Susan Weidman Schneider
When Lilith magazine launched, in the fall of 1976, the shelf you needed to hold the English-language books about Jewish women was about a yard long, only three women had been ordained as rabbis, and feminist seders were radical, underground events.
The small group of us who conceived of and executed the premier issue of Lilith thrilled to every mention of a woman’s accomplishments, Jewish or secular. With real glee, we clipped from the papers every mention of a Jewish woman who’d made the news. The period of Lilith’s launch was an era in which the emerging feminist press scorned Jewish women’s issues as parochial (or, worse, antifeminist, because they sprang from our attachment to a patriarchal religion…), and mainstream Jewish periodicals (all of them edited by men) trivialized the nascent Jewish women’s movement. This parallel marginalization didn’t daunt us. So much energy was emanating from Jewish women’s films and music and conferences and liturgies and task forces that we felt we were discovering – or encountering, or uncovering – a whole new continent that had been submerged in our collective unconscious.
The cover of the first issue featured our artist’s version of the Jewish superwoman, who managed to amalgamate almost all possible roles: doctor, server of chicken soup, scholar, tightrope walker, challah baker, incipient mother, Zionist stalwart. We decided that the mix would set the pattern for what we wanted to include in the issues that followed: challenging how Jewish law shapes women’s lives; touching on the ways popular culture articulates images of Jewish women; truth-telling about individual women’s lives, inflected by the idea that if we only spoke out loud our deepest realities, all wrongs would be righted.
My vision is now more complex, glee replaced by fascination. I’m tempted to say, in the passive mood, that Lilith’s content has become more nuanced – as if such a change happens by magic. Truth is, I see the world of Jewish women (and my own life) in more shades and colors that I did then – the unquestionably good and the uncomfortably ambiguous; the inherited past and the uncertain, collectively shaped future; the gatekeepers and the change agents all part of the background for the woman on the tightrope. She’s more grounded now, no tightrope. She’s making choices, not trying to live out all those expectations of others. And there’s both background and foreground to her portrait.
Susan Weidman Schneider is a founding mother of Lilith, the award-winning Jewish women’s magazine, where she has been Editor-in-Chief since its debut in 1976. The magazine, and her writing and lectures, are often credited with changing the way Jewish women see themselves and their roles in the Jewish community.
Schneider’s series in Lilith on Jewish women’s philanthropy, her writing on the Jewish stake in abortion rights, and her regular editorials in the magazine have provoked serious discussion and analysis in the Jewish community, as has her work on stereotypes of Jewish women and the positive effects of feminism on Jewish life. Her magazine articles have won several journalism awards. Discussing Jewish women today, Susan Weidman Schneider has appeared on Oprah!, Good Morning America, CNN and other major television programs; her work has been featured in The New York Times, Newsweek, Glamour and USA Today.
She is the author of three acclaimed books: Jewish and Female, the first book to take a comprehensive look at Jewish women’s special concerns; Intermarriage: The Challenge of Living with Differences between Christians and Jews, and Head and Heart, about money in the lives of women. A revised edition of Jewish and Female is soon to be published.
Susan Weidman Schneider, and Lilith, have been awarded a Polakoff Lifetime Achievement Award in journalism. She has also been honored with Hadassah’s Golden Wreath Award and American Jewish Congress’s Eleanor Roosevelt Prize, and by the American Jewish Press Association, synagogue sisterhoods, B’nai B’rith and Brandeis University. The Israel Women’s Network and American Jewish Congress honored her in the Knesset as one of a handful of women – including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg—to receive the “Jewish Women Who Have Made a Difference” Award.
Susan Weidman Schneider serves on the board of the Jewish Student Press Service, and is a frequent guest lecturer on college campuses. She is a founding board member of US-Israel Women-to-Women, the National Network of Women in Philanthropy, the American Jewish Congress Commission on Women’s Equality, New York UJA-Federation’s Task Force on the Jewish Woman, the Academic Advisory Board of the International Research Institute on Jewish Women at Brandeis and the Washington, D.C. Jewish Women’s Project. She serves on many other boards and consults on women’s charitable giving and leadership roles, on programs for Jewish teen girls, and on feminist social-change issues.
To see enhanced versions of these objects, please access the multimedia version of this page.