JWA Annual Luncheon 2012 | Remarks | "Making Trouble / Making History"
On Sunday, March 18, 2012, the second annual JWA luncheon, Making Trouble / Making History was held at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. The following are transcripts of remarks made at the event:
Opening song: Merri Levinger Arian
Our Annual Luncheon starts with Susan Levin Schlechter, JWA Board member, introducing Merri Levinger Arian who sings the Debbie Friedman song, "Hear Our Voices," dedicated to JWA Founding Director Gail Reimer, and others.
Gail Twersky Reimer, Welcome and Presentation of the Natalia Twersky Educator Award
It is wonderful—a genuine blessing—to be here today; to welcome you on behalf of the JWA Board and event committee and to join with you in honoring three passionate advocates for women.
Today as we sit looking out at Ellis Island and the statue, which owes so much of its soul to Emma Lazarus’s words, we will be honoring three women who, like Lazarus, have challenged our nation and our people to live up to their ideals. More will be said of these three great women later in the luncheon and more will be said of Lazarus and her legacy in the forum that will be held from 2:30 to 4:00 in the auditorium downstairs. This will be an opportunity to hear JWA Board member and Brandeis University Professor Joyce Antler, President of American Jewish World Service, Ruth Messinger, and Jewish Women’s Archive Director of Public History, Judith Rosenbaum explore the complex legacy of a woman who made trouble and made history. I’d like to thank the Museum of Jewish Heritage for co-sponsoring the program and of course for hosting us today in this beautiful room.
In 1994 I began work on Beginning Anew, the second anthology of women’s commentary on the Bible that I co-edited with my colleague Judith Kates. Shortly into that project, I had one of those classic “aha” moments. It very well could have been a delayed reaction to my reading of Deborah, Golda and Me. Suddenly I saw, with astonishing clarity, that while we were toiling to construct full narratives of women in the Bible out of mere fragments, we were preserving nothing more than fragments (if that much) of the lives of women of our own time for future generations. That aha marked the beginning of a new calling in my life—ensuring that the next generation of scholars, educators clergy, parents, and students would have ready access to the sources they needed to tell the whole story of our times; to tell a story which put equal value on the thoughts and deeds of women and men.
For the last 15 years, Jewish Women’s Archive has been filling in more and more of those fragmented narratives, uncovering, and making known the stories of 19th century Jewish women—like western pioneer Fanny Brooks, and Ray Frank, who came to be known as “The Girl Rabbi of the Golden West—and early 20th century women like Lillian Wald, an advocate for this city’s impoverished immigrants who pioneered public health nursing.
Women whose stories (highlighted in the center of your program booklet) help “make whole” the Museum’s exhibit on westward migration, on the great migration to America, on religious innovation, and on the struggle for civil rights.
But there are not just fragments to be made whole; there are whole missing chapters. For example, the impact of Jewish women on Second Wave feminism and of Jewish feminism on the Jewish community. We started writing that chapter several years ago when we created our online exhibit: Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution.
The curatorial approach was unusual: We asked some 100 Jewish women prominent in the American women's movement and/or in Jewish feminism to send us artifacts from their own personal collections, which they thought critical to understanding this chapter. 74 of those asked agreed to participate; several of them are in this room today, including two whom you will soon see on the podium.
An important and colorful chapter in the unfolding story of Jews in America, the feminism exhibit is but one slice of the story of American Jewish women who’ve been making history. It was always our intention to build from this exhibit and fill in other missing chapters.
Today we are kicking off this broader collecting initiative and laying the foundation with artifacts and stories from our three honorees.
Here's a sneak preview of what's to come:
You’ll have to go to the website to read what they have written in full. But for now I’d like you to just think about the difference it will make to our children and grandchildren to have access to a growing online collection that foregrounds Jewish women’s invaluable contributions to our communities and country. Look to your right and your left and imagine a collection that captures the stories in this room and in rooms like it in big cities and small towns.
Such a collection would add critical richness and texture to the chronicle of Jewish experience, enabling future generations of Jewish women and girls to understand who they are and where they came from and empowering them not simply to resist being shoved to the back of a bus or barred from the public square—but to insist on being all that they want to be. And it would serve Jewish men and boys, too.
