Juggling Act


As she sat down for lunch at a Midtown restaurant, Sandy Cahn set her cell phone on the table. Within minutes, a client was calling. Minutes later, the phone rang regarding an appointment later that day at UJA-Federation.

Cahn, 50, who in July will become the first full-time working woman to head UJA-Federation’s Women’s Campaign, is already juggling her workload. She is not only vice president of sales for The Weeks, Lerman Co., an office supply and furniture company in Maspeth, Queens, but chair of the Women’s Campaign in Manhattan, where she lives.

"I have to produce [for my employer] or they will throw me out because I’m a salesperson," Cahn told The Jewish Week as she sipped a bowl of soup.

Asked how she will manage chairing the entire Women’s Campaign of UJA-Federation, Cahn laughed.

"My day will never end," she said. Although Cahn has no children, in addition to her career, she currently serves as board director for FEGS-Federation Employment and Guidance Services, and as Northeast regional chair of national UJA’s Women’s Campaign; her passions include travel, Israel, and appropriately, power-walking.

Cahn’s selection comes at the same time national UJA has for the first time chosen a full-time working woman, Anne-Louise Klepper of Chicago, to become national chair of the Women’s Campaign. Klepper is a partner in a law firm.

Susan Stern, the current chair of UJA-Federation’s Women’s Campaign, observed that making a full-time working woman chair "reflects the reality of women today" and demonstrates that the position is open to virtually every woman.

Cahn said that when she assumes her new position, her goal will be to increase by 10 percent the money raised by the 53-year-old Women’s Campaign, which last year was $18.2 million, about one-sixth of the funds raised by the overall campaign. In addition, she said she will strive to increase the number of women who have created planned-giving endowments for UJA-Federation. Currently 38 women have established such endowments and Cahn said she would like to see the number rise to 200 by the end of the year 2000.

She said she created her own such endowment "to ensure the work I love and worked so hard to achieve continues after I’m gone."

Cahn confesses she knew nothing about the United Jewish Appeal until her honeymoon 22 years ago, when she and her husband went on a UJA mission to Poland, Romania and Israel.

"I was so taken with the work they do that I came back and joined their Business and Professional Women’s Division of the Womenís Campaign," she said. "I was working full-time and this was the only group that met in the evenings and mornings to accommodate a working woman’s schedule. It was a great group in which to network, and some of my dearest friends are from that group."

"What really motivates me is knowing the work we do here and in 58 other countries," said Cahn. "Since that first trip to Israel on my honeymoon, I’ve been back 20 times. I’ve also been to many other countries in which we work, most recently Uzbekistan and the Crimea."

Cahn said she plans to reach out to all Jewish women to convince them that UJA-Federation is the "place to be for women: no matter what their age, if they work or not, or how much time they have, and expose them to the work we do."

She plans to direct a particular effort to reach out to women 50 and older.

"We need to realize what a wonderful resource they are," Cahn explained. "We want them to know we care about them and that we are going to make a place for many of them in the Womenís Executive Circle."

She was referring to a 300-member group she started two years ago with Alexandra Lebenthal, president of Lebenthal & Co. It is for women who are CEOs, CFOs, senior corporate partners, and major business owners.

Cahn noted that just hours before her interview with The Jewish Week, she had breakfast with Barbara Kavovit, president of Anchor Construction in Manhattan, to explain the work of UJA-Federation. Kavovit was so impressed with what she heard, that by the end of the breakfast, Cahn said, she agreed to join the board of the Women’s Executive Circle.

"These are visible women who are at the highest level [of their profession] in the community," said Cahn, who serves as the group’s board chair. "The mission of the group is to mentor young Jewish business women, to give back something to the Jewish community.

"These women are the ultimate role models. What this group shows to the Jewish community is that there is a place in the campaign for women, no matter if they have lots of volunteer time or not. Women need to be connected to UJA-Federation and the Jewish community."

Cahn said they also work with the Young Women’s Division to help train future leaders.

Stern said that by establishing the Women’s Executive Circle, Cahn had "identified a whole new group of high-powered women and created a place for them in UJA-Federation, where they never had a place before. She brought them in on their own terms. They are learning about the campaign, and she is finding out what their needs are."

"Sandy has more energy and passion and knowledge about the campaign [and the needs of the people] than almost anybody I know," said Stern.

Once Cahn becomes chair, Stern will assume the new position of Women’s Campaign president, working on strategic planning and developing new initiatives.

Mady Harman, who headed the nominating committee for the Women’s Campaign, said Cahn was "pretty much a favorite of the committee because she comes with a terrific passion for what she does. She believes so fervently in the campaign and the good it can do."

Harman said UJA-Federation wanted to tap into the expertise Cahn has garnered as Northeast chair.

"We felt that the Women’s Campaign in New York is changing in character because even working women who make their gifts through their own industry or professional campaigns are interested in knowing about the activities of the Womenís Campaign," said Harman.

Harman added that the Women’s Campaign has tried to accommodate working women by holding some events in the evening or at lunch time in order to emphasize its attempt to be "an all encompassing women’s philanthropy."