Exhibit: Women Who Dared
BiographiesMultimediaBy CityAbout WWD Jewish Gender Activism
What She Said
  Judy Somberg
  Human Rights Activist, El Salvador
  Boston WWD Event 2000
  Born in 1951
  Co-founded Cambridge-El-Salvador Sister City Project and worked to end human rights violations in El Salvador
Biography  up to top

Judy Somberg was born in New Jersey in 1951, to parents who were involved in leftist politics. She traces her activism back to junior high, when she worked at a CORE (Congress of Racial Equality) Freedom School in Newark. In high school, Somberg organized against the war in Vietnam, and she increased her commitment to the antiwar movement during college, working with groups such as SDS (Students for a Democratic Society). In the early 1970s, Somberg was also involved in the women's movement and in the Somerville tenants' movement. Her experiences getting arrested at demonstrations convinced Somberg to go to law school, where she joined the National Lawyers Guild--an organization in which she continues to be involved today.

In 1984, Somberg attended a human rights conference in El Salvador as part of a National Lawyers Guild delegation. This experience raised her awareness to the great human rights violations that were taking place there. After a second visit to El Salvador in 1986, Somberg and a few others started the Cambridge-El Salvador Sister City Project, to give international support to civilians who wished to return to villages that had been taken over by the military. She returned to El Salvador in 1987 after 11 villagers in the sister city of San Jose Las Flores were "disappeared." Her delegation was intercepted by the military when they arrived in the village and they were taken to the provincial capital's military headquarters. They were eventually released unharmed, and the captured villagers were returned soon after. The sister city project has continued despite the end of the war in 1992, carried on by the long-term relationships that have flourished among Americans and Salvadorans. The new directions of the project include working for school development in San Jose Las Flores, supporting feminist causes such as a women's weaving cooperative, and developing youth programs.

Somberg lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and divides her time between her work as a lawyer and her activist commitments in the community. She has recently been instrumental in implementing a living wage campaign in Cambridge. She is married and has two children.

What She Said  up to top
My parents were middle-class former activists themselves... They were active before the war and during the war years ...More 
In 1984, my kids were four and one. I was working, but I guess I felt like I'd been less active, doing the little kids thing. And the National Lawyers Guild was organizing a delegation to El Salvador ...More 
[When we were detained by the Salvadoran government military] we had a very interesting conversation with this totally scary and nutty colonel. At that point, our project was already sending down -- whenever we got word of disappearances, detentions, we would send down letters, hundred of letters ...More 
I think anybody who's an activist is an activist ultimately for themselves, because it gives you a sense of satisfaction doing it ...More 
[The most rewarding thing has been] seeing the village in Las Flores grow, seeing it survive ...More 
My criteria for pursuing a political interest (and I have many) is that there must be a high ratio of useful work done to amount of time spent in meetings. ...More 
It starts with taking a little risk. Go to an event, answer an invitation, go to a conference, agree to go to a meeting, say 'yes' to something that you might not normally do ...More 
There has to be a certain joy or inner reward to keep up the work. Sometimes an outright victory is achieved. ...More 
Multimedia  up to top
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How to Cite This Page
For a bibliography: Jewish Women's Archive. "JWA - Women Who Dared - Biography Judy Somberg." <http://jwa.org/exhibits/wwd/jsp/bio.jsp?personID=pjsomberg>.

For a footnote: Jewish Women's Archive, "JWA - Women Who Dared - Biography Judy Somberg," <http://jwa.org/exhibits/wwd/jsp/bio.jsp?personID=pjsomberg>.