You might be asking, ‘how will you build such a collection?’ This project requires not only our wonderfully talented staff but visionary and generous partners like you. If you are interested in being part of this effort, I encourage you to talk to a JWA board member or staff person here today.
Donors are essential partners in our efforts to uncover, chronicle, and transmit this rich history. So too are educators. To date, we know of more than 800 teachers who use JWA materials in their classrooms. We have been providing them with a growing body of lesson plans and curricula and we run an annual summer institute (for which admission is even more competitive that at Harvard)—to provide them with the tools they need to help students use our online resources.
Which brings me to an especially meaningful part of today’s program—the presentation of the Natalia Twersky Educator Award, endowed by my father to honor my mother’s memory. When she arrived in this country in 1945, having survived Auschwitz, my mother had every reason to abandon all she had been taught in her observant home in Cracow, Poland. But that is not what she chose to do. Though she had lost any simple faith and orthodox practice, she remained steadfast in her belief in Jewish education. My nine cousins and I all went to Jewish schools and Jewish camps because my mother insisted that we needed to know who we were and where we had come from.
Ever grateful for her decision, I am so pleased that the Jewish Women’s Archive can now honor her memory with an annual prize to a Jewish educator. It is most fitting that the lesson which garnered Allyson Matannah the inaugural Natalia Twersky Educator Award is one that among other things would enable her students to appreciate my mother’s particular heroism.
I don’t know as much of my mother’s story as I would like, but I do know that her position as a Kapo enabled her to save the lives of women in Auschwitz. While many Kapos were cruel agents of the SS, some, like my mother, exercised their power humanely, using the little extra food they would sometimes get to strengthen the weakest among their fellow prisoners.
The lesson Allyson created for her students from material on our website brings together the two queens of the Purim story—Vashti and Esther—with the story of three women active in the early 20th century labor movement: Clara Lemlich, Pauline Newman, and Rose Schneiderman, who fought to prevent tragedies like the Triangle Factory fire from ever happening again. Allyson asked her students to consider how these activists achieved their goals and what it means to make change by working within the system (as Esther did) or against it (as Vashti did).
Too much of Holocaust literature paints Kapos and resistance fighters in black and white. When Allyson's students encounter these and other instances of overt and covert resistance, they will have a nuanced understanding of the choices they made. Allyson—thank you for introducing your students to a few important women in our heritage, and along the way to helping them understand that women and men can make history and that there are many ways to speak truth to power.
Thank you, Gail, for those touching remarks.
“Cool award for teaching American Jewish women's history lesson” flashed in my Inbox on November 11, 2012—a message from Debbie Rosenberg, Principal of the Kesher School of Congregation Beit Tikvah, about the Natalia Twersky Edicator Award from Jewish Women’s Archives. I was already familiar with the Archives because I had come across a video link for the PBS documentary “An American Experience: Triangle Fire” which I incorporated into a previous lesson.
So when Debbie e-mailed me about the award, I responded immediately that I was interested. The materials on the site are easy to use. I love the citations at the end of each page, it made citing the work so much easier, even for a confirmed technophobe like me. Judith Rosenbaum answered questions about what qualified as primary sources. Finally, I came up with the materials for the lesson I submitted, entitled “Who will you be? Esthers and Vashtis in the Labor Movement.”
The materials I printed from the JWA cite were easy for the children to read and look at. The pictures are vivid and the text is well written. The children were very engaged with the materials. Thank you, again, JWA, for this honor. A big thank you to Debbie for encouraging me to apply. Thank you to the children in my class, including my own daughter, who are a joy to be with every Sunday and to Rabbi Liz Bolton and all of the parents and congregants of our small community at Congregation Beit Tikvah, who are always eager to help and really make wonderful things happen. And thank you to my loving partner, Jonathan, and children, Jeremy and Nadia, who support me in my teaching even though I have a full time career as an attorney and little time left as mother and partner. We are all very grateful.
[Gail returns to podium to introduce video]
One last thing: We’ve just completed a new video that answers a lot of the questions about what we do, and we want you to be the first ones to see it. We also want to hear your thoughts, reactions, and questions. Share these with your tablemates and use the envelopes on your table to share them with us, too. Or talk to a staff or board member after the event; we’d love to get to know you and hear your ideas. And don’t forget to eat your lunch.
