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The Counterpart System

Most of the Jewish community is organized according to a “counterpart” system in which the main organization is the men’s and there is a women’s auxiliary. The main board of the organization is a men’s board, with the women’s auxiliary generally having one slot on it.

This system obtains for all the major religious organizations— Orthodox, Conservative, Reform; the B’nai B’rith, with its B’nai B’rith Women; American ORT Federation, with Women’s American ORT; the Jewish Labor Committee; and various fund-raising organizations from Israel Bonds to Brandeis University’s Women’s Committee. The national UJA has a Women’s Division, as do the local Federation/ UJA campaigns (fund-raising drives).

Women, however, sit on most Boards and committees of local Federations and their agencies. The Boards of the big three “defense” agencies are integrated by gender, as are local community relations councils, smaller national organizations with left-wing or pro-feminist backgrounds, and the Reconstructionist movement.

There are also the Big Three independent women’s organizations: Hadassah, the National Council of Jewish Women, and Pioneer Women. \

The UJA and the UJA/Federation campaign leaders like their Women’s Divisions because they think they encourage what is called “plus giving.” This term means the “extra” amount a woman contributes over and above her husband’s donation which is regarded as the major one. The plus-giving theory is based on the assumption that a husband will decide to give $50,000 and a wife “add on ” another $5,000, thus netting the UJA $55,000—$5,000 more than they would have harvested without the woman’s being solicited by the Women’s Division. It assumes, too, that a couple does not make money decisions together, for example, to give a total of $55,000 as a couple.

The phenomenon of women’s taking paying jobs in great numbers has not led to a push to mainstream them into the trade campaign divisions. What has happened is the establishment of “business and professional” women’s groups within the campaign’s Women’s Divisions in order to bolster them.

Women’s auxiliaries are “safe havens” for many women who want to do good work but who don’t want to change their lives. Many volunteer women leaders justified the Women’s Divisions in the altruistic terms of how they help the campaign and the Jewish people it serves, and bring the campaign into the home. Sociologist Dr. Rela Geffen Monson, however, doubted whether this altruism will carry onto the next generation of women who, she said, “will-want to be in the Federation like the men—for business contacts.”

Jane Rogul, National Director, Israel Bonds Women’s Division, sees the divisions as essential vehicles for “bridging the gap between the men and the women, as only the Women’s Divisions are aware of where the women are and how they can gain their maximum involvement in ways defined differently than they have been in the past.”

Many women active in Women’s Divisions of the UJA/Federations campaigns regard them as “access routes,” in Council of Jewish Federations (CJF) president Shoshana Cardin’s words, rather than deadends, claiming that the majority of women on Federation boards across the country came up from the Women’s Divisions. Actually, the women who have made it through—and out of—the Women’s Divisions tend to be women who have leadership roles in other communal organizations as well.

Sue Stevens, director of the CJF Women’s Division, reports that, at the request of their members, Women’s Divisions in many communities currently sponsor leadership development programs designed to move women in and out of the Divisions into the general community. The courses train women in specialized skills such as public speaking, budget-planning, and employee relations.

Monson believes that the Women’s Divisions can play valuable roles if they serve as advocates for women on such issues as abortion rights and Jewish divorce law, and put pressure on Federations to hire women in executive positions. But she basically believes that as long as the “counterpart” organizational system exists, women will be unable to achieve equality.

Calling the women’s auxiliaries “vestiges of another generation,” Monson said that “as long as [they] exist, women are kept out of the minimum amount of power necessary for impact.” Naomi Levine, former executive director of the American Jewish Congress concluded: “There is no such thing as separate and equal. Separation breeds a kind of inequality.”