Judith Chalmer was born on November 4, 1951, in Buffalo, New York. Judith grew up in a Jewish neighborhood in Buffalo and attended a Reform Temple. When she was a student at the University of Toronto, she met and married Bruce Chalmer. After a summer hiking in Vermont, they settled there, and Judith finished her undergraduate degree at Goddard College. She and Bruce had three sons, now grown. The couple later divorced. Judith taught writing at Vermont college, authored two books of poetry, and directed a creative dance narrative adapted from oral histories she conducted with refugees in Central Vermont. She received the Great Performances Award from the Onion River Arts Council for this performance. Judith celebrated her marriage to Lisa Gibbons in September 2009. Today Judith is the executive director of VSA Arts of Vermont, whose mission is to make the arts accessible to people of all abilities through music, dance, drama, and the visual arts.
Judith describes her family background and being raised by a working single mother in Buffalo, New York. Judith’s maternal grandparents came to the United States at the turn of the 20th century. Her mother was born in New York City and grew up in Greenwich Village in the 1920s. Judith’s father grew up in Germany. In 1938, the day after Kristallnacht, the Nazis imprisoned her father in Dachau. Fortunately, he was released and immediately immigrated to the United States. Judith explains how, when World War II began, her father enlisted in the Army and ironically was posted to Germany. After the war, he was able to find his mother and sister, who had survived the Holocaust. Judith’s father died when she was one year old. Judith discusses her rich and complex family history and the motivation to travel to Amsterdam in the late 1990s to meet Emma Poldervaart, who had helped the Chalmer family hide during the war. Thanks to Judith’s efforts, Emma has been honored with the designation’ righteous gentile, and her story is preserved at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial. Judith details her work life and creative path as a writer. After taking a poetry workshop, Judith said, “I’m going to confront this Holocaust history in the family.” The result was a book of poetry, “Out of History’s Junk Jar: Poems of a Mixed Inheritance,” published in 1995 by Time Being Books. Judith’s family story inspired her to collect oral histories from immigrants and refugees in central Vermont. A grant from the state Arts Council in 1999 helped her write and produce a program of music, readings, and dance at City Hall in Montpelier based on the oral histories of immigrants to Central Vermont. Finally, Judith reflects on her children, her Jewish identity, and her vision for the role of women in Judaism in the future.
How to cite this page
Oral History of Judith Chalmer. Interviewed by Sandra Stillman Gartner. 3 November 2005, 8 December 2005. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on December 11, 2023) <https://jwa.org/oralhistories/chalmer-judith>.
Oral History of Judith Chalmer by the Jewish Women's Archive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://jwa.org/contact/OralHistory.