fundamentally different,” Green said. “They have different perspectives and different life experiences. The more diverse, the more powerful any board can be. It’s going to take a wide variety of people and perspectives to fully capitalize and leverage those opportunities.”
Historically, organizations that have stayed true to their founding ideals and mission and have embraced change as necessary not only have staying power, but also the potential to move into the future with great success. That is the hope for AMIT.
For more information, please visit www.amitchildren.org.