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Remarks from Gail Twersky Reimer, Executive Director

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Remarks from Gail Twersky Reimer, Executive Director
for "Inspirations: A Tribute to our Founders"
The Jewish Women's Archive's 10th Birthday Celebration in Boston

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

"Good evening and welcome to you all. Tonight, we are marking our 10th birthday with the first of a series of parties and special events that will take place throughout the year. Naturally, our first party had to take place in Boston—in the company of those who have nurtured and embraced JWA from its earliest days.

And, as I look around this room, I am flooded with memories of the many and different ways in which nearly every person in this room contributed to the evolution of an idea and the growth of an institution. Your affection for JWA is palpable and I am grateful beyond words. I want to remember this moment and savor it.

Celebration, for me, is intricately connected to affirmation—to an affirmation of the continuing importance of JWA's mission to uncover, chronicle and transmit the rich legacy of Jewish women and their contributions to our families and communities, to our people and our world … 

 … to render visible those who have been invisible&madsh; … and to give women a voice in the telling of their stories— … and the unfolding of our story.

This affirmation is, at this moment in time, no simple matter. A decade ago, America, Israel, and the world looked a hell of a lot better than they look today. Given the deeply troubled times in which we find ourselves, and the many pressing issues calling for our attention, I can't help but ask (and it wouldn't surprise me if many of you do as well) whether JWA's mission is worthy of our time and commitment?

That's what I've been pondering these last few weeks, in the quiet, often sleepless moments, when my brain has not yet fully shut down for the night … and during the day as the Board, the Staff and I work to chart the next 10 years of JWA.

And when I let myself honestly grapple with the question: I always emerge more, not less, committed to the mission.

Why? Because today, more than ever, we need … 

  • Stories that inspire,
  • Stories that remind us that ordinary citizens like Rose Schneiderman, like Bella Abzug, like Idit Klein, like you, can—and do—organize and lead movements for change.
  • Stories that recall the gains won by women in human rights, civil rights and women's rights—gains they struggled hard and long for, frequently against overwhelming odds.

From these stories of struggle and of achievement, of individual and collective activism, we draw the strength to overcome despair, to keep struggling, and to do all that we can to ensure that what our foremothers achieved will never be eroded.

We need these stories and JWA needs to be here to find them, to collect them, and to tell them.

That's what we've been doing for the past 10 years, and despite what we've accomplished, there is still much more to be done.

During our first decade, the Jewish Women's Archive has created a range of initiatives—using new and old technologies—to preserve these stories, to bring them into classrooms, put them onto laptop computers, and launch them into the blogosphere and Internet so that they can spread across the country, and around the world. In that short time we have transformed the landscape of knowledge, granting legitimacy to—and providing a wide range of resources for—the teaching and study of Jewish women's history.

We have built a reputation for quality products and programs.

Our website is linked to by hundred of educational and scholarly endeavors—from PBS to the Smithsonian to the Nobel Foundation.

Our staff is regularly invited to present at national and international conferences.

We have attracted the attention and support of prominent leaders such as Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the doyenne of women's history, Gerda Lerner  …  and we are widely recognized as an innovator in developing a 21st century approach to archives.

As we move into our second decade we will build on the work we have done and continue to create resources and sponsor programs that increase knowledge and understanding of the many ways in which Jewish women live their lives as Jews, as women, as Americans, and as citizens of the world.

And we will continue to build a radically new kind of archive:

  • one that harnesses new technologies to become a true gateway to the stories of all Jewish women,
  • one that invites women to become their own historians and engages them as active partners in the collection of materials that document their experiences.

Our archive will be this century's Cairo Geniza—the record of women's lives, loves, musings, dreams, writings and eulogies.

In the gift bag you will each receive as you leave tonight, you will find a bookmark quoting one of my favorite women of valor—a woman who inspired me as a collegiate anti-war activist, and who remains a powerful source of inspiration for me to this day.The bookmark quotes the brilliant, the courageous, and the outrageous Bella Abzug—responding to a reporter who, at the end of Bella's first year in Congress asked her if there was anything she would have done differently?

