A Letter to My Friend, Colleague, & Mentor, the Feminist Nancy Schwartz Sternoff
Nancy Schwartz Sternoff was a fierce woman, mother, Nana, sister, friend, mentor, “gender avenger”, and so much more. She passed away on January 12th from cancer.
I had the honor of working alongside Nancy for nine years, co-creating programs for the Jewish Women’s Funding Network and advising JWFN’s members. I invite you to read about Nancy here. Perhaps her life will inspire you and remind you about the value of working together across generations, being a generous mentor to others, and/or living with a deep appreciation of grace and beauty.
I trust that you are surrounded by the love of friends, family, and caregivers, lots of laughter, comfortable spaces to rest in, and an outpouring of well wishes. I am writing to thank you for the many ways you have contributed to my life.
Remember the first Force for Change gathering in that funky small room with table rows in New York? You and Barbara invited me to bring what I learned from nonprofits and women’s funds in the secular space. You welcomed me into your community despite my dearth of knowledge of any religion (other than being a spiritual seeker in the realm of Eastern philosophy). Thanks to you, I now proudly call myself an honorary JewBu (Jewish Buddhist). You repeatedly encouraged me to use my voice as a social justice activist and advocate for women and girls and you celebrated my irreverent spirit… my impatience for the normal, the staid, and the predictable. Thank you so much for that!
During the first conference we did, with me serving as facilitator, you gave me permission to not have a timed agenda. What a gift that was! You trusted me implicitly. I went on to spend three days delivering on our agreed upon learning outcomes. I did just that, and you were pleased. We developed a rhythm across the generations as we did over the course of eight more gatherings! Each session you would say, “Let’s take a poll about all going to Israel together,” followed immediately by, “And Tuti will join us for her first time in Israel.” In March 2018, with our trip, “Israel Through a Feminist Lens,” you delivered on that promise. I am so grateful I got to go with you.
Walking through Israel with my Jewish mentors is something I will never forget. Living and learning about Israeli culture and feminism alongside you was an incredible experience. The images of you leading our small group on the food tour with your always present scarf and dapper shoes are exquisite memories I will never forget. Better still, I got to go to Israel with my one dear love, Liz Wolfson. On top of your support of my work, I am grateful for your genuine excitement for our shared love! You sent champagne to Liz and me in Gloucester. Classy. Elegant. Tasteful. Thank you for always leading with such style and heart.
I deferred to your wise southern Jewish voice and wish I had direct quotes of your repeated messages at those Force for Change gatherings. They all centered around women being bolder, speaking truth to power, forging partnerships, and embracing advocacy. You used your own voice with courage, and you persevered. I loved how you commanded the room despite your petite frame, asking us, “Why not?” whenever we all bumped up against a difficult subject of conversation.
We share a deep belief in advocacy, shifting policy, investing in innovative “entrepreneurial feminists”, and coalition building. You did so much of this work alongside Barbara Dobkin for decades. I got to watch you tirelessly convey your beliefs to anyone who would listen. Thank you for never backing down from a challenging conversation. You supported me using my own version of “southern grace” to enter and exit those teaching and learning moments. I will take your courage with me.
Nancy, you and I wanted the gender lens giving and investing movement to be more of a front page, mainstream issue. I am honored that with the Slingshot workbook in development, we are making this happen, starting in the Jewish millennial philanthropic community. I am in awe of the team we have assembled to bring this to the public. I promise you that I will find more partners to bring our work on gender lens giving and investing to more communities. My latest thinking is to help create a guide for the Buddhist, Muslim, and lesbian feminist communities with co-authors from these communities.
This fall was the 10th year of my business. When I look back at my clients, I remember you saying to me (at least three times in one year!) that I needed to charge more money. Thank you for encouraging me to value my knowledge, time, and talent.
Our last conversation was about you inviting me to look at the trans rights movement to understand the strategies that have made it “successful” in terms of the speed in making policy change happen. I will explore this and include these lessons in the writing I do this year. Perhaps these lessons will make their way into my book, another area you always encouraged me on… my writing.
Thank you Nancy for seeing me and so many others… for recognizing that I could take on more than I thought I could and still deliver! You have mirrored that for me and many other fierce women leaders. Thank you for connecting me with smart activists who make such an impact in the world. I am honored to be on your list of irreverent, spunky, sassy, smart advocates for gender equity and social justice.
Thank you for the honor of being your partner in magical projects. I am forever grateful.
Tuti B. Scott