As you’ve heard, at the Jewish Women’s Archive we don’t just talk about history—we make HISTORY, (And a little bit of trouble too.) We do it by honoring women’s achievements, saluting women’s accomplishments, filling out the pages of the history books—and the e-books and the websites!—so that our daughters—and our sons—will better understand their heritage, and enthusiastically look forward to their FUTURE. (After all if you don’t know what women have done, it’s hard to imagine what women can DO!)
Today we honor women who have made history—and yes, made trouble—because if you challenge the conventional restrictions of your time, you are making trouble.…
And what a great room to celebrate what women can DO! Looking out at the statue of Liberty, who will be FOREVER KNOWN to us in the words of Emma Lazarus, and the spirit of the woman with a torch.
In that spirit, WE REMEMBER women who built the world in which we live—those whose names we know—and those whose names we may never know.
Our grandmothers and great-grandmothers who traveled steerage to a strange country, not knowing the language, not sure what awaited them, hoping only that here they could build a better life for their children.
And the volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women who realized the dangers of sex trafficking, and began meeting vulnerable young women at the docks to protect them from exploitation;
Many of the young women who died in the Triangle Fire had been welcomed by Liberty’s torch. So had women like Rosie Schneiderman, who fought for the unions and legislation that protected working women and men.
In that spirit I think of a young Goldie Mabovich who came to America to become Goldie Myerson—and left again to make her life as Golda Meir, the leader of an even newer country;
Of Henrietta Szold traveling from New York, to begin the public health system in Palestine; and leaving again in 1933—when she was 73 years old—to launch Youth Aliyah, saving as many children as she could from the horrors of the Holocaust.
Emma Lazarus—horrified by news of the Russian pogroms, who wrote of the need for a Jewish homeland even before Theodore Herzl—would be proud of them all—and the women we honor today! You’ll hear from our honorees soon; My treat is that I get to introduce the woman who will introduce them:
Gloria Steinem doesn’t need an introduction—but I can’t miss this chance to tell her how much I admire her!
Gloria has been throughout her life an advocate for justice, and against discrimination of any kind. Beginning as a journalist, today she is a writer, editor, lecturer and feminist activist. Along the way she cofounded Ms Magazine, which has changed the way not just our language, but the way women think of themselves—the National Women’s Political Caucus, the Women’s Action Alliance and the Womens Media Center. She is the author of at least 3 books, hundreds of articles, and countless speeches—In her books, in speeches, in large meetings, small strategy sessions and everyday conversations—Gloria Steinem inspires us all by her example; showing us that we can stand up to injustice, we can speak out for a better world—we do more together than than any of us can do alone.
Thank you, Gloria Steinem
Gloria Steinem introduction: When asked to describe a just world, Liz Sackler depicts one in which all people live in community with one another, where integrity and respect are held in the highest regard and where dreams are supported. A self-proclaimed “Matron of the Arts,” one of her first undertakings, which brought her international acclaim, was her visionary project to begin the job of return and restitution of Native American ceremonial materials. Liz states of all her work, this repatriation of Native American ceremonial materials came from a sense of connection to her own Jewish history. She then began to envision what has become the Elizabeth Sackler Center for Feminist Art at the Brooklyn Museum. Here we have a woman’s name on a permanent venue for feminist art insisting on the importance of feminist art because it ties the work not just to women but also to a revolution for women’s equity and justice.
Liz constantly challenges the status quo with a distinctive drive and ambition to leave the world a better place. Liz embodies courage, compassion and determination, true designations of a troublemaker. On behalf of the Jewish Women’s Archive, I am so pleased to present the first Making Trouble | Making History Award to my friend and sister-revolutionary: Dr. Elizabeth Sackler.
Eliabeth Sackler: Thank you to the Jewish Women’s Archive, Founding Director Gail T. Reimer and Founding Chair Barbara Dobkin, and current Chair Prudence Steiner. A big shout out from me to my friend Sheri Sandler, for this honor, and my co-troublemaker award recipients Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Rebecca Trasiter. To the ever growing Circle of Troublemakers, and all those who joined me in making trouble I say, thank you: Arnold Lehman, director of the Brooklyn Museum, Judy Chicago, one of the loudest troublemakers of all time, to my sister Carol Master whose financial strategic foresight made so much possible, and to all those who cheered me on: my children Laura and Michael, and dearest friend and brilliant co-conspirator Barry Rosen. My grandchildren couldn’t be here today, but as they get older they are beginning to get a glimpse of the trouble their grandmother has made and who shall be, like all others of their generation, beneficiaries of it.
