Making Trouble with JWA
Yesterday, the Jewish Women's Archive held its third annual Making Trouble/Making History Awards Luncheon. As a new member of the JWA staff, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Less than one week on the job, and I was packing my bags for a trip to New York City—ready to blog, tweet, photograph, and schmooze my way through the event. Not exactly the definition of “easing into things,” but I was ready to take the metaphorical bull by its metaphorical horns and dive right in.
Everything seems just a little grander in New York (or, at least, that’s how it seems appears to my very non-New Yorker eyes). The Luncheon was no exception; we gathered at the Museum of Jewish Heritage with its view of the Statue of Liberty, a quintessential New York backdrop straight out of a movie. As the guests began to arrive, I was struck by their varied ages. These weren’t buttoned up women; nor were they granola-eating, funky women from college campuses. Those in attendance ran the gamut, differing in age, profession, dress, and gender. Despite their differences, they were all invested in celebrating Jewish women in America.
Gail Reimer, the founder and Executive Director of JWA, opened the event with a provocative question: “Where will you begin your troublemaking”? I can hardly think of a more apt way to start the program—or a better start to my own career at JWA. One thing was clear: we were all troublemakers in our own right.
Those in attendance all put their own spin on the idea of trouble making. Rabbi and Cantor Angela Buchdahl used her guitar and her beautiful voice to share her version of trouble. She set the tone of the celebration with a poignant rendition of one of the ten most popular “Jewish songs” – “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” bringing a sense of Jewish longing to what she called a “Jewish Manifesto lullaby.” She bookended the celebration, getting the room up and dancing with “Miriam’s Song.”
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, one of the founding editors of Ms. Magazine, emceed the event. If I were writing a news article, I’d probably focus more on what she said—such as the rich tradition of Jewish women causing trouble and shaking up the world. In a blog post, however, I’m free to let my inner fan girl flag fly and admit that I was just a bit star struck by Ms. Pogrebin. Here is a woman who truly earned the right to speak about making history and making trouble—after all, she was one of the original troublemakers in our movement. Later, when honoree Rachel Gerrol spoke about standing on the shoulders of earlier feminists, I couldn’t help but think she meant Letty Cottin Pogrebin.
If the official theme of the celebration was making trouble and making history, the unofficial theme might have been generations of change. Honoree Rachel Gerrol referenced not just standing on shoulders but also about what being a feminist means to her and other millennials. Honoree Rachel Sklar addressed what we learn as young girls, and how these lessons make it hard for women to embrace their own success.
The incomparable Bel Kaufman, author of Up the Down Staircase, spoke about being 101. If it’s possible to be wise beyond your years at 101, Bel is. The entire room hung on each word she spoke, laughing at her sharp wit and inspired by the creative seeds she planted. We saw just what it means to be a Jewish woman who makes history by making trouble.