What a Difference a Year Makes

by Tina B. Eshel September 28, 2015


--San Diego’s flagship event of Women’s Philanthropy, from our Jewish Federation, is back this year with a trio of compelling and accomplished women: Tracy Borkum, principal of Urban Kitchen Group of San Diego, Janet Gurwitch, founder and former CEO of Laura Mercier Cosmetics and Melissa Rivers, actress, television host, producer, and philanthropist. Each is a trailblazer in her own way, fitting for the theme of this year’s Options: The Women’s Event.

Just don’t call them “speakers,” says Karen Kogut, Chair of the Women’s Philanthropy Board and member of the full board for Federation. Despite the collective power that Borkum, Gurwitch and Rivers bring to each of their respective professional roles, Kogut and her three co-chairs – Laura Vainer, Simone Abelsohn and Stacy Soefer – are planning a very different format from Options of previous years.

Think of it as a fireside chat with a panel of trailblazing women, Kogut says.
“All three of the women are very different [Jewish women] representing different demographics,” and thus will bring insight and enthusiasm from their unique, obviously successful, experiences as women making their mark in industries that are all still considered to be dominated by men.

On the theme, “Trailblazing Women,” Kogut says there’s been a lot of discussion about what it means.

“I’ll start with Tracy [Borkum],” she says. “Tracy is making her mark in San Diego, but also she’s becoming well known around the United States. She’s Jewish, local, successful.”
A native of London, Borkum is the principal of Urban Kitchen Group, whose restaurants, such as Cucina Urbana in Banker’s Hill, are known for “culinary delight meets aesthetic bliss … where dining and design form the ultimate union,” according to Cucina’s website. She’s a successful female entrepreneur who is described by the Federation as a “steadfast women’s advocate in both life and business.”

Janet Gurwitch, founder and former CEO of Laura Mercier Cosmetics, will join Borkum at the head table. Gurwitch is a highly successful entrepreneur, the first female on the board of the Houston Astros, and the best friend of Stacy Soefer’s mother. Soefer, NextGen board member and national cabinet member for the Federation, describes Gurwitch as “family.”
“She had this idea to launch this cosmetic line…she started and built from the ground up, and then sold it. Now she’s this kickass female entrepreneur and partner in a private equity group. She’s an amazing inspiration for women. She’s my number one trailblazer,” Soefer says.

“Janet and my mom [have been] best friends since age 19,” Soefer continues. At Options, Gurwitch, a “southern lady” from Mississippi, is likely to talk about “her first trip to Israel … a few years ago. It was a really fascinating experience for her because she went on this trip as the only woman in a group of men. It changed her perspective and outlook on Israel and connection to Judaism.”

Soefer’s favorite thing about Gurwitch is that “she’s very down to earth … family is everything to her … what you won’t read about her is that she’s a southern Jewish woman who loves puppies and fried chicken.”

Melissa Rivers, the daughter of Joan Rivers, z”l, and author of the recently published book,

“The Book of Joan: Tales of Mirth, Mischief and Manipulation,” is the third member of the panel. While most “people see Melissa Rivers in all of her splendorous glamour on the red carpet,” they “have no idea that the style maven is an Ivy League graduate, an accomplished equestrian and a single mother. She’s also an accomplished television producer and has ample experience behind the camera as well as in front of it,” reads the Options website.

The co-chairs agree that as unique as they are in their accomplishments, all three women serve as excellent examples of females who are actively leaving their mark in the world.

“We are trying really hard at Federation to be known as the most welcoming Jewish community in North America. What does that mean, how do you define that?” Kogut asks.
“One way we are doing this is … you get to be in a room with 1,000 Jewish women. We love the power of 1,000 Jewish women. We hope that people feel energized. We hope we’ll do a great job of finding the new people. We want people to be engaged in the Jewish community. Pick something that is Jewish! So we can continue our heritage in the Jewish community.

“I hope people leave excited, energized, wanting to be part of federation, join a community, become a donor if they aren’t already, maybe increase their pledges,” Kogut continues.

Expanding on the Trailblazer theme, Soefer, who, like Kogut, is a transplant to San Diego, says, “I think a trailblazer is someone who forges their own path against many obstacles. For me these are all women who took a chance on something they believed in and blazed trails in their industry, in their niches.”

The trailblazers extend beyond the three headliners as well.

“They’re amazing women, the women I am co-chairing with.” Soefer adds that they each have the goal of bringing in “multidimensional, multigenerational women to appeal to the Jewish women in San Diego.”

Expect a whole new format for the November 1 event, taking place at the Manchester Grand Hyatt. The couvert is $36 and registration is now open. Visit the website and get your tickets at jewishinsandiego.org/options.

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