For local women, Lions conference is poignant, enlightening

Tucson women at the International Lion of Judah Conference in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 12, (L-R): Ellyn Gold, Shelly Silverman, Phyllis Maizlish, Leslie Glaze, Karen Katz, Judy Berman, Jody Gross, Melissa Goldfinger and Fran Katz (Courtesy Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona)

A delegation of nine Lions of Judah from Tucson attended the biennial international conference in Washington, D.C. to discuss philanthropic programs, ideas and stories of strength.

Judy Berman, a local philanthropist, has been a Lion for about 10 years. She has attended three conferences thus far but this year’s event was life-changing, she says.

“I doubled my pledge this year after realizing what good work the Lions do all over the world,” says Berman. “The conference was so uplifting and amazing, and I loved the fact that each speaker was better than the next.”

The International Lion of Judah Conference hosts philanthropic Jewish women from the United States, Canada and Israel who contribute at least $5,000 to the Jewish Federations of North America, with 13,000 women meeting the charity threshold this year alone.

The conference ran from Sept. 11-13, and featured multiple guest speakers including Madeleine Albright, former U. S. Secretary of State; Tom Ridge, first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security; and Mara Liasson, political correspondent for National Public Radio, who will be speaking at the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona “Together”  community event on Nov. 16.

Berman’s husband, Phillip, who was a former Ironman athlete, contracted a form of non-smoker’s lung cancer and died in 2009. For many years the pain was overwhelming, she says. But this year’s conference showed her that how you handle personal anguish and move forward speaks volumes.

“What I realized at this conference was that everyone that got up and spoke had some sort of traumatic experience happen to them in their lifetime. Yet they somehow picked themselves up and made a difference in the world,” she says. “And I think, as Jews, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing.”

The political climate in the United States and questions about national support of Israel were among the many reasons Berman attended the event.

“I wanted to be an informed Jewish voter,” Berman says.

During the three-day event, Berman did meet some women from other cities but more important she grew closer to her Tucson “shtetl,” she says. “There’s some type of security in bonding you get, being with each other at a conference like that.”

Fern Feder, who died on Aug. 23, posthumously received the Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award, an honor dedicated to outstanding leaders and philanthropists, for her extensive volunteer efforts in the Tucson community.

Ellyn Gold, originally from Chicago, joined the Lions this year. One of the deciding factors for Gold and her husband, Jeff, was that some of their donation would fund programs in Tucson, she says.

Gold was especially impressed by the noteworthy guest speakers at the conference.

“The politicians in particular were very engrossing, very knowledgeable and very articulate,” she says.

Since she began socializing with local Lions, Gold has always felt warmly welcomed, she says, and experiencing the camaraderie on a national level left a lasting impression.

“The closeness of the women who are coming and the purpose for which they come was very touching,” Gold says. “The sisterhood, the focus and purpose was well defined, and felt very good.”

The Lions that led Tucson’s pride this year were Phyllis Maizlish, Jody Gross, Shelly Silverman, JFSA Senior Vice President Fran Katz, Leslie Glaze, Melissa Goldfinger, Ellyn Gold, Judy Berman and Karen Katz; delegation head Deanna Evenchick was unable to attend due to an illness.