Women at the forefront: Lion of Judah program celebrates 50 years

Norma Kipnis-Wilson Z”L, women’s philanthropy visionary and co-founder of the Lion of Judah, (LOJ) died in December 2021, just a month before the 50th anniversary of the Lions’ program.

“At the time (1972), she had the idea that women should step up and be leaders, to give in their own right and not just as wives of their husbands,” said Ottawa LOJ co-chair Gillian Presner.

Currently, thousands of women across North America are proud members of the Lion of Judah, which is an internationally recognized designation for women who personally contribute a minimum of $5,000 to their Federation’s Annual Campaign.

Presner, along with her mother Donna Dolansky, is responsible for programming and canvassing for LOJ in Ottawa.

“I have taken it upon myself personally, having felt a bit disconnected from the rest of the Lions, to expand our membership downward in age, to introduce younger Lions into the Ottawa pride,” said Presner, who has been involved as a Lion for more than three years and chair for two. “I decided that would be my mission for my time.”

As a symbol of strength and majesty in the Jewish world, the Lion of Judah is a reminder that every woman can make a significant contribution at home, in Israel and anywhere in the world where Jews are in distress.

The Lion of Judah is also a symbol of unity – each woman who wears her Lion of Judah pin is uniquely connected to all other Lions of Judah, all of whom embody the true meaning of tzedakah. These women have the determination, capability, and power to make the dream of Tikun Olam and turn it into a reality.

“I firmly believe that every strong organization needs a core of both professional and lay leaders who are women,” said Presner about why she volunteers with LOJ. “Women have a specific way of thinking that combines nurturing with logic. We need more women to step up, we need more women in leadership, both professional and lay.”

As a physician, Presner is also a member of the Federation Board of Directors, and a member of the National Young Leadership Cabinet.

“We’re already leaders in our families, we need to be leaders in our communities as well,” said Presner. “We need to teach our daughters to do the same thing.”

With three daughters of her own, Presner said she’s always trying to teach them about being leaders — attributing her own leadership to her mother, who is a past chair of the Federation Board, and who she describes as a “legend” in the Ottawa Jewish community.

“I love that I’m doing this with my mom,” said Presner. “I love that I can still learn from her. When I was growing up, she was always involved … and so it was important to me. I learned it at her knee.”

Every woman who contributes $5,000 — the minimum yearly gift to become a Lion — or more to her community's annual campaign can create an LOJ endowment by establishing a fund of $100,000 or more in her name, ensuring the perpetuation of her Lion of Judah level annual campaign gift.

While Presner acknowledges a $5,000 annual commitment can be challenging, she said it simply must be made a priority for those who are in a position to consider this type of gift. There’s also a ‘Step Up’ program, so if women commit to getting to the $5,000 annual threshold within three years, they’re welcomed in as a Step-Up Lion.

The Lions support all kinds of community work through Federation, including Jewish Family Services. There are also overseas dollars that help in poverty-stricken areas.

“Women need to be at the forefront of all leadership — it’s great if it’s women helping women, but also great if it’s women helping everyone else,” said Presner.

“I know I’m doing good for the community and the greater community beyond. I do it because the work is important work.”

For more information about the Lion of Judah Endowment, please contact Micah Garten, Director of Development, at mgarten@jewishottawa.com or visit https://ojcf.ca/programs/lion-of-judah-endowment