Herstory - One of the most important lessons I have learned over these ten years of involvement with the Jewish Women’s Archive is that history is not an objective science, since it always reflects the prism of the person writing it. Additionally, I have found it important and fascinating to measure how the lives recorded and publicized by JWA square with our narrative—both the biblical and rabbinic texts and the underlying values promulgated by those texts.
So today it is my turn to record a bit of history, in this case herstory—a tiny slice of the life of Lisa Goldberg. I have striven to make this neither a lamentation nor a eulogy, but rather a personal reflection on Lisa’s persona as I observed and interacted with her and an estimation of the way her comportment and underlying values are a seamless fit with those portrayed in this week’s torah portion, Parshat Bo. Although I am not a Torah scholar, I am more familiar with Bo than most portions, as it is the portion read by two of my four children at their respective b’nai mitzvah.
Ordinarily we focus on Pharoah’s hardened heart, on the last three plagues or on the circumcision of the first-born israelite children as a sign of the covenant. But I read a fascinating commentary by a contemporary young scholar about the opening words of the portion—something I had never even thought about.
The opening words of the parsha, “vayomer hashem el moshe, bo el paroh” have different translations that lead to different interpretations. In some versions of the Chumash “bo-el” is translated as “go-in (to Pharoah)” and in others it is translated as “come to.” Why does it matter whether it is “go” or “come”? Here I quote Sarah Margles, the author of the thought-provoking commentary on this portion.
And I quote: “definition of ‘to go’: to move on a course or to move out of or away from a place expressed or implied. ‘To come’: to move toward something or to advance toward accomplishment. In an idiomatic sense, we tell someone to come or to go depending on where we ourselves stand in relation to the other. It is only when we direct someone to embark on a journey alone that we use the word ‘go’. When we travel with them, or when we will be awaiting them at the destination, we use the word ‘come’. In this context, it is welcoming to invite another to come along.”
What an apt description of Lisa Goldberg’s style. With her broad smile and her sultry, velveteen Kathleen Turner-esque voice, Lisa invited us, always elegantly, gracefully and graciously, to come both to her and along with her.
Lisa was the first foundation professional to greet me shortly after I started working at the Dobkin Family Foundation, nine years ago. We met at a parlor meeting that Nicki Tanner hosted when the Jewish Women’s Archive was in its infancy. Lisa immediately invited me to come to her to get a snapshot of the universe she inhabited, indeed the universe she led by example. She gave me numerous tutorials on who gives to what causes, who cares about which issues, who is the smartest, who is the most strategic, and so forth. And she invited me to phone her any time I had questions about possible grants or potential funding partners for Barbara.
And for the nine ensuing years, no matter how hectic her own schedule, Lisa took the time to meet with every single young activist I sent her way, whether the Revson Foundation would be a prospect or not. She listened carefully, and with that singular intellect and acumen, she gave valuable and always, always candid counsel to each of them.
Lisa Goldberg simply set the standard for creative and efficacious use of philanthropic dollars. She could analyze a concept, envision it in practice on the ground, anticipate its impact and see its strengths and shortcomings in what seemed to me like a nanosecond.
She never thought small, absolutely never.
Long before any of us, Lisa understood the power of media in the promulgation of ideas and values. And she, along with Judith Ginsberg , understood the kind of impact the Jewish Women’s Archive could have by using media and technology as vital tools. Her vision of the Archive was further animated by her unswerving belief that the stories of Jewish women could and would impact a broadened audience beyond the Jewish community.
Indeed, I told Judith, who amended my list slightly, that I believe that the Jewish Women’s Archive exists and that Gail Reimer’s aspirations have moved toward reality because of four people: Judith, Barbara Dobkin, Jeane Ungerleider and Lisa Goldberg.
Moreover, Lisa used her personal magnetism to attract others to the projects about which she cared so passionately—and she successfully motivated other important funders to come with her on the philanthropic paths, indeed, the philanthropic adventures, she led so effectively.
On a personal note, we joked a lot, Lisa and I, about how she coveted my straight hair and I of course wanted that amazing body. Perhaps we took a liking to one another immediately for a couple of reasons—I am for all intents and purposes a kissin’ cousin of Eli Evans with whom she worked so closely for over twenty years, thus we always had Evans stories to regale us; and more importantly, we both swore by the ubiquitous New York black in 98% of our wardrobe choices.
So dear Lisa, now you have had to go, “bo-el” on an unexpected journey without all of us who admire you so much. But we are sure that you know that you will inspire us as we continue to work toward the kind of society you envisioned as attainable, and that always, always in spirit you will “bo-el”, come with us, on the adventures that still lie ahead of us.
May we all find strength and comfort among the mourners of Jerusalem and all of Zion and may the memory of this singular woman be a blessing and an inspiration to all who knew her.