As a feminist, a Jew, and a sometimes-writer, I should have had Letty Cottin Pogrebin on my top 10 list of awesome people I’d love to have dinner with someday. I can’t believe that I didn’t know about this incredible writer-activist until this summer, when I began working at the New Center for Arts and Culture. As soon as I heard that Letty co-founded Ms. magazine, her New Center program quickly became my most highly anticipated of our fall season. And I realized that I needed to know more about her than what my quick online search produced.
While I knew her New Center discussion with Robin Young would focus on her latest book, How to Be a Friend to a Friend Who’s Sick, I decided to start with her seminal work, Deborah, Golda, and Me: Being Female and Jewish in America. Published in the early 1990s, I couldn’t help but read her book with a bit of curiosity: how far (or not) have things come for us as women and Jews in America, over 20 years later? And, how can we further adopt Letty’s ideas and practices? For too long, I’ve been frustrated that many in my generation see feminism as a dirty word, and that we don’t recognize the struggles of women before us that have allowed us advantages we take for granted. Reading about Letty’s life and work has been a catalyst for how I think about my own feminism and Jewish identity.
Accepting an award from the Jewish Women’s Archive earlier this year, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, a longtime activist, pointed to the Statue of Liberty, just visible in the foggy distance, and quipped, “I love her, even though she’s not Jewish.” Over murmurs of laughter, she spoke of her love for Lady Liberty’s “grace and beauty,” and defined what the monument represents to her: “welcome, freedom, hope.” The same could be said of Pogrebin herself.
February is Black History Month. Feministing recognizes the contributions of women to the Civil Rights Movement in this blog post (with a tribute video). Jewish women played an important role in the Movement. Learn the stories of 16 extraordinary Jewish women who dedicated their lives to fighting for civil rights in a special feature on jwa.org.