Stosh Cotler, the outspoken CEO of Bend the Arc, will speak at the fall event of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s Women of Vision program on Sept. 14 at Germantown Jewish Centre.
Cotler’s organization is “building the power and passion of the progressive Jewish movement in America by bringing together Jews from across the country to advocate and organize for a more just and equal society,” according to its website.
And Cotler said she won’t hold back when discussing the role women now play in society.
“Men and boys certainly do have a role to play in the changes we want to see in broader society and the [Jewish] community,” Cotler said. “Women working together and celebrating each other can provide a real validation. But right now some of the issues they’re focusing on have not made it to the communal agenda. My hope and feeling is that having these events, where women are front and center on these issues, they become part of the mainstream conversation.
“These are critical issues not just for women and girls, but for all of us.”
At Bend the Arc, Cotler’s focus has been on creating social awareness, which has led the organization to strongly oppose much of President Donald Trump’s agenda. But she’ll keep politics out of it when she addresses the Women of Vision, even though she believes Bend the Arc’s philosophy is more aligned with the public than many realize.
“Bend the Arc’s positions and work on issues are turning out to be at the dead center of what a majority of American Jews think, believe and vote,” said Cotler, who moved up from executive vice president to CEO in 2014. “Our positions on immigration or voting rights or criminal justice reform really reflect what American Jews believe.
“We’re not taking stances outside the communal consensus. What’s different and makes others take notice is that for a long time we have lost many of the Jewish communal institutions with the boldness to speak out as Bend the Arc does. It’s not to say there aren’t other organizations who are speaking out. But what has happened over the past several decades is that more of the Jewish communal institutions that were claiming to speak on behalf of the Jewish community have, in many ways, pulled back.”
That’s one reason she’s eager to come to Philadelphia, one of many stops on a busy schedule that included Los Angeles, San Francisco and Boston.
“All of us are interested in what we can do to support thriving women and girls, knowing when they’re set for success that not only do they flourish, but the rest of society reaches higher levels of prosperity and vitality at every level,” she said. “These are women who seek the root causes of injustice. It’s why they’re being proactive in their philanthropy. They’re very motivated and know how to get things done.”
So does Cotler, who’s well aware that as important as these women are now, it’s critical to reach the next generation as soon as possible.
“Everyone’s trying to find the thing that will attract younger Jews,” Cotler said. “Our explicit focus on social justice has attracted a large number younger Jews, many of whom may have no other formal connection to the [Jewish] community. This is clearly one way to develop and deepen their Jewish identity. Young women need to see they have a place at the table so that we can develop the next generation of Jewish leadership.”
Outgoing Women of Vision Chair Penni Blaskey, who’ll be honored at the event, agrees.
“Part of the things we’ve been learning about sexual assault on campus and with child sex trafficking, is without having men hear the message, we will be much less effective,” she said. “So it is important to try to have men as part of the dialogue, discussion and education.”
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