This online collection contains reminiscences of a variety of recently deceased American Jewish women who made a difference in their community and beyond.
Her courage was more than physical: she had the courage of her convictions. Passionate about social justice, she did not stand on the sidelines. If a cause mattered to her, she dove in wholeheartedly, attending rallies, volunteering for Board service, arranging meetings, and organizing fundraisers.
One Erev Pesach my grandmother demonstrated physics at the University of Toronto for three hours, went to the radio studio to tape a live broadcast, taped two more broadcasts for the upcoming days of Yom Tov, and came home to make seder.
“I liked all the toys in your office but actually my favorite thing was you.” No one was too poor, too cranky or too old to be welcomed into her office, advised, healed, and encouraged.
Nell made a strong impression. Her build was slight, but she was no pushover: her energetic gait and purposeful expression projected a commanding, yet accessible, presence. She laughed easily and sometimes uproariously – especially if the joke was on her. Nell loved to hear and to tell what she called 'juicy' stories. She was not interested in idle gossip. But she was ever curious about people, relationships and the world around her.
Alternately reckless, mischievous or courageous, Mom's defiance had a triple edge. At 10, she secretly smoked a corncob pipe stuffed with stolen tobacco. She was arrested at age 14 for driving her Aunt Minnie's car at 90 miles an hour without a license. (Her adored maternal aunt, something of a bon vivant herself, was in the car at the time.) She challenged a revered male leader at a federation board meeting for using green Israel bonds to pay his campaign pledge – a practice that no one else had the guts to expose.
She continued to dream of, and work for, a world at peace. Before the 2004 election, horrified at America's attack on Iraq, she wrote a long, impassioned letter about the importance of the election, photocopied it, and mailed it to friends who were doubtful their vote would matter.
By the time she left England in 1933 to try her fortune in America, [Sheilah] had earned a modest reputation as a freelance journalist. She had also written two unsuccessful novels, a credential that allowed her to bluff her way into jobs as a New York staff reporter, getting scoops and writing eye-catching features such as 'Who Cheats Most in Marriage?' a breezy inventory of the men of Western nations.
My mother, I came to realize, wanted to obliterate the barrier between love and sexuality. I was not shocked or shamed to encounter that carnal side of her. The mother I knew during my lifetime was a beautiful and vain woman, one who resisted having a mastectomy for breast cancer because she could not bear to be, as she put it, 'mutilated' and 'disfigured.' Her allure was part of her life-force, something inextricably tied to her passions for intellectual growth and artistic expression.
The legacy that my mother left went beyond the immediate family. She was part of a great movement that profoundly changed American society. On a personal level, the legacy of her commitment inspired the succeeding generations of our own family. We, her children and grandchildren, remain committed to the beliefs of prophetic Judaism: to help the poor and the needy and to seek justice.
…She chose action over passivity. She chose to reform rather than to conform. Her diverse background and interests led her down many paths. As a renowned feminist, filmmaker, psychologist, educator, author, and activist who fully invested herself in every fiber of her work-literally, physically, metaphorically-Joyce touched the lives of many.
Wasserstein observed that she was often told by producers and others that her plays were 'too New York,' which she understood as being a euphemism for 'too Jewish.' As Wasserstein recounted, when people asked her whether The Sisters Rosensweig with its three Jewish sisters, 'a hit in New York [could] play around the country,' she replied 'Well, you know this is something I've heard … People have sisters. Now maybe I'm wrong. Maybe they don't have them in Ohio. I could be wrong, but I've heard … they have sisters there.'
Willis brought lucidity and style to the most controversial and baffling cultural issues — her thought was a beacon of clarity. For those of us fortunate enough to have been her comrades, anticipating her insights was part of what kept us returning to meetings month after month, year after year.
Pat firmly believed that each action she took -- in the public realm and the private realm -- affected the universe ... Pat was full of love. Not a gushy love, but a solid, matter-of-fact, and deeply felt love.
Before anyone ever dreamed of feminism or women's liberation, Sara embodied for her campers the absolute model of female strength, purpose and achievement ... [she] had the uncanny ability to really know people and to uncover that uniqueness within each one that made her or him feel special. The only demand Sara Blum ever made in return was that you pushed yourself to be the best you could be.
Pam's approach to work mirrored her approach to life. She was direct and comforting. If something did not work out, try another door—another avenue. Be calm, yet be persistent. Look people in the eye and let them know they are valued.
A pioneering woman in the medical world, Herta published more than 250 scientific papers, including numerous articles on the effects on humans of strontium-90, a major radioactive component of fallout from the atomic bomb tests of the '40s and '50s. She was instrumental in describing mechanisms to rid the body of this deadly isotope, information that was to prove invaluable years later when she helped save lives following the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island.… Mostly, Herta taught us that if you have focus, work hard and dream big you can make major achievements that make the world a better place.
…an innovative and revered entrepreneur in the leather-armchair world of gentlemen antiquarian book dealers; unmarried in a world where women were wives, Stern lived in a universe in which it was not possible to live the way she wanted to. She simply ignored that impossibility, created her own universe and, in a small but exquisite way, changed the world.
She knew who to talk to and how to motivate people… She bridged the gap between being a 'rich lay leader' and a member of the professional staff with complete ease. It was not only her style, but the fact that everybody recognized her complete commitment to the Jewish community as well as to the community at large.
Savina reclaimed the stories of Sarah and Hagar through her writing, and through her life. Like Sarah, Savina went forth into new lands, without maps or mentors to guide her. Like Sarah and Hagar, Savina lived in a patriarchal world, challenging that world with her choices and her clarity about the work she was called to complete….
Whether Hilda was sharing her moral outrage, her prodigious memory of historical events, handing out leaflets, or vigiling with Women in Black, she was for me a courageous and passionate teacher and activist.
…A colorful character in the dull world of utility regulation, Siegel's talent and passion pushed her to the forefront of any battle she engaged in Siegel's quick thinking and dry humor made her a favorite with policymakers, the media and even her opponents. She charmed, disarmed and then went for the jugular. Even her adversaries, whom she routinely called all sorts of unprintable names, spoke fondly of her.
Thinking about Barbara, I realize that she was a one-woman social networking site. She remembered everyone she had ever met and tried to connect them with everybody else she had ever met. She recalled where you were from, whom you dated, your health problems, and your writings or accomplishments and then she introduced to people who you should know.
…her hearing loss prevented her from hearing all of what she wanted to, but she turned that sorrow into her greatest gift—that of restoring human communication for others with hearing loss.
Lois' life was centered on the inherent goodness of humans and inherent humor of life. Everything she did was based on the principle that if you could make people laugh about the human condition, then you could make them do something to improve it.
…'She, in some ways, was way ahead of her time,' said her daughter Margaret Shapiro, of Philadelphia. 'Although she had a nice life, once it became nice, she really wasn't satisfied until she had a career of her own. And she wasn't from a family or a community that encouraged women to have careers of their own. But she stuck to wanting to have her own skills and her own career.'
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "We Remember." (Viewed on February 25, 2018) <https://jwa.org/weremember>.