An outspoken female voice within Orthodox Judaism and a committed civil rights advocate, Sara Nelson Efron attributes her activism to a lineage of outspoken women and Jewish values instilled through a rigorous Seattle Jewish education. Born in 1909 to Yiddish-speaking Russian émigrés living in New York City tenements, her family soon moved to Seattle where Sara helped in her father’s “junk business“ and her mother’s work resettling Jewish immigrants. Married in 1930 to Max Efron, Sara spent her adulthood forging an Orthodox Jewish life for her husband and children in Baltimore, Los Angeles, and again in Seattle, where she has worked tirelessly for Jewish and social justice causes.
“My grandfather, Yosef Moshe, was also a very erudite person, and a very modern man for his time, and he hired a tutor for his children. And my mother was one of those permitted to be taught, the same as the boys. My father was very concerned about Jewish education. And he insisted that all his children have teachers. And so I come from a family tradition where women were permitted and were encouraged to be outspoken and to give their reactions, to speak up. And I am fortunate in having that capacity.”
“I also had to live up to the demands of being a righteous person, an example, and to try not to hurt people, to help people, and to do it in a quiet way. I feel strongly that this is our Jewish role: that we are responsible for each other, and we are responsible to look after the poor and the sick and the hungry, and that we need to do it in deeds, not just words.
“We started what we called ‘New Year’s Callers.’ This is in the '60s. We’d invite people from different churches, different organizations and we’d ask them to select a home in different areas of the city. So there were all different nationalities, colors. You’d go from house to house. And we would have coffee and cookies. That grew into quite a large, interesting effective group to dispel fears and suspicions and preconceived notions.”
“When I was in Washington Elementary School, we were being taught how to make bread. They had a recipe and I was to make it at home and bring it to school. When I started making it according to the teacher’s recipe, my mother was terribly shocked: ‘That’s not how we make bread.’ So she gave me her challah [Sabbath bread] recipe. When I brought the bread to school, my bread was much better. The teacher was very upset. ‘I gave you a recipe and you were to follow it,’ she said. ‘Not everybody does things the same way.’ I tried to explain this to my mother, that this is a goyishe [non-Jewish] recipe. And I brought in the fact that Sephardim have different customs, Ashkenazim have different customs, Turks have different customs. They incorporate them according to where they came from, alter them, and so we have new recipes. And I think we gained something from it, by sharing.”
“The more I study and the more I think about it, the more I feel that everybody is equal. I feel that we all have something very much in common. Why can’t we behave that way? What are all these killings, these atrocities, if we say all our religions tell us we’re all equal?”
© 2004 Jewish Women’s Archive. Photographs by Joan Roth.