This online collection contains reminiscences of a variety of recently deceased American Jewish women who made a difference in their community and beyond.
Bunny’s passion for changing the field of education’s treatment of women was spurred by her own experience in academia. In 1969, after earning a doctorate at the University of Maryland, she hoped to secure one of seven open teaching positions in her department at that university. When she learned that she had not been considered for any of them, she asked a male colleague why. His reply was, “Let’s face it. You come on too strong for a woman.” For Bunny, those were fighting words, and battling discrimination in educational institutions became her lifelong passion.
Every inflection point in Rachel’s life became a source of mission and activism: as half of a young intermarried couple in the 1970s, she pushed for inclusivity in the Jewish community… When she became Jewish and then a rabbi (she was ordained in 1989 by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion), she used her dual perspective as both outsider and insider to sense what was needed in the Jewish world.
Carole gave millions of children the affirming soundtrack to their childhoods. You can say a lot of things about Carole, but she left this world better than she found it.
By reflecting on her life in the context of her family of origin, the community of her childhood, and the historical framework of her time, Kathy deepened our knowledge and understanding of Kathy and the loneliness and losses that shaped her. She also expanded the data that form the stuff of history—shedding new light on growing up female, American and Jewish in small town America, the immigrant experience, assimilation and anti-Semitism, and Jewish women’s religious needs and search for meaning.
Enid Shapiro lived tikkun olam. She was an early feminist, a devoted Jew, an unceasing learner, and she made a difference in countless people’s lives through her devotion to repair the world and her commitment to kindness and care that came from a place of profound integrity.
With her daring, her chutzpah, her athleticism, her many male lovers and her even greater number of enduring female friendships, she exemplified the complexities of a feminist form of freedom.
It was her determination to keep one foot firmly in traditional Judaism and the other in feminist ideals of inclusion that made her a model for so many of us.
It had all the elements of a Barbara Brenner project: edgy humor, indignation, broad appeal, and an educational component that emphasized how profiteering was taking hold of the breast cancer advocacy movement.
Rochie lived with a spirit that was equal parts intensity and carefree exuberance. In the last few years of her life, when her cancer returned, she talked about “the strength that comes with living with a sharpened sense of time.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald asked if she knew anyone in Hollywood. She didn't. He told her to open the top drawer of his dresser, where there were dozens of half empty gin bottles. She shrugged. Satisfied that Grandma wouldn't rat him out to tabloids or judge his drinking, Fitzgerald hired her that day.
In my imagination, she was a well-adjusted spinster whose heroes were Hemingway, Faulkner and Fitzgerald. But in the packed sanctuary that day, people spoke of a much greater hero: Ellen DeGeneres.
Among those of us who have been traveling in her wake for decades, she was and is a model of how to live, as well as how to write, courageously and sanely, with artistic craft and generosity, out of a profound love of our shared life.
Naomi sometimes described herself as a female Lenny Bruce. But she was not an imitation anything. She was pure Naomi.
My mother was no shrinking violet. After a few weeks at home following the wedding, she got a job at the Gary Welfare Department, where she went on home visits and discovered Gary’s devastatingly impoverished African-American community. I am sure that this was a pivotal moment for her—and she never turned back.
“Comedy is power,” she said. “The only weapon more formidable than humor is a gun.”
It seemed a fairy tale life with echoes of Isaac Bashevis Singer; fame, fortune, three children she adored, but etched with the tragedy of Bogart’s early death and a divorce from her second husband, Jason Robards.
Rivka got me to other agunah rallies, including a pitiful one with five other women circling the tiny front yard of a Manhattan brownstone. It was my last agunah rally but not Rivka’s. She never gave up and never turned down a request for help. For her, it was about justice and compassion, not numbers.
Aloni spearheaded an ideology in which feminism is a lens for social equality across all social sectors. Her work with Palestinians was informed by her feminism, and her feminism was informed by her work with Palestinians. She held on to a world view in which equality and compassion were part of the process of learning to see the “other” in society, whether that “other” was distinguished by gender, ethnicity, religion, or anything else.
And in the reflection of the glass, finally, literally and metaphorically, I could see myself, and Leslie, at once. I think I started to understand what I could be in that moment, that I belonged to a proud tradition of Butch women. That there was a place for me in this world. That I could grow up. For the first time, I understood that I was looking at who and what I would become as an adult. It was breathtaking.
Roberta Galler was among hundreds arrested in Jackson, Mississippi in June 1965 protesting local attempts to subvert implementation of the new Voting Rights Act... Rabbi Perry Nussbaum came into the cell housing Roberta and several other Jewish women. Holding up toothbrushes, soap, and other small necessities, he said, "Okay, who in here are my people?" Roberta stepped forward and said "Either all of us are your people or none of us are your people."
In 1972 she made a deal with WBAI management to get her own free-form live radio show. At the time, WBAI went off the air loosely between 3 or 5 AM and came back on at 7 AM. Margot talked them into giving her the 5–7 AM timeslot and called it Hour of the Wolf after the film by Ingmar Bergman, a phrase which refers to the morning twilight.
When she was hired to dance at the 1939 World’s Fair, she used her earnings to buy a camera on a whim. The camera became her new passion. Her artistic vision transformed from choreography of the body to the choreography of the streets around her.
I think Yiddish should be a living language, and we should certainly try to perpetuate something that has been so beautiful and has been around for a thousand years.
Judy Wilkenfeld brought people together, made everyone with whom she came into contact better, and became a close and trusted friend, confidante, mentor, and role model to so many people with whom she worked.
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "We Remember." (Viewed on March 25, 2019) <https://jwa.org/weremember>.