Jewish Star Schools

Touro salutes chesed


There were no caps and gowns and “pomp and circumstance” could not be heard in the background. What was palpable at this commencement of the Chesed Leadership Program was a heavy dose of gratitude, camaraderie and commitment to growth. 

Graduates of the Chesed Leadership Program, a fellowship designed to nurture and advance Orthodox Jewish women leading nonprofit and social service organizations, are leading a variety of critical organizations in the community and many are mothers and grandmothers with full time jobs whose charitable work is voluntary and represents a commitment to a cause by which they were personally touched.

Over the course of the six month fellowship, a partnership between UJA-Federation of NY, Lander College for Women and the Touro College Graduate School of Social Work, the women explored key topics in organizational development and strategic planning, volunteer and board development, public relations and social media, fundraising, financial management, technology and human resources. 

“The program exceeded all expectations we had when we conceived of this initiative,” said Dr. Marian Stoltz-Loike, dean of Touro’s Lander College for Women/The Anna Ruth and Mark Hasten School and Vice President of Online Education at Touro College.

“The participants are not assuming others will do the tough job of serving those in need, but rather they take responsibility upon themselves. They are thinking, listening, asking questions and committed to transforming the world with their actions.”

According to Leba Schwebel, commencement speaker and director of the Amatz Initiative, “As Jews we must always be thankful. When you translate the Hebrew word ‘L’hodot,’ it has a dual meaning —- to thank and also to admit. When we thank someone, we are admitting that we needed their help. Today I represent all of the Chesed Leadership Program participants when I thank the organizers at UJA and Touro and admit that the education you provided to us was so needed. You helped us become better leaders and improve our service to our communities.”              

 “Before I started this program, I was running an organization but I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” continued Schwebel. “I learned so much about nonprofit management and planning and now I have goals to reach that will help me do my job so much better. It was a privilege to be part of a group of women who care so much about other Jews, people who have used their own challenges to feel the pain of others and create positive change. Each participant in this program is performing acts of courage and each one is positioned to fill a role that only she can fulfill. This program taught us how to actualize our potential.”

The organizations led by the first-ever class of Chesed Leadership Program participants run the gamut of needs in the Jewish community and include the following: Bread for Israel, Satmar Bikur Cholim of Boro Park, Be’er Hagola Institutes, Kapayim, BINA Stroke and Brain Injury Assistance, Jew in the City/Project Makom, Knafayim/Wings of Hope, Project Menucha, Amatz Initiative, Sephardic Bikur Cholim and RISE: A hotline for families of the disabled. 

“The shidduch between Touro and UJA went so well,” said Dr. Steven Huberman, dean of the Touro College Graduate School of Social Work, “that we are going to continue this program next year. As with all graduations, this is not the end but the beginning. Some incredible relationships resulted from this program and we want to keep forging those connections and helping the community.”

Each of the Chesed Leadership Program participants was paired with a mentor who is a seasoned nonprofit executive. Mentors are working one-on-one with participants to expand on what was covered in the classes, answer questions specific to the needs of a particular organization and help students with planning for the future.

“I have gained tremendously from the Chesed Leadership program. The invaluable lessons that I have learned from the classes and from my mentor, range from grant writing to leadership skills. I am inspired by the wonderful women I have met through this program and in awe of the incredible programs and organizations that they have established to meet the needs of the Orthodox community, “ said Chaya Travis, Director of Counseling Center, Sephardic Bikur Cholim.

 Her words were echoed by another program participant, Yitty Fisch of Kapayim, an organization dedicated to helping seriously ill children and their families. “I was privileged to unite with like-minded women who are dedicated to making a difference. Each session opened up new vistas of knowledge and taught us the structure and nuts and bolts of running a smooth operation. Most importantly, the Chesed Leadership Program showed me that passion and vision for a cause are critical in order to be successful.”

 The commencement program took a surprise turn when participants came to the podium with gifts for the program leadership and both Touro and UJA. The ceremony ended with a time honored tradition as Chesed Leadership Program Director, Cynthia Darrison, presented each participant with a certificate of completion. “I won’t say goodbye,” said Darrison, “All I can say is ‘see you later’ because we are all going to be in touch and continue learning with and from each other as we continue to build the Jewish community.”

 Women leading nonprofit organizations in the Orthodox community who are interested in more information or who wish to apply for the next Chesed Leadership Program cohort should contact Professor Elhanan Marvit at

About the Touro College and University System

Touro is a system of non-profit institutions of higher and professional education. Touro College was chartered in 1970 primarily to enrich the Jewish heritage, and to serve the larger American and global community. Approximately 18,000 students are currently enrolled in its various schools and divisions. Touro College has 30 campuses and locations in New York, California, Nevada, Berlin, Jerusalem and Moscow. New York Medical College; Touro University California and Touro University Nevada; Touro University Worldwide and its Touro College Los Angeles division; as well as Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Ill. are separately accredited institutions within the Touro College and University System. For further information on Touro College, please visit