Meet Elizabeth, JWA Intern
It is my third day here as a JWA intern. It is a privilege to be working at such a fantastic organization, and I am so grateful to everyone at JWA for their warm welcome. In my first-ever Jewesses with Attitude blog-post, I want to take this opportunity to share with you a little bit about my background and why I am so pleased to be here at the Jewish Women’s Archive.
I completed my master’s degree this past May in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies at Brandeis University, where I also received my BA in 2009. I worked for three years, first as an editorial intern and later as Junior Editor, for JVibe, a magazine for Jewish teens. Most of my academic research so far has focused on the histories of British Jewry and Jewish-Christian relations in the context of Britain and the British Empire. Since Christian missions and missionaries to the Jews were such an integral part of that history, I have, ironically, spent a lot of my time learning and writing about British Christian men.
But at JWA, American Jewish women are what we are all about, and I am very excited that I have this chance to explore an area of history that is such an essential part of who I am. So in keeping with the theme of this blog, I want to share a few brief anecdotes about a very special Jewess with attitude in my own life—my grandmother, Phyllis “Flip” Imber.
My grandmother is a woman with moxie and pizzazz (as if her nickname weren’t proof enough!). She was raised by a single mother on Long Island who had just as much chutzpah as her daughter. My great-grandmother, known to everyone later in life as “Hannah Lilly” (an attempt by my father as a young boy to say “Grandma Lillian”), was worried that my grandmother was too skinny as a child and decided that a little beer would be the best way to get some meat on her bones. One problem—it was the 1920s and Prohibition was in full swing. That didn’t stop Hannah Lilly, however. I remember hearing my grandmother gleefully recall how her mother illegally purchased beer for her baby and had it clandestinely delivered through the back door.
At Connecticut College, my grandmother was one of two Jewish women in the Class of 1943. She lived through air raid drills and the post-Pearl Harbor blackout, wrote for the school newspaper, was known to go to class wearing a trench coat over her pajamas, and interned at the famous Hartford department store G. Fox & Co where she met my grandfather. Like many other young women during the war, my grandmother spent the first two years of her marriage apart from my grandfather, who was serving in the Fifth Engineer Special Brigade overseas. After the war, my grandfather opened a women’s clothing store in Reading, PA. Over the next several decades, my grandmother, with her unmatched sense of style and charm, helped make the store one of the most popular in the city. Her friends know her as a true lady—but one who loves a good burger as much as tea sandwiches.
Around the same time my grandfather passed away this summer, my grandmother had a series of strokes which has caused her to lose most of her memory and ability to communicate. Even so, there are moments, brief twinkles of her personality that still shine through. She still occasionally looks up at me and says, “I love your outfit.” And when you tell her you love her, she almost always says, “Love you back.”
It’s the Jewish women like my grandmother, like all of our mothers and grandmothers—the everyday women who were also civic leaders, businesswomen, writers, artists, and teachers—that have given us, the Jewish women of today, such a remarkable legacy. I am very proud that I will be able to contribute to the preservation of this legacy here at the Jewish Women’s Archive.