Q&A: Meet Betsy Green, longtime Federation leader


Betsy Green has served in many leadership roles at Milwaukee Jewish Federation, including president and Annual Campaign chair.

Green has been a chair and a committee member of many Federation committees and activities. Green served as chair of the Jewish Community Foundation of Milwaukee Jewish Federation. She’s served as president of Jewish Family Services and nationally as a board member of the United Jewish Appeal and the Joint Distribution Committee. Green is still on the board of Milwaukee Jewish Federation.

How did you get involved in the Milwaukee Jewish Federation?

Our first trip to Israel in 1972 was a UJA sponsored mission with two busloads of leaders from the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. I remember at the Western Wall, I just stood there and cried. The entire experience of the Western Wall, Yad Vashem, the military cemetery, the Russian immigrants, visits to the elderly, Holocaust survivors, the people and so much more was absolutely overwhelming. I had to buy and wear the biggest Star of David necklace I could find because it made me feel so proud. The entire experience of my first trip to Israel changed my life forever and made me realize more than ever how important it is for Jews to take care of one another.

How did you become a leader in the Federation?

The Israel experience motivated me to get active. Friendships and acquaintances made in Israel led to requests to participate in many activities. Our co-travelers and my eventual mentors were leaders and campaign workers like Esther Leah Ritz, Alice Colburn, Edie Adelman, Betty Lieberman and Ruth Orenstein so I started out in campaign; first as a worker, eventually a division chairman and ultimately Milwaukee’s first female General Campaign chair. My first Federation leadership role was as chair of the Israel and Overseas Committee. This was really a sea change because there were no women in any visible leadership roles in the Federation in the ‘70s. Volunteers Betty Lieberman, Esther Leah Ritz and I had written and submitted to the Board of Directors a “white paper” stating why women should be involved in leadership roles at the Federation. I believe that the white paper convinced Mel Zaret, who was the executive vice president of the Federation, to appoint me to be chair of the Israel and Overseas Committee.

Can you talk about your female mentors or role models?

My “Israel Experience” blessed me with mentors, both male and female. Over all of the years, more trips to Israel, General Assemblies of Jewish Federations and UJA Annual Meetings; mentors educated me in many aspects of Jewish life and thought. Esther Leah Ritz became the first female president of the Federation’s Board of Directors and I was the first woman to become chair of the community-wide General Annual Campaign (not just the Women’s Campaign). This was important because up to this point in time women had not been allowed to solicit men for gifts! The “white paper” again!

At the time I was nominated to be chair of the Federation’s Board of Directors, I was scared to death. The only other woman who had held the position was Esther Leah Ritz, a national legend. I was too frightened to accept. But Esther Leah and Betty told me I had to do it. I was implored to accept on behalf of the women who would follow me. I was so insecure I must have read every important document 20 times to make sure I didn’t make any mistakes. If I did, some men would say “what do you expect, she’s a woman?” It was the 70s after all.

You’ve been volunteering with the Federation for almost five decades. Why do you stay involved?

I believe it is important to have a vibrant Jewish community and I enjoy hearing people’s Jewish experiences and telling them about our unique community. Milwaukee really is the envy of many Federations of our size because we have such a close-knit community. I have met some of my best friends at the Federation. It’s really nice being with people who care about what you care about.

You’re a snowbird. Does that change anything for you as a volunteer and a donor?

We spend a few weeks out of every winter month in Naples, Florida. I go to Federation meetings when I’m in Milwaukee, and I always try to join by conference call when I’m not. We make a token gift to the Federation in Naples because we live there part of the year and participate in some events, but we do our major giving in Milwaukee because this is our community.