Dear Paula Hyman, z''l
I have a spreadsheet that focuses on Jewish and feminist life at every college I want to apply to. In the Yale row, under the “Cool Profs” column, your name is written in a larger font, different color, and capital letters, with three exclamation points at the end. I figured you would be teaching for a while, since you were only in your sixties, and you’ve been at Yale since 1986. Honestly, you were a large majority of the reason that I wanted to go to Yale.
But then I read on Jewesses with Attitude that you died. I said “baruch dayan ha’emet” (blessed be the true Judge), because that’s what a Jew says when he or she hears news of a death, and I cried a little bit. Dr. Hyman, you have no idea how much I will miss you.
Not that I am anywhere near your level, but I think I see a little bit of myself in you. We are both from the East Coast, grew up in relatively large Jewish communities, and feel a strong connection to Judaism. Your grandparents were immigrants, just like mine. My mother worked and still managed to infuse the love of education in me, just like yours did. Everything you accomplished in your too-short life almost exactly mirrors my own desires for the future, whether it’s graduating with honors from a highly competitive university or advocating for women’s rights within the Jewish community.
While any humyn rights cause is certainly worthwhile, you chose to champion the Jewish women’s cause, working as close to home as possible. You wrote dozens of books and articles about Jewish women and their place in history. Your work has been awarded dozens of honors and accolades, from within and without the Jewish community. Even more importantly, you taught about Jewish women and their unique place in history and society, broadening your students’ horizons and maybe creating a few feminists in the process. You were part of Ezrat Nashim, a small 1971 Jewish feminist group that lobbied for expanded women’s rights within the religious field. You also traveled to and from Israel frequently to spread Jewish feminism there, helping arouse women’s sensibilities across the globe. Despite your busy work life, you still managed to raise a family and instill Jewish feminist values into your daughters.
You were unashamed to be a pro-Israel feminist Jew in a world that’s not so friendly to any of the three. You defied the tide and listened to your inner sense of right and wrong. If I can be anything like you once I’ve entered the real world, my prayers will have been answered.
Your Jerusalem Post obituary is titled “Her Story is Over.” While the piece itself is beautiful, that heading was so wrong. Your story is far from over. You have impacted so many women and men, Jewish and non-Jewish, across the globe. I think that your story has barely begun.