Meet Elise Rubenstein

For the past 13 years, Elise Rubenstein has been making a difference as a member of the Jewish Women’s Giving Foundation (JWGF), a giving circle that empowers women to make funding decisions for programs that affect women and girls. She’s played a major role in determining how grants will be allocated and for the past two years, she has served as chair of JWGF. As she winds down her two-year term as chair, Elise talks about the role she’s played and how important the program is to the community.

How did you first become involved in JWGF? 
Fourteen years ago, my dear friend Alyson Friedman told me that she was starting a new program with The Associated and asked me to join. I told her that it sounded interesting, but that I wanted to see how the first year went. What piqued my interest was the fact that all types of women were being asked to come around a table and make a difference together. The next year, I joined JWGF and have been a member ever since!

How has the group responded to community needs? 
With the way our grant cycle works, our site visits of potential grant recipients take place in the early spring followed by a voting session in May. Two years ago, we encountered the Baltimore riots during the time of our site visits. As we met with executive directors of different organizations here in Baltimore, I knew that we had the ability to make a big impact. As we came around the voting table, we made the decision to keep 80 percent of our dollars in Baltimore. It was inspiring to see how our group came together to recognize an immediate need and respond.

Why was it important to participate in a giving opportunity that targeted women and girls? 
Unfortunately, there are fewer opportunities available to women and girls. We are helping women in all walks of life get the support and skills they need to make it on their own. Our grants have helped women overcome homelessness and abuse to become financially independent. Our work with middle and high school girls often funds mentoring and skill building programs that will enable many of these girls to be the first in their families to go to college.

What have you learned from the other women in JWGF? 

These women around the table are so passionate, intelligent, committed and dedicated to making the lives of women and girls better. Through the work of JWGF, members are not only philanthropists, but businesswomen. Many of us would not have the evaluation and financial acumen without this experience.

I’d be remiss if I did not mention that we have all learned so much about our Jewish community and greater Baltimore community through the grantmaking process. This knowledge has been eye-opening and inspiring for us all.

What did you hope to accomplish in your term as chair of JWGF? 

As my term comes to an end, I feel proud of what we have accomplished over the past two years. I am thrilled that we could make our first multi-year grant last year. I have worked to make our grantmaking process more strategic and equitable. We have also grown by 50 members since I began my term! It has been a joy and privilege to serve as chair and I am confident that JWGF will continue to do great things as it moves forward. It has also been great to work with such a dynamic professional partner as Jennifer Millman.

Why do you feel philanthropy is so important? Does your family practice philanthropy together? 
Since joining JWGF I have discovered my passion for philanthropy. There is no feeling quite like the one I have after giving and helping others. I can’t contain myself when I come home from a site visit – I must tell my family all about what I saw and learned. In fact, after having visited an organization that tutors middle school-aged girls, I encouraged my daughter to seek a similar organization in her community. And she did! She has been tutoring the same girl for the past two years and hopes to continue through the student’s high school years.

If you are interested in learning more about JWGF, contact Jennifer Millman at or 410-369-9205. 

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