Meet Sammie Moshenberg - Mazel Tov!
At its gala dinner on Tuesday, the National Council of Jewish Women will honor Sammie Moshenberg, Director of Washington Operations, for 30 years of service in NCJW’s Washington office.
If anyone had told me when I knew her in high school that in 2008 Women’s eNews would name her one of “21 Leaders for the 21st Century,” I would not have been surprised. The only surprise to her classmates at Western High School would have been if she had not spent her career as an outspoken advocate for equality, women’s rights, and economic and social justice.
Founded in 1844, Western High School was (and still is) an unusual place—the oldest and one of the last remaining all-girls public high schools in the United States. The three years we spent there were formative ones for both me and Sammie (her given name). Sammie wasn’t a star student, but as one of our mutual friends said, “she was and is brilliant. I remember her as witty, outspoken, a little eccentric, and completely unaffected by peer pressure on looks or feminine wiles or social roles." The facilities were lousy but the faculty was terrific, the curriculum challenging, and on the very cusp of Second Wave feminism, we saw every day that a young woman could play the tuba, run a meeting, do calculus, and excel at physics (not that either of us did).
Perhaps as a result, she came to feminism relatively late for our generation of progressives. She describes her husband (who does all the cooking in their household) as having been “an ardent feminist… before I was. He had a tremendous influence on me. Living with somebody who was constantly asking, ‘where are the women?’ was like being tutored. Now I see everything through a gender lens.”
My high school friends came from all over the city, and I didn’t see much of them after we donned long white dresses for graduation (on the very day Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated). I never lived in Baltimore again, but Sammie did, teaching at an inner-city elementary school. She also worked in New York as an editor and for NCJW before moving to Washington, D.C. when her husband, Danny Moshenberg, got a job as one of the only men heading up a Women’s Studies program.
The NCJW obviously recognized her talent and created a job for her in D.C. “A lot of my career sort of just happened,” she told me recently. “I always knew I was going to be an activist.” Sammie always had a strong Jewish identity. The rabbi at her reform temple had a huge impact on her, but she didn’t aspire to a career in Jewish world. “I couldn’t work for any organization,” she told me, “Jewish or otherwise, that didn’t have an activist agenda.”
Her parents, like mine, were outspoken liberal Democrats who talked a lot about politics at home but did not march against segregation or the war in Vietnam. They were very aware of the McCarthy era. Her father used to tell his daughters, “If you want a government job, be careful not to get on a list.”
Sammie Moshenberg imbibed a lot of her parents’ values, but she’s managed to get on lots of lists. I’m sure they would be proud that she has appeared on the "Forward Fifty" list of most influential Jewish individuals three times. They would be proud, too, by how effectively she represents NCJW on national coalitions concerned with judicial nominations, civil rights, reproductive rights, childcare, and First Amendment issues, and speaks on public policy and legislative issues throughout the country.
After more than 30 years at NCJW, she still wants “to develop possibilities for a diverse multitude of women's voices to be heard, speaking out for social justice." You go, girl.