I have spent the better part of my life making trouble—or conversely, identifying the trouble and making it big trouble to the point of its extinction. This wonderful honor is one of my many rewards, satisfaction, of course, being one of the most delicious.
I have spent almost one entire year, this past, staring at ceilings while recovering from a trifecta of operations that, significantly, all related to my GUTS. As you know guts are in the core of us all. Well my guts have been sliced and diced, removed and returned, washed and ironed—but I do believe the core of me has remained untouched. I still feel gutsy and still relish the idea of yet more trouble.
The Washington Post Art Critic, Blake Gopnik said at a lecture I attended a couple years ago, that he despised clichés, was adamantly opposed to their chronic usage, and by extension, I suppose, the use of riddles.
(Parenthetically, there is only one thing I can think of that is more annoying than hearing remarks begin with a reference to another, is to hear a woman speaking at a women’s event and reference a man—but what can you do?). This is especially doleful as I’m being recognized for groundbreaking originality, but what the hell. In Blake’s book I’m beginning my remarks of thanks and gratitude with a most annoying cliché/riddle, Which came first the chicken or the egg? (This is a great riddle, coming from an old hen!)
Having spent the better part of 2011 watching seasons change from my bed through my window while my body fought to live, heal, mend, repair—both nature and God were in my thoughts daily, hourly, as I searched for the meaning of, the way of, and the why of life.,/p>
I recently concluded it isn’t a chicken or an egg that comes first, it is the void. No chicken. No egg. Void. “In the beginning…”
Now this can become a speaker’s dead end, an existentialists no exit, but it is here that a philosopher takes a leap of faith, and where troublemakers can find some meat. It’s the “what’s missing?” piece. What isn’t happening that needs to be; ah yes, the problem inherent is the void. This is the fixer troublemaker’s paradise—the place to get busy. A time to create.
Some of my greatest pleasures have come from filling voids as well as fighting the non-void’s discrimination with inclusion to replace injustice with righteousness, and to dance, always dance, for peace.
I don’t know that I’ve come any closer, this past year, to understanding the “why” of life. It’s still a mystery to me. I don’t understand why we are here: as witnesses, as co-creators, just because, or just to fill the void. I don’t know but here we be, and it is what we do while we are here that gives meaning at the very least to oneself, if not to life’s purpose.
So we get to fill the time, fill the void, and, in the wonderful world of Bokononism in Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle we are the mud that gets to stand up and look around—and to be the mud making trouble is formidable.
free association / stream of consciousness on troublemaking: not thesaurus synonyms
Delinquent (as in Juvenile)
lover of life
You are trouble
I see trouble
Trouble is right around the corner
Trouble is another word for….
Trouble comes in threes
Bubble bubble boil and trouble
to a lesser or greater degree those words resonate
Gloria Steinem introduction: For someone who started her career as a journalist at a time when the market value of a female writer was greatly focused on the interest in her sex life, Rebecca changed that narrowly sexist lens and created for herself a new beat. At Salon dot com, she showed the media that writing on gender politics gets attention. In her book Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women, Rebecca tells the story of the women in the 2008 elections who showed up on the national political stage and how the nation and the media responded to them. In the process she asked some tough questions about feminism and her own generation. As Connie schultz wrote in The Washington Post—“In its best parts, it is a raw and brave memoir of a journalist who discovered that all is not well for women in America, and a description of how she and other young women are laying claim to their rightful place in the fight.… Such a youthful embrace of the women’s work yet to be done is exhilarating—for her generation and for mine.” On behalf of the Jewish Women’s Archive and all the generations represented in this room, I am pleased to present the "Making Trouble | Making History Award" to Rebecca Traister.
Rebecca Traister: I can’t say enough how honored I am to be here today. I confess that when I first got the call, I wasn’t familiar—or I should say, familiar enough—with the Jewish Women’s Archive. I knew of the organization, but had never dug deep.
Gloria Feldt, is a friend, respected colleague, and the person who called to let me know that this day was going to happen, urged me to take a look at the JWA’s website.
