The Lives They Lived: Jewish women to remember in 2010
As the year comes to a close, the New York Times Magazine published “The Lives They Lived,” an annual feature celebrating the lives of people who died over the last year. The collage is a mix of people known and unknown. This assortment of stories is more gender-balanced than the regular obituary section of the New York Times, which received criticism this year for its editorial policies regarding whose stories are important enough to record.
At JWA, we make an effort to record the stories of great Jewish women who fly under the radar. This year, we said goodbye to a number of impressive Jewish women – some of whom were recognized in the media, others not so much. So, today we present the JWA edition of “The Lives They Lived.” I hope you find these women's stories as inspiring as we do.
Jean Carroll (Also in We Remember).
Jean Carroll was a pioneer of stand-up comedy. She was a regular headliner in nightclubs and theaters in the '40s and '50s – a time when nightclubs were not considered “fit” for “ladies.” Radical in her day, Jean Carroll was beloved by her audience. Her humor was particularly subversive because her beauty challenged the idea that to be a woman in comedy, especially a Jewish woman in comedy, one had to be ugly or at least use self deprecating humor. She was featured on the Ed Sullivan Show and went on to have her own sitcom on ABC. Jean Carroll passed away on New Year's Day at the age of 98.
Carla Cohen (Also in We Remember).
Carla Cohen, co-owner of the independent Washington, D.C. bookstore Politics and Prose, was a towering figure in the literary and political community. A progressive book lover, she wanted to create a charming and comfortable gathering place for the intellectually curious. Since its opening in 1984, Politics and Prose has served as a necessary stop for voracious readers in DC area. Carla Cohen died October 11 at the age of 74.
Rhonda Copelon worked primarily behind the scenes, but left her mark on a number of important breakthroughs in progressive feminist advances both in the United States and around the world. She spent 12 years at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), where she challenged the federal Hyde Amendment that cut-off of Medicaid funds for most abortions as lead counsel in Harris v. McRae. She also challenged racist practices, governmental misconduct, and the Vietnam War. She was part of the founding faculty of CUNY Law School and also directed its International Women's Human Rights Law Clinic. Working with activists from around the world, she helped strategize how to bring a feminist interpretation of human rights to the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna in 1993. Rhonda Copelon was Vice President of the Center for Constitutional Rights at the time of her death in May 2010.
Ilona Copen Copen was passionate about educating young dancers and advancing the arts. She studied dance at Juilliard and the Martha Graham School and performed with Jeff Duncan, among other modern choreographers. In 1983 she founded the New York International Ballet Competition with ballet star Igor Youskevitch, now a biennial event for dancers ages 17-24. Ilona Copen died in February.
Gail Dolgin produced and co-directed (with Vicente Franco)"Daughter from Danang" (2002), winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary and nominated for an Academy Award. She was known as a leader in the documentary film community and for her openness about her battle with cancer, which she shared in her acceptance speech at the Sundance Film Festival in 2002. She passed away on October 7, 2010, at age of 65.
Marcia Soloski Levin was a businesswoman in a time when most women were defined by motherhood and homemaking. In 1951, she and her husband started their own company that manufactured a base for dehydrated soup. Within 10 years, she was Vice President of the company which would go on to become a well-established leader in the institutional food industry. She passed away in 2010 at the age of 89.
Denise Schorr was a WW II resistance fighter, cooking teacher, and cookbook author. Born in Paris, she studied at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu culinary school. During the war, she fought for the Resistance. After the liberation of Paris, she met her future husband, a US serviceman, and emmigrated to the U.S. Denise Schorr was a close friend of Julia Child and she helped found the Culinary Guild of New England. In 1981 she authored her own cookbook My French Kitchen. She later adopted five children, including two sets of twins, from the Jewish orphanage in Boston. Denise Schorr passed away in 2010.
Ruth Proskauer Smith was a longtime women’s and human rights activist. She first got involved with the reproductive rights movement as a fieldworker for Planned Parenthood of Massachusetts in the 1940s. She went on to co-found the National Association for the Repeal of Abortion Laws, which later became the National Abortion Rights Action League and is today known as NARAL Pro-Choice America in 1969, four years before abortion was legalized in the landmark decision Roe v. Wade. Smith remained active in NARAL's New York chapter, and continued to advocate for pro-euthanasia campaigns in the 1990s. Ruth Proskauer Smith passed away in January, 2010, at the age of 102.
The story of Gloria Wasserman, better known as “Annie,” is unique. Annie was remembered in the New York Times as the profane mother of the Fulton Fish Market. The daughter of Polish Jewish immigrants, Annie was a free spirit. In her youth, she rode a bicycle to Alaska with her future first husband. Later in New York, she lived in the East Village as Gloria Wasserman and at the fish market as “Shopping Cart Annie,” where she sold cigarettes and candy bars, or did odd jobs and errands for money – most of which she gave away to those in need. Somewhere between a bag lady and a pin-up girl, a huckster and a philanthropist, Gloria Wasserman’s story is one we are lucky to have discovered.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. If you know of another Jewish woman who passed away this year who deserves recognition, please tell us about her in the comments.