While this is not the time or place to review what Bella did that year—and what the year was like for her—I thought I would just remind you that on her FIRST day in Congress, Bella Abzug, the newly arrived freshman congresswoman from New York (one of only a handful of women in Congress) introduced a resolution calling for the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam.

That same year, as a member of the Government Operations Committee (her request to serve on the Foreign Affairs Committee was denied) she co-authored some groundbreaking pieces of legislation that included the Freedom of Information Act and the Right to Privacy Act. (It's probably obvious why Bella is on my mind these days!)

How did she respond to the reporter who asked if there was anything she would have done differently? "No," she replied. "If anything, I should have done more of it."

In the remaining years of her term, and in the quarter century that followed, Bella was forever doing more—for women, for minorities, for the poor, for peace, and for the environment. Yet I believe that had she been asked the same questions at the end of her life, she would have given the same answer—"I should have done more of it."

Two other famous Bella lines are practically "engraved upon my heart": The first "Never hesitate to tell the truth and never give in and never give up," and the second, "Don't do it alone."

Raised in Hashomer Hatzair, the labor Zionist youth movement built on the power of the collective, Bella understood the importance of identifying and engaging allies. (Our own Ann Lewis was among the members of the steering committee for the National Women's Political Caucus that first met in Bella's congressional office in 1971.)

There is no question in my mind that we would not be here tonight, celebrating JWA's 10th birthday, if not for every person in this room—and many who could not join us tonight but who—like all of you—believed in our mission and brought your talent, wisdom, resources, and friends to the table to make the dream a reality.

First and foremost—we would not be here tonight without the Founding Board of the Jewish Women's Archive—the women who responded to an idea, and then dedicated untold hours to turning a dream into a viable and sustainable organization.

We would not be here without those women who joined the Board in subsequent years … bringing fresh ideas, energy, and vision with them.

We certainly would not be here without JWA's staff—current and former—as well as the outstanding consultants and pro-bono professionals who lent us their expertise and wisdom. The quality of our work speaks to their excellence, but hardly begins to tell the full story of their dedication and commitment to our mission.

Without foundation and individual donors who invested in a fledgling start-up—and who continue to support us today—we could not have set out on our path, nor could we have launched numerous projects that have become closely identified with JWA.

To the volunteers who have served on committees, who helped develop and participate in programs like Women Who Dared, our 350th exhibit at the Boston Public Library, and Temple Israel's groundbreaking Women Whose Lives Span the Century oral history project and exhibition, we would not be here tonight without your enthusiastic embrace of our projects.

And finally, we would not be here tonight without the men in our lives who encouraged us to pursue our dreams and vision … nor could we be here tonight without the love and support of family and friends who patiently tolerated our preoccupation. I know that you know I am speaking about myself.

To Joe and to my father David Twersky who each in their own way encouraged and supported me in the pursuit of this dream; To my mother Natalia Geizhals Twersky whose life story inspired it; and to my daughters Tamara and Ziva who continue to be key to my passion and commitment to turning the dream into a vibrant, challenging and sustainable institution.

Finally, this evening is about the many voices that have inspired each of us. As we planned this evening we wanted to bring those voices to life by using materials directly from our archive—and in this way illustrate their power. To do this we called upon a professional artist and storyteller for whom words and sound are everything. Tonight, Ellen Kushner has taken those raw materials as her inspiration for a first-ever performance just for JWA and our friends.

"Gather closer around to the fire" they might have said in earlier times. Tonight, we invite you to experience just a few of the voices of inspiration as brought to life by master storyteller, Ellen Kushner.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Remarks from Gail Twersky Reimer, Executive Director." (Viewed on August 21, 2014) <http://jwa.org/10thbirthday/reimer>.

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