Exploring My Identity with My Bubbe's Lion of Judah Pin

2020-21 Rising Voices Fellow Dodie Altman Sagan’s grandmother’s Lion of Judah pin. Image by Elizabeth Altman-Sagan.

As I hold my late Bubbe’s Lion of Judah pin in my hands, I think about all that this pin symbolized for her in her lifetime, and the meaning it now has in mine. Many people don’t know about the Lions of Judah, and until recently, I didn’t either. The Lions of Judah is a giving society in which Jewish women find empowerment through philanthropy and community service. Members of the Lions of Judah often wear a gold lion-shaped pin with a flame, star of David, menorah, or venus symbol in the lion's hands. The eyes, paws, and tail on the pin are decorated with different jewels, such as rubies or emeralds. My Bubbe’s pin is covered with rhinestones on the paws and has a single ruby for an eye.

The Lions of Judah program began in Miami in 1972, and my Bubbe joined not long after in 1974 in Easton, Pennsylvania. My Bubbe’s sense of purpose and self was tied to her connection with her local Jewish Federation, so she was quick to become a Lion of Judah. As a stay-at-home mom with an unfinished college education, she might not have been perceived as a feminist at first glance; however, my Bubbe saw herself as a capable and productive feminist. My Bubbe belonged to an in-between generation, pulled between a traditional role as a wife and mother and an aspiration for educational and professional achievement. Being a full-time volunteer with the Federation gave my Bubbe an incredible sense of community, as both a Jew and a feminist.

My Bubbe was the daughter and granddaughter of working women, so not having to work was a privilege for her. After her modest childhood, being able to join the Lions of Judah and to give back to the Jewish community was her way of empowering herself and others. My Bubbe believed that women’s voices needed to be heard.

Because my Bubbe didn’t work a paying job, her name was never on a paycheck and she never made any co-worker friends. Instead, she found an intellectual community with shared values and made a name for herself in a way that she was passionate about.

When I picture my Bubbe, I imagine her wearing that gold lion-shaped pin on the side of her cardigan, holding her pride in her Jewish feminist identity literally close to her heart. Throughout my early childhood, I looked up to my Bubbe and the eye-catching pin on her shirt. Although I didn’t understand why she wore this little lion pin or what being a Jewish feminist meant, I hoped that I would, one day, follow in my Bubbe’s footsteps.

In recent years, I have begun to grasp what it truly means to harness my power as a Jewish feminist in the same way that my grandmother did for so many years. Throughout my journey to discover my purpose as a Jewish feminist, I have used my Bubbe’s pin as a reminder of why this is so important to me. Whenever I feel like I don’t belong anywhere or am struggling to fit in, I recall how my Bubbe found her place, purpose, and friendships through the Lions of Judah. Every moment that my Bubbe spent donating, volunteering with her peers, writing letters, and fighting for others, she felt like her contributions were valuable.

Now, glancing at my late Bubbe’s Lion of Judah pin reminds me of this strong, feminist leader who did her part to contribute to her community. My Bubbe made a name for herself in a way that held immense purpose for her—just as I am by writing this article as part of the Rising Voices Fellowship. My Bubbe taught me not only to wear the lion but to be the lion: empowered, confident, aggressive, protective, and fearless.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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I work for a Federation in California and was doing some research on the Lions of Judah and came across this piece. I just wanted to take a moment to say that it was really moving to me. You have really put to words the deep meaning this group has to Jewish women. Your Bubbe would be proud! You are lucky to have her pin to remember her by.

This is a sophisticated tribute by a granddaughter to a Bubbe that she loved and admired and whose influence continues to evolve. Thank you Dodie, for expanding my appreciation of your Bubbe, my sister in law, Phoebe Altman.

Dodie, This is such a powerfully evocative piece of writing and puts your bubbie (my sister) into a very full context. I know how much that Lion of Judah meant to her (is it part of Hadassah or Federation? I no longer remember.) Most of all you carry one your bubbie's power. Onward. Persist. The future belongs to you
with great respect, uncle rim

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How to cite this page

Sagan, Dodie. "Exploring My Identity with My Bubbe's Lion of Judah Pin." 11 November 2020. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on May 18, 2024) <http://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/exploring-my-identity-my-bubbes-lion-judah-pin>.