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Jewesses with Attitude

Getting loud about Nancy Brinker

Jews are generally not a quiet people -- at least not in America in this day and age. We like to speak up, to speak out, to express our opinionated selves fairly loudly. So when the White House announced this year's recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, it's not surprising that there was a vocal "Jewish response."

It also may not surprise you to hear that the Jewish response focused on honoree Mary Robinson, the first female president of Ireland and former United Nations high commissioner for human rights. Jewish organizations such as AIPAC and the Anti-Defamation League criticized the White House for choosing Robinson, whom they perceive as too critical of Israel and whom they hold responsible for the surge of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism at the 2001 Durban conference on racism.

It didn't surprise me. (It annoyed the crap out of me, but it didn't surprise me.) But what did surprise me is that in the brouhaha around Robinson, the Jewish community overlooked the fact that some important Jewish activists -- Nancy Goodman Brinker, the founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in a US city -- were honored alongside Robinson. Check out yesterday's JTA article with the headline "Robinson receives Medal of Freedom"; Brinker and Milk are mentioned as an afterthought.

I'm proud to be a loud, outspoken Jew, but I'd like to use my voice to celebrate the achievements of leaders from our community. Many of us are now familiar with the courage and leadership of Harvey Milk, due to last year's Gus Van Sant movie in which Milk was brought back to life by Sean Penn's brilliant portrayal. Nancy Brinker is less well-known, though we've all seen the pink ribbons popularized by her organization.

When Brinker founded what was then called the Susan G. Komen Foundation in 1982, named after her sister who had died of breast cancer at age 36 two years earlier, sponsors were unwilling to have their name associated with the still-stigmatized disease. Due in large part to Brinker's grassroots campaigns and pioneering use of "cause-related marketing," Susan G. Komen for the Cure has grown into a global organization that has raised and invested more than $1.3 billion in breast cancer research, outreach, education, support, and advocacy programs. Its signature Race for the Cure events take place in more than 100 locations worldwide and attract more than 1.5 million participants annually, and breast cancer has become its own consumer market (whether that's a good or bad thing is debatable, as I've discussed elsewhere on this blog). As for Brinker, she has moved into "global health diplomacy," serving as US Ambassador to Hungary and working especially with low- to middle-income countries.

Many Jewish women have played leadership roles in breast cancer activism, raising their voices to advocate for better research, education, treatment, and support. JWA has honored some of them here, and today I add some loud cheers for Nancy Goodman Brinker, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor.

How to cite this page

Rosenbaum, Judith. "Getting loud about Nancy Brinker." 13 August 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 24, 2016) <>.


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