This growing online collection contains reminiscences of a variety of recently deceased American Jewish women who made a difference in their community and beyond.
Despite the difficulty of translating the evanescent nature of dance into words, Selma Jeanne Cohen believed that dance, as much as painting, music and literature, deserved a history of its own. She spent a lifetime creating the structures necessary to making the recording of that history possible….
Her life not only chronicles a history of the Broadway musicals I grew up with, but also an era that allowed many of us to believe in the beauty and power of New York, as well as that melancholy feeling many of us hold as we look back on a period when life was indeed simpler… Though not a particularly observant Jew, Comden seemed informed by a Jewish frame of mind – a wise-cracking, down-to-earth, cultural "at homeness" with which I very much identified.
Sally Fox's passion was to gather and share the history of women through visual images. Sometimes this meant finding images of women doing conventional work, but often it meant seeking images of women doing the unexpected…. Her goal was to challenge conventional notions of how women lived their lives in the past.
Her major talent was opening hearts. Her compassion, understanding and generosity made her the most popular person at school, a magnet for teenagers who called her their second mother and were ready to share things they would never have told their parents.
When I pick up this pen to use it, I will remember so much of what you taught me, not the least of which is to dare to try. To go for it. And I will remember the lessons you taught me of believing in myself, of responsibility and honor and consideration for others and how we must give back, and, of the endless possibilities of creativity. And, oh yes, to have fun….
Whatever the particular project – this woman pushed on. Whether it was the Guide Dogs for the Blind, the children of Jerusalem who would benefit from this park or that zoo, and most recently, the passion for exposing Israeli excellence in the decorative arts to international audiences. Her zeal for young people – Birthright groups, Reboot young adults, children in enrichment programs in Israeli schools whether in Beit Shemesh or Sakhnin, was overwhelming.
Once she became a famous performer, Hart was always aware of which musical theater greats shared her lineage. "Everybody in the theater was Jewish," she declared matter-of-factly. "Except Cole Porter." She only gradually became aware of antisemitism around her. "I went to a dinner party – and in those days, everybody dressed up for dinner parties," she recalled. "And they were talking about the Jews in a way that was just awful. It was unbearable. And I got up in the middle of dinner, and I said, 'I am Jewish, and I won't sit here and listen to this kind of talk for another five minutes.' And I left. The bravest thing I ever did."
A clipping in her memoirs sums up her philosophy: 'Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body … but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a ride!"'
Whether it was women's rights, political candidates, health care reform, cutting edge or seemingly impossible causes, she championed them and pretty soon, so did everyone else.
When Fay had an idea that something needed doing, she didn't complain. She jumped in and did it. She energized people. She didn't plan to do things big, she just planned to do things better, and they grew.
Given the Indian name of Neeladevi by her guru in the late l960s, she became Swami Neeladevananda at her investiture in Orleans, France in 2005. Neeladevi or Neeladevananda, Ruby Blue always remained a Jew and lit sabbath candles every Friday night.
She was a strong leader—head of the women's division of the UJA in Detroit, and later on the national women’s division board (she never made a fuss about that—it was her turn to do it so she did it; this was her attitude). In all these and other philanthropic enterprises she preferred to be in the background; she let others take credit for successes and worked quietly for what she thought was important. But she always went out of her way to work with the next generation, mentoring them and training them to become the leaders of tomorrow.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "We Remember." (Viewed on October 26, 2014) <http://jwa.org/weremember>.