Our Woman of Impact profile features a local woman who is making a notable impact in our community. For this issue, we spoke with Juanita Moss, a second-time Woman of Impact who currently serves as co-president of the New England Jewish Academy (NEJA) alongside her husband, Yitz. A graduate of the Community Leadership Initiative, Juanita is new to Federation’s Board of Directors this year and she also serves on the Women's Philanthropy cabinet. In addition, Juanita and Yitz are co-chairing a Hartford/New Haven community mega mission to Israel in March of 2023. (More details are coming soon!) They live in West Hartford with their four children, who range in age from nine to 16. She was nominated by Women’s Philanthropy Chair Jill Dulitsky.
You and your husband are originally from the Montreal area. What drew you to the Jewish community here in Hartford?
Yitz and I have always lived in large Jewish communities, first in Montreal, then in Toronto. However, during my husband's residency as an orthopedic surgeon, we lived very far north in Thunder Bay, Canada, which is a super small community — and we loved it. When it was time to leave, we wanted to find a small town of our own, just with more Jews! So, when Yitz saw a job posting at UConn, we knew there was a vibrant Jewish community here and it felt like the right fit for us. At the time, he did warn me it was going to be a very rural experience (lots of barns) but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that he was wrong about that, at least.
As a graduate of Federation's Community Leadership Initiative (CLI), how do you feel you benefited from that program?
CLI introduced me to so many people in the community I doubt I would have met otherwise. I got exposure to a wide array of age groups and demographics — and that full year of attending classes with the same people, and traveling to Israel together, solidified the deep connection I feel to Federation and the community. Also, we don't always realize how fortunate we are to have such an amazing Federation here in Hartford. The role that this organization fills is often very subtle, but they are training tomorrow's leaders and making ties between so many of the institutions that make our community what it is. For example, CLI helped me understand how Federation works, how the Jewish Community Foundation works, and how they both work together. In general, it educated me as to how the diverse organizations in our community fit into a broader picture.
What motivates you to be so actively involved as a lay leader in the Jewish community?
In the last ten years, we've seen the community ebb and flow. There's been a lot of growth, to be sure, but there's so much more potential in building a large and vibrant Jewish community here in Hartford. I see volunteer work as an investment in that community and, frankly, in my kids as well. I want them to have access to a sustainable community here 20 years down the road. To that end, it's very important that we are all strong advocates for the organizations that bolster our community's growth, supporting them with our time and money. My long-term goal is to build on the growth we've seen over the past ten years. As for Federation, being involved there has been such an educational experience. They really are a well-oiled machine, focused on best practices and always asking how they can stay relevant. I've learned so much about how community organizations work.
What accomplishments are you most proud of?
I'm not there yet! I'm not done! But in terms of what I hope to accomplish, I want to walk away from my presidency at NEJA with an even stronger school that is creating the Jewish leaders of tomorrow. I have four children and believe so deeply in a strong Jewish education that is both secular and Judaic. My husband and I are both Hebrew Academy alumni from Canada, so we both really believe in the product. We want all Jewish children in West Hartford to have an educational experience that prepares them for further education but also allows them to be proud to be Jewish and ready to take on leadership roles of their own. For my work with Federation, I want to help tear down some of the invisible barriers. I believe there are misconceptions about what Federation does, or who really gets to be involved, and the truth is that Federation is a great entry point for anyone looking to give back. You can be super impactful in the community by getting involved in their work, and I want to help others do so.
What would you say to other women who are considering getting involved but haven't yet made the leap?
It's not such a scary place. Any time I ask someone to get involved, I always try to open with, "First, think about what you want to accomplish. Then, think about your capacity." Whatever you're passionate about, and however much you're able to give of your time, there's a role for you to fill. It's okay if you have limited time; just take the plunge.
How does your volunteer work reflect your Jewish faith and values?
My husband and I identify as modern Orthodox, so I want to be a strong Orthodox role model for my girls. That's among my top priorities. Many of the leadership roles are filled by men, and I want them to also experience female role models who are very present in the community, both in the day-to-day work and in the big picture. My 16-year-old daughter could give a speech on the spot and pull in a crowd. Seeing her confidence and ability to articulate her Jewish values, that feels to me like a job well done.