I was blown away. The first thing I explored was the encyclopedia. Here were Jewish feminists, history-makers, culture-makers. Bella Abzug, Hannah Arendt, Bea Arthur—and those were just in the As. Helene Cixous, Dawn Steel, Emma Goldman, Rosa Luxemburg, Roseanne Barr! Women united by faith or culture or perhaps just by genetics as Jews, included in a dizzying compendium of achievement and voice. It was a journalist’s, and a feminist’s dream resource! I spent time in at the online exhibits about feminism, the fight for birth control, the civil rights movement, Hurricane Katrina.
What the JWA is doing is what all of us interested in telling women’s stories, in recording women’s history—also known as “history”—should be aspiring to. This is the story of the United States and elsewhere—told through a particular lens, yes, but one that winds up offering us a more expansive view on everything from science to law to race to medicine to sports to reproductive rights policy.
Now, this is not especially empowered and self-confident of me, but the truth is, I was flabbergasted that this organization would have singled me out for today’s honor. My concern increased as I learned more about today’s theme: Making Trouble, Making History.
A terrible confession: I’m not really a trouble-maker. The truth is that I am a consummate good girl. I have an arguably unhealthy respect for authority. I dislike conflict. As a teenager I came home on time, rebelled in boringly appropriate ways. As an adult I drink responsibly, I quit smoking years ago. I floss regularly.
I was berating myself for not making enough trouble in life when I remembered the moment I decided to write my first book.
I was home sick from work in September 2008, days after Sarah Palin had been nominated for the vice presidency. I was sitting on the couch, sniffling and coughing as some pundit explained what Palin was going to mean to women. Before I knew it, I was yelling at the tv: you’re wrong! You’re telling the story wrong!
Here we were, in the midst of history. An African-American man was a presidential nominee against a woman who had earned 18 million votes; another woman had just become the first-ever Republican vice-presidential candidate.
And some fool on television was telling me that women were going to switch from Clinton to Palin just because chicks dig other chicks, and Hillary Clinton’s candidacy was a failure, and Palin was going to be an asset because she was beautiful and oh my god he would not stop! This was coming from a purported authority and it was so mind-blowingly wrong!!!
So, as it turns out, my respect for authority has its limits.
I decided then, all stuffed up on the couch that I was going to write a book about the 2008 election. I wanted to write it because I understood, that day, that there would be years in front of us in which other people would get the story wrong. And by the way, I was right—I hear every day, in the middle of this Republican primary morass, about how it’s just like Clinton and Obama in 2008 and I think—no, no no! Four white guys arguing about birth control is NOTHING like 2008.
I think that perhaps the reason I’m a journalist—though I had never considered it until I was force to consider how and if I’d ever made trouble—is because I’m driven to wrest control of stories I think are important and being garbled, to tell them right—or at least the way I think is right.
To that end, I want to conclude by touching on another story that I think a lot of people get wrong. It’s about young women—women younger than I. For years, I’ve heard complaints about a younger generation of women—about how they don’t care, how they’re apathetic.
But here’s what’s right: Young women have been engaging, working, making trouble, but perhaps in ways that have been invisible to those outside their cohort. I’m here to tell you: thanks to technology and the internet, young women have been taking control of their own stories, telling them their own ways, getting them right.
They know instinctively, better than I ever did, how to use their voices—often their virtual voices—to challenge and, increasingly, gain control over narratives that have been flawed and incomplete for too long. We can look at recent events—the social media crusades against the Komen Foundation and against Rush Limbaugh, the viral organizing behind SlutWalks and the protests on statehouse steps around the country—and finally, we can all see the powerful engagement and power of the next generation.
So while I’m honored to be here today, the people I really want to direct your attention to are the younger women making trouble all around us.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin
Gloria Steinem introduction: Twenty years ago, Letty Cottin Pogrebin helped the Jewish Women’s Archive articulate its mission. “For a people whose ethos, whose very identity, is founded in remembering,” she wrote in Deborah, Golda, and Me, “we have forgotten too much about Jewish women. For a community that calls itself the ‘people of the book,’ we have left too many pages blank. The Jewish educational establishment has left us ignorant of Jewish women’s past.” Letty is a woman of many firsts but for the Jewish Women’s Archive, she was the first speaker at the first Jewish Women’s Archive event before JWA officially launched more than fifteen years ago. As a writer and activist, Letty has shaped the feminist agenda for a generation. Her nine books center on examples of troublemakers: female role models who inspire contemporary acts of boldness and vision. JWA is proud to present the Making Trouble | Making History Award to Letty Cottin Pogrebin.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin: Thank you, Jewish Women’s Archive, for this precious honor. Congratulations to my stellar sister honorees, Elizabeth and Rebecca. Great gratitude to Gail Remer for thinking up JWA in the first place. Kudos to JWA’s board and staff for fulfilling the organization’s mission to rescue, chronicle, and transmit the history of American Jewish women. And special thanks to Susan Schlechter, whose idea it was to book today’s event in this venue.
