The Lives They Lived: Jewish women to remember in 2011

Singer, songwriter, composer, professor, and educator, Debbie Friedman (1951–2011).

Photo by Limmud.

Feminist activist, novelist and playwright Esther M. Broner (1927 – 2011) is perhaps best known in the Jewish world as the author of The Women's Haggadah.

Institution: Private collection.

Phyllis "Flip" Imber in the 1940s.

Photograph courtesy of the Imber family.

Film producer Laura Ziskin.
Courtesy of Susan B. Landau.
Miriam Solomon, 1998.
Courtesy of Ray Solomon.

Bette Arnold in front of her Boston restaurant, Bette's Rolls Royce.

Photo courtesy of Judith Cowin.

Physicist Rosalyn Yalow in the laboratory.
Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine

Paula Hyman, celebrated social historian and Jewish feminist.

2011 was a year of celebration for Jewish women. It was also a year of loss as we said goodbye to far too many women—both public figures and local heroes—whose contributions to Jewish communal life, music, scholarship, science, social services, business, GLBT rights, and other fields made such a difference.

Debbie Friedman

Singer/Songwriter, Spiritual Leader

“[Debbie Friedman] emphasized the value of every voice and the power of song to help us express ourselves and become our best selves. As she wrote for JWA's online exhibit Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution: 'The more our voices are heard in song, the more we become our lyrics, our prayers, and our convictions.' The woman who wrote the song that asks God to 'help us find the courage to make our lives a blessing' herself modeled for us what that looks like.”—Judith Rosenbaum.
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Raysa Rose Bonow

Television Producer

In a time when there were hardly any women television producers, and female executives were virtually non-existent, Raysa Bonow came to Boston and changed the face of daytime TV programming. As Executive Producer of "For Women Today," later renamed "The Sonya Hamlin Show," she introduced Boston daytime viewers to a kind of television they had never seen before. In the wake of the social turbulence of the late 1960s and the re-emergence rise of feminism in the early 1970s, Raysa was determined to abandon the typical daytime fare of cooking, fashion, and celebrities and open up a world of new ideas to women at home.
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Esther M. Broner

Jewish Feminist Activist, Scholar, Author

“She was our spiritual leader. She made room for us at the table by creating a whole new one—a Seder table at which women’s voices were heard. She encouraged us to ask the Four Questions of Women and to recite women’s plagues, of which there were always more than 10. She honored our foremothers—not just the matriarchs but also women in the Bible who are unseen, unsung and unnamed; women scholars of the Talmud; the wives and mothers who made it possible for children to flourish and for men to study Torah: the union organizers, suffragists, partisans, peaceniks, lawyers, and legislators who won us our rights. Esther Broner coaxed all these women out of their silence, and in so doing, she empowered our generation.”—Letty Cottin Pogrebin.
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Miriam Rayman Solomon

Communal Leader

Miriam Solomon was a native of Helena, Arkansas. Except during and immediately after college, she and her husband, lawyer and later judge David Solomon, lived their entire lives in the small town on the Mississippi River. The Solomons were cornerstones of the Helena community, especially of its one Jewish synagogue, Temple Beth El. Miriam Solomon’s most active civic role was as a founding board member of the East Arkansas Regional Mental Health Center. The Center, governed and run by a racially and economically mixed group of citizens, provided a new model for cooperative organizing in Helena in the 1970s.
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Bette Berman Arnold

Boston Restaurateur

“My mother was a visionary and anticipated major social movements we now take for granted but few people understood at the time. She always scoffed at us if we referred to her as an emancipator of women or as a women’s liberator because she didn’t feel that she needed to be emancipated or liberated. She had a career in the 1940s and 50s when it was not common for women to work in business or in the professions.”—Judith Cowin.
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Gerry Faier

LGBT Activist

An agitator, rabble-rouser, and working-class Jewish lesbian, Gerry Faier found company and camaraderie among fellow labor organizers, the burgeoning gay and lesbian communities of Woodstock and Greenwich Village, and activists across many generations.
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Doris B. Gold

Pioneering Jewish Feminist

Doris B. Gold was active in the New York chapter of the National Organization for Women and a Founding Mother of Lilith. She organized the 30th Reunion of the First National Jewish Women’s Conference of 1973 and initiated a program to honor Emma Lazarus at the re-dedication of the Statue of Liberty. Aviva Cantor writes: “Doris was a truly courageous woman, never afraid to speak and write on controversial and unpopular subjects, to debate and to foster debate in the Jewish community and in the feminist movement.”
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Phyllis "Flip" S. Imber

Civic Activist, Storeowner, Folk Art Collector

“My grandmother was a woman of inimitable grace and style, who blessed those around her with her zest and passion for life. A civic activist, storeowner, and avid collector of folk art, she was my family’s compass—there for every decision, every change, every milestone.”—Elizabeth Imber.
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Caryn Surkes

Mental Health Worker

After 25 years of dedicated service to those living with mental and physical disabilities, she was awarded the prestigious Silver Ribbon Award for Excellence in the Field of Social Work sponsored by the National Alliance of Mental Illness of Berkshire County in recognition of her commitment, dedication and service in the area of mental health and for her efforts to eliminate stigma and foster hope through education, outreach, and research.
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Rosalyn Sussman Yalow

Nobel Prize-Winning Scientist

“A Jewish woman whose father-in-law is a rabbi, who keeps a kosher home, who invites her lab assistants to Passover seders, and worries about them catching colds is not the typical image of a Nobel Prize winner. But it is the image of Rosalyn Yalow, the first woman born and educated in the United States to win a Nobel Prize in a scientific field.”—Emily Taitz.
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Laura Ziskin

Film Producer, Cancer Activist

Laura Ziskin was a Hollywood film producer whose credits included the Spider-Man series and Pretty Woman. In 2008, she co-founded Stand Up To Cancer, an organization dedicated to raising funds for translational cancer research in an effort to find a cure.
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Paula Hyman

Pioneering Jewish feminist, social historian

The Lucy G. Moses Professor of Modern Jewish History at Yale for the past 25 years, Paula was, in the words of the New York Times, “a social historian who pioneered the study of women in Jewish life and became an influential advocate for women’s equality in Jewish religious practice.” As the Times obituary noted, Paula Hyman’s “work was informed by twin, deep-rooted and sometimes conflicting bonds: to Judaism and to feminism.”
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Adrienne Cooper

Mother of the Klezmir/Yiddish revival

"Adrienne Cooper passed away on Sunday evening after a long fight with cancer. Famous primarily for her extraordinary voice and ability to make Yiddish song clear to all, regardless of whether or not the listener understood the language, Cooper was, in many ways, the mother of the Klezmer/Yiddish revival of the 1980s. Her vision of "revival" was based in her own strong commitment to social justice and lay not in nostalgia for Anatevka but in the idea of Yiddish as a language in which one fights for social justice."—Ari Davidow.

If you know a Jewish woman who had an impact on or beyond her community and who passed away this year (or any year since 2000), her story belongs in JWA’s We Remember. Please get in touch with us.

See also: The Lives They Lived: Jewish women to remember in 2010

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How to cite this page

Berkenwald, Leah. "The Lives They Lived: Jewish women to remember in 2011." 28 December 2011. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on February 25, 2024) <>.