New concierge redoubles efforts for solo Jewish moms

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There’s a new concierge in town. Not the kind that hands out Giants schedules or recommends theater outings or explains where to catch the boat to Alcatraz. Wendy Kenin’s new job is to help Jewish mothers going it alone to find one another and connect with supportive programs, events and services in the Jewish community.

Kenin, 44, is the new concierge for Big Tent Judaism, the New York-based agency that runs the year-old program for “solo” Jewish moms in the greater Bay Area.

“I’ll help moms access helpful Jewish programs and provide them with referrals for counseling, career development or housing,” said Kenin, of Berkeley. “I’ll also talk with Jewish agencies about this emerging community of moms so we can work together to provide programs relevant to them and their families and to show them they are valued.”

Wendy Kenin

The program primarily serves women in San Francisco, Marin and on the Peninsula (though “many moms have reached out to us from the East Bay as well,” noted Kenin, “and of course we are happy to provide them with referrals and have them join us at San Francisco events”).

Kenin joins a growing list of concierges in the Bay Area. Concierges for families in the South Peninsula and Marin operate through Jewish LearningWorks’ Kesher program, launched with funding from the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. Sprout, a program of the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, helps families connect to Jewish resources there. And Big Tent Judaism has a concierge for families in Sonoma County, also funded by the S.F.-based JCF.

“We put out a request for proposals for programs supporting single moms, and Big Tent responded with the idea for a concierge,” said Sue Schwartzman, director of philanthropic education at the Jewish Women’s Fund, part of the JCF. “Single moms are a growing vulnerable population nationally, and nearly one in three single moms in California lives in poverty. We accepted Big Tent’s proposal, and this gave us boots on the ground in this area.”

JWF then commissioned a study on women here rearing children alone. “We learned that the average single Jewish mom is in her mid-40s with an 8-year-old, holds a master’s degree, works full time and earns $50,000 or less — well below the poverty line in the Bay Area,” Schwartzman said. “The study also showed that the current social norms — payment policies, scholarship processes and even the times many Jewish programs are held — are not working for solo moms.”

Schwartzman said women choosing to bring up children alone prefer “solo” to “single” because they say the latter term implies the woman was once married or with a partner and may still have support from that person.

Kenin, who started the job in May, comes with experience as a solo mom, a married mom and a single mom. She has five children, ranging from 2 to 17. Kenin previously worked for UpStart, the S.F.-based Jewish startup incubator, and was executive director of the San Francisco chapter of the America-Israel Friendship League.

A self-described environmental and social justice activist, Kenin is a doula and founded the Imeinu Doulas and Childbirth Collective, a network for Jewish women health practitioners in the U.S. and Israel. Kenin also is trained as a domestic violence advocate and counselor.

 “She is a creative, energetic individual committed to engaging more households in organized Jewish communal life, and is particularly attuned to the unique interests and needs of this particular underserved segment of the Jewish community,” said Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, executive director of Big Tent Judaism.

During her eight months on the job, Kenin’s predecessor welcomed 16 solo moms into the program. Kenin has been asked to double that number in the next three months. “That won’t be hard,” she said. “A lot of groundwork has been done already, and with my background I have a lot of connections with a lot of women.

“This is a perfect job for me, because I have a passion for supporting Jewish families,” she said. “There is not enough time in the week to do everything I want to do to help increase the visibility of solo moms and their kids in Jewish life.”

For more information about the program, email [email protected].


Patricia Corrigan

Patricia Corrigan is a longtime newspaper reporter, book author and freelance writer based in San Francisco.