About the Project
by Deborah Ross
During 2010-2011, I interviewed nine Jewish women in the greater Washington D.C. area, where I have lived for over three decades, for this oral history project. My project grew out of two interests. One is a general interest in people. Where do they come from? What interests them? How do they spend their lives? As a teacher of English as a Second Language, I have the chance every day to learn from my students about their cultures and lives. My second interest is in Jewish identity. How does being Jewish — an accident of birth for most — affect one’s life? What choices does having a Jewish background determine? And are these Jewish influences conscious or subtle? In other words, not, “What makes us Jewish?” but “What does being Jewish make us?”
In the spring of 2010, I attended a White House reception held to honor Jewish American Heritage Month. I found myself in the company of many Jewish Americans, all of whom had been invited to attend because of their contributions to American life. I wondered how they would answer the question: How has being Jewish affected your life and career? Is this why you are here?
This became the focus of my project. The women I selected have all achieved distinction in their careers and made lasting contributions to society.
Some were among the first in their fields:
- Attorney Marcia Greenberger, the first woman to co-lead a national organization dedicated to the legal rights of women
- Phyllis Greenberger, president of an organization that advocates for research to advance women’s health
- Rabbi Mindy Portnoy, one of the first women in the nation to become a pulpit rabbi
- NPR’s beloved Susan Stamberg, the first woman to anchor a national news broadcast
Two are creative artists:
Both of these women draw on their backgrounds as children of Holocaust survivors to create works of art.
Others are accomplished in a variety of other fields:
- As medical director of a clinic in an underserved neighborhood of Washington, D.C., Dr. Randi Abramson has devoted her career to treating the poor.
- Joan Nathan, noted author and expert on Jewish cuisine, helps us understand Jewish history and traditions through recipes and food.
- Psychotherapist, bible scholar and author Naomi Harris Rosenblatt combines her understanding of ancient texts with her passion for sharing the lessons she finds there.