This growing online collection contains reminiscences of a variety of recently deceased American Jewish women who made a difference in their community and beyond.
Miriam was a quirky amalgam of old world and new. She resisted cell phones and was certainly no fashion queen, but no new composer was too ‘out there’ for Miriam; no movie too unconventional. Of course, she loved the classics too, but she liked her art to be challenging, to break new ground. In her own life and art, Miriam never stopped breaking new ground.
All these years later, I realize Lang’s success was not only her performance but how she embodied connections, showing that ties between people – whether tenuous and delicate or firm and furious – are the world’s wellspring of life.
... Mostly I admire her for being a genuinely funny, talented woman, who never gave up on her greatest ambitions. In an industry where youth and beauty are often valued far above maturity and wit, Estelle turned the tables.
I didn’t pay much attention to this tiny little old lady. Then came a student show, and she brought in her Bust of Henry Lofton, a twice life-size study of an 11-year-old African American boy. That’s all I had to see to know that I was sharing a studio with an exceptional talent.
She was an expert – a hands-on, old-fashioned, tough-conditions field worker – on the musical traditions of Mexico, Guatemala, and Puerto Rico and issued many of her field recordings on vinyl. Until the end of her life she was regularly invited to lecture in Mexico. Late in life, she also began an innovative internet-based study of music used by Neo-Nazis.
The obituary for Rosetta Reitz in the New York Times portrayed her as a champion of black jazz artists, while the one in the Villager featured the feminist Rosetta who wrote the ground-breaking book on menopause. For me, Rosetta Reitz under her maiden name of Toshka Goldman will always be memorable as the founder of the Four Seasons Bookstore in Greenwich Village.
Dr. Spector always seemed happy and was full of laughter. Despite her tragic past, she knew how to enjoy life and made sure that you enjoyed it along with her. At the same time, she was principled. Deeply religious, her tenets in life were molded by her profound belief in the teachings of the Bible. She was also unbending: a determined lady who would brook no action that violated her principles.
... It was your run-of-the-mill start of a new era; an era of Ruth as a lawyer, a teacher, a mentor, an activist. But it also marked a time during which Ruth's desire to have a family became uppermost. To really know Ruth is to know that her mantra is: Family First! That applies to her immediate family and her many extended families.
Frances Feldman's life and work are a testimony to the highest standards of social work scholarship. They reflect compassion, systematic understanding, and relentless curiosity. A pioneering spirit, personally and intellectually, she changed the world she lived in and left indelible memories with all who knew her.
She was a natural-born writer, she wrote long hand-written letters ... I can't begin to summarize the contents of the hundreds of letters that passed between Eva and me over more than 45 years of friendship ... Eva's letters were graceful, evocative retelling of events, powerful confessions of emotion and desires, and commentaries on my own struggles with writing.
Never content to play only gay spaces, she would perform 'any place that would have her.' She loved being a bridge, helping others to gain confidence and find the resources they needed.
Roz was a more rounded person than I was. She didn't just love music, she played music. She didn't just appreciate art, she became a painter. She loved flowers, and planted them. She loved theater and took to the stage.
Waldman's activism manifested itself in her Jewish identity... She believed that the experience Jews had had in the world gave a very powerful link to work for tikkun olam, for social justice and peace, and fighting oppression. Though she considered herself a secular humanist and never belonged to a synagogue, she had a very strong network in the grassroots of the Jewish community and really believed in the power and beauty of Jewish culture and experience.
Shulamis's commanding voice filled up the cluttered apartment and I could see how much she loved an audience. It hardly mattered if I was one woman in her kitchen, or a group of children on a frozen plain, or a gathering of old Yiddishists downtown. She was holding court, spinning tales, imparting wisdom.
Her courage was more than physical: she had the courage of her convictions. Passionate about social justice, she did not stand on the sidelines. If a cause mattered to her, she dove in wholeheartedly, attending rallies, volunteering for Board service, arranging meetings, and organizing fundraisers.
One Erev Pesach my grandmother demonstrated physics at the University of Toronto for three hours, went to the radio studio to tape a live broadcast, taped two more broadcasts for the upcoming days of Yom Tov, and came home to make seder.
“I liked all the toys in your office but actually my favorite thing was you.” No one was too poor, too cranky or too old to be welcomed into her office, advised, healed, and encouraged.
Nell made a strong impression. Her build was slight, but she was no pushover: her energetic gait and purposeful expression projected a commanding, yet accessible, presence. She laughed easily and sometimes uproariously – especially if the joke was on her. Nell loved to hear and to tell what she called 'juicy' stories. She was not interested in idle gossip. But she was ever curious about people, relationships and the world around her.
Alternately reckless, mischievous or courageous, Mom's defiance had a triple edge. At 10, she secretly smoked a corncob pipe stuffed with stolen tobacco. She was arrested at age 14 for driving her Aunt Minnie's car at 90 miles an hour without a license. (Her adored maternal aunt, something of a bon vivant herself, was in the car at the time.) She challenged a revered male leader at a federation board meeting for using green Israel bonds to pay his campaign pledge – a practice that no one else had the guts to expose.
She continued to dream of, and work for, a world at peace. Before the 2004 election, horrified at America's attack on Iraq, she wrote a long, impassioned letter about the importance of the election, photocopied it, and mailed it to friends who were doubtful their vote would matter.
By the time she left England in 1933 to try her fortune in America, [Sheilah] had earned a modest reputation as a freelance journalist. She had also written two unsuccessful novels, a credential that allowed her to bluff her way into jobs as a New York staff reporter, getting scoops and writing eye-catching features such as 'Who Cheats Most in Marriage?' a breezy inventory of the men of Western nations.
My mother, I came to realize, wanted to obliterate the barrier between love and sexuality. I was not shocked or shamed to encounter that carnal side of her. The mother I knew during my lifetime was a beautiful and vain woman, one who resisted having a mastectomy for breast cancer because she could not bear to be, as she put it, 'mutilated' and 'disfigured.' Her allure was part of her life-force, something inextricably tied to her passions for intellectual growth and artistic expression.
Wasserstein observed that she was often told by producers and others that her plays were 'too New York,' which she understood as being a euphemism for 'too Jewish.' As Wasserstein recounted, when people asked her whether The Sisters Rosensweig with its three Jewish sisters, 'a hit in New York [could] play around the country,' she replied 'Well, you know this is something I've heard … People have sisters. Now maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they don't have them in Ohio. I could be wrong, but I've heard … they have sisters there.'
Pam's approach to work mirrored her approach to life. She was direct and comforting. If something did not work out, try another door—another avenue. Be calm, yet be persistent. Look people in the eye and let them know they are valued.
…She chose action over passivity. She chose to reform rather than to conform. Her diverse background and interests led her down many paths. As a renowned feminist, filmmaker, psychologist, educator, author, and activist who fully invested herself in every fiber of her work-literally, physically, metaphorically-Joyce touched the lives of many.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "We Remember." (Viewed on February 1, 2015) <http://jwa.org/weremember>.