A Letter about Barbara Dobkin
from Gail T. Reimer, Executive Director, JWA
JWA—and my relationship with Barbara Dobkin—got off to a serendipitous start. I was the "local panelist," recruited at the eleventh hour, to participate in a conference being held in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was 1995; the panel topic, "Jewish Women Transforming Community."
While I might have been the "local," my vision for transforming community was not at all local and it immediately captured the heart and mind of the intrepid chair of the panel—yes, Barbara Dobkin. Barbara and I quickly discovered that we shared a vision of a Jewish community in which women would be included in our people's history. What we talked about for the next nine months was how to create an institution that would recover and protect the record of Jewish women's lives from loss and invisibility.
Nine months is a typically healthy gestation period but without Barbara's involvement, encouragement and generosity, the Jewish Women's Archive might not have been born for years.
Initially, the grand idea occupied a small reality—a computer and telephone in my house. But within one year, an impressive group of talented women had joined us, we had hired our first staff person, moved into a real office and held a three-day strategy session to set an ambitious course for the future.
By year two, top scholars in Jewish history and women's history had joined our academic advisory board. Several of the larger Jewish foundations began supporting our work with significant grants. M.I.T. joined with us in the development of an innovative virtual archive.
With Ma'yan, we produced the first poster in a beautiful series about notable Jewish women and distributed the posters—for free—to thousands of schools, synagogues, libraries and community centers across the country. And hundreds of Jewish communities and institutions took up our call to acknowledge Women's History Month and use it to celebrate the rich legacy of Jewish women.
Over the past nine years, our commitment to scholarship has led us to sponsor research to uncover the remarkable achievements of hundreds of women. Our passion for teaching has led us to design new educational materials and to train hundreds of teachers. Our dedication to creating access to the stories of Jewish women has led to innovative exhibitions, publications and the JWA website that engage many thousands of individuals daily.
Today, almost exactly ten years since Barbara and I met, our shared passion for uncovering women's history and chronicling their stories has not abated. The early success of the Jewish Women's Archive has only strengthened Barbara's conviction that our work does—and must—transform our community. She and Eric have made a remarkable lead gift to the JWA Fund for the Future campaign that challenges all of us to do more. Thanks to them, the rest is not history. It’s the future—a future in which I hope you will take part.