I was thrilled when I heard we were going to be lunching together within sight of the Statue of Liberty because I love her—even though she’s not Jewish. The statue was a gift from France to mark the centennial of American democracy.
I love this iconic monument for its grace and beauty, of course, and for what it stands for—welcome, freedom, hope. But I particularly love it because it embodies the very concept of liberty as a woman, and it valorizes a poem, “The New Colossus,” written by a Jewish woman.
Besides being an acclaimed poet, Emma Lazarus was an activist for immigration and immigrants’ rights, and against the trivialization of women’s poetry. She protested the literary establishment’s narrow definition of what subject matter was appropriate for women writers. When her mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, failed to include any of her work in his 1874 anthology, Parnassus, Lazarus fired off an angry letter. She did not take injustice lying down.
She also claimed her Jewish identity with pride. She protested anti-Semitism among gentiles and complacency among Jews. She was a Zionist: Sixty years before Israel was born, she favored the founding of a Jewish State in Palestine.
Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus” to help raise money for the purchase of the statue’s pedestal, an enhancement that was not included in the French gift. Gloria Steinem often says, “Fundraising is the second oldest profession,” and Lazarus did her part in 1883. Lady Liberty is one woman I want on a pedestal.
Just imagine how much of her grandeur would be lost if she only stood 151 feet high from base to torch, rather than more than three hundred feet high with the addition of her majestic base. Lazarus’ poem contrasts the ancient Colossus of Rhodes—whom Lazarus calls a “brazen giant”—with Lady Liberty, the New Colossus, (quote) “a mighty woman with a torch … her name, Mother of Exiles.” (unquote) What gorgeous words—A mighty woman. A mother. A powerful combination.
I also love the sculptural details of the Mother of Exile—her torch lighting the way to a better future; her seven-pointed crown representing the seven seas and the seven continents and therefore the universality of freedom’s call; the tablet inscribed with the date of the Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776; and the broken chains at her feet symbolizing the end of oppression.
Over time, the statue has come to stand for the hope and promise of the immigrant experience. But from her very first day, she also stood for American women’s struggle for freedom and equality. A group of suffragists who had four dollars between them managed to raise a hundred dollars so they could hire a freight steamer on October 28, 1886 and transport themselves to the unveiling of the statue to protest the fact that only two women were included among the 2000 honored guests at the dedication ceremony. What else is new? Today, in 2012 and women are still overlooked and underrepresented on podiums, in delegations, at conferences and ceremonies.
On July 5, 1915, another group of suffragists staged a demonstration at the foot of the statue demanding the right to vote. Today, in 2012, we have the vote, but not enough women use it. Let’s hope this year millions more women will turn out at the ballot box to elect legislators who will advance women’s autonomy and dignity, rather than call us names for wanting to control our sexuality and reproductive health.
On August 10, 1970, to express support for ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, a cadre of stealthy feminists carried sections of a huge banner onto Liberty Island, pieced it together, and draped it across the statue’s base. The banner said WOMEN OF THE WORLD UNITE! Twelve years later, the ERA failed and ever since, the clock has been moving backwards on women’s issues. Maybe its time for women of the world to unite for some serious troublemaking. How about Occupy the Statue of Liberty?
We could do it in memory of three holy troublemakers who died in the past year or so, and whose lives JWA has chronicled: Debbie Friedman, the gifted singer-composer of Jewish liturgy and balladeer of Jewish healing; Esther Broner, the brilliant creator of innumerable feminist rituals, co-author of the Women’s Haggadah, and inventor of the women’s seder; and Paula Hyman, a passionate advocate for women’s history and Professor of Jewish History at Yale.
Finally, I love the Statue of Liberty because she reminds me of my mother. She emigrated from a little shtetl in Hungary at age seven, having sailed to America with her parents and siblings in steerage. She died when I was 15 but I remember her telling me that when her ship entered New York harbor and she saw the lady with the light, she wept with joy. That day she turned her back on the poverty and pogroms of the Old World, never to return.
“Why would I want to go back there?” she asked my father, when he suggested a trip to Europe in the early ‘50s. I think she was afraid that if she left our shores, she wouldn’t be allowed to return.
My mother was deeply grateful to the United States for taking her in. She cherished her citizenship papers. She decorated our house for the July 4th, and celebrated Thanksgiving as if she were descended from John Smith. But, proud as she was to be an American, she often behaved like a guest in her own country.
As a Jew and an immigrant, she never felt she quite belonged. As a woman and a wife, she never controlled her destiny. She was raised to be a subservient helpmeet to a man. For the sake of “shalom bayit”—peace in the home—she downplayed her talents and intelligence, and squelched her anger and frustrations. My mother died in the Fifties, the age of apathy. I doubt she’d have believed it possible for women to rebel against the strictures of the feminine role and the stifling of women’s voices in the way that millions of women have. I wish she’d lived to see us making trouble and making history.
Someone once said, “All societies honor their live conformists and their dead troublemakers.” Thank you, Jewish Women’s Archive, for honoring Elizabeth, Rebecca, and me, while we’re still alive.”
Closing Remarks, Sue Dorn
Hello I’m Sue Dorn, a proud board member and I’m thrilled to be here. I surely hope some day someone will call me a troublemaker!
Recently we watched news broadcasts showing the devastation and destruction caused by the many tornadoes, which ravaged parts of the Midwest and South.
Heartbreaking stories were told of loss. One survivor was shown digging with his hands amid the ruins where his house once stood. He told the reporter that he was searching for any remnants of family photos.
I was reminded of a tragic fire experienced by an acquaintance of mine years ago. She and her husband were on a trip when they received word that workmen had caused an electrical fire at their home. Weeks after, she told me that it was not the loss of a major painting by Picasso, but the loss of her family photographs that she most regretted.
In both those cases was it the actual pictures or the memories and stories that were brought to mind when they viewed those photos?
Have you ever opened an album or a box of photographs left by a family member only to discover many of people were unknown to you and wondered who they were and what were their stories?
For too long the history of American Jewish Women—their stories, struggles and achievements—were like those unnamed pictures. Fortunately for us, our children, and our children’s children, the Jewish Women’s Archive was founded in 1995 to tell that rich story. When the story is told, it is not forgotten.
In your program there is supplemental material prepared by the staff of the Jewish Women’s Archive for the core exhibit here at the museum. You may have visited the Museum of Jewish Heritage previously and gained knowledge. With this addition, we hope your experience will be further enriched.
I would be remiss if I didn’t recall an incident I overheard in the Emma Lazarus exhibit which illustrates the importance of JWA’s mission. A young teen-aged girl was walking through the exhibit with her parents and remarked, “Oh, I know all about Emma Lazarus.”
And then a few minutes later she exclaimed, “I never knew she was Jewish! They never taught me that in school.” I watched as her body language became more positive and she became much more engaged in viewing the exhibit.
How can we expect that young woman and others like her to take pride in their legacy if they don’t know it? She exemplifies why the work of the Jewish Women’s Archive is so important. And maybe even more important today than at any other time in the history of the Jews in America. As our country becomes more multi-cultural , the need to know our heritage—and the role women have played and are playing in it—is greater—or it will be lost.
You understand this need—or you would not be at this luncheon today. On behalf of the Board and staff of JWA, I thank you for your presence. But I ask more of you. Pause for a moment—remember the destruction caused by both man and nature in your lifetime and that of your parents and grandparents—when the photographs and stories were lost.
We can’t let it happen again! That’s why I ask you to join me in continuing to support the work of JWA. In fact, if you are so inspired and wish to make a gift today, just fill out the envelope at your table. Anyone with one of these buttons “I’m an enthusiastic JWA Board Member” will be happy to accept your contribution.
Thank you for helping JWA uncover, chronicle and transmit to a broad public the rich history of American Jewish Women. You are the best!