Natalie Zