October 27, 2005
New Hadassah Chief Does Balancing Act
As a mother of two grown children, Morlie Hammer Levin knows the challenges of balancing family, career and spiritual life. But factor in the L.A. native's recent New York move, a high-pressure job with a high-profile organization and finding a new religious community and you have the makings of what would be a well-deserved nervous breakdown for anyone else.
But Levin has taken it in stride. In September, the former Jewish Federation vice president became national executive director of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America -- the largest Jewish membership organization in the United States.
As she settles into her new routines, she's looking forward to what her future holds without forgetting her past.
"New Yorkers have been surprisingly and thankfully welcoming and encouraging," she said. "I miss friends and family and being part of the L.A. Jewish world, but we're settling in well."
Levin grew up in Sherman Oaks. She graduated from Millikan High School in Long Beach, earning her bachelor's degree from UCLA and receiving her master's in public policy from Claremont Graduate University.
However, working in the Jewish community was not something Levin set out to do. She came into it along the way. Levin began her career as a policy analyst with the Rand Corp., where she worked for 21 years before starting her own consulting firm.
"My involvement in the professional Jewish community followed my personal path toward Judaism," said Levin, whose 1991 visit to Israel inspired her to get actively involved in local Jewish activities.
Her foray into Jewish communal work began with a position as manager of operations and projects for the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles in 1998. By 2000, she had joined The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and worked her way up to vice president of strategic donor initiatives.
During her time at The Federation, Levin developed a keen appreciation for mentoring and came to understand the importance of guidance and support in the workplace.
"Success is about finding the right people and then aligning their skills with their responsibilities," Levin said.
Of all her contributions to the Los Angeles Jewish community, Levin sites the 2002 launch of The Jewish Venture Philanthropy Fund among her favorites. The program makes targeted, significant investments in scalable and sustainable philanthropic ideas, which appealed to people who wanted to donate their skills and abilities, along with their money.
Levin may look to advocate similar hands-on programs while at Hadassah, but for now, she's using the transition period to familiarize herself with the 93-year-old, 300,000-member organization. Founded in 1912, Hadassah supports medical care and research, education and youth programs, reforestation, social action and advocacy, volunteerism and connections with Israel. Most recently, Hadassah advocated for stem cell research, supported the Violence Against Women Act and was nominated for a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize.
Levin understands that elements of Jewish professional work are often at odds with family life. Evening meetings and weekend events can make things difficult. Despite the challenges, Levin says there are unlimited career opportunities for women in the Jewish sector.
"People often talk about a glass ceiling in the Jewish world and in the federation world, but I never found one. I received guidance and training, learned a tremendous amount, and was able to advance quickly," Levin said. "I think quality can win out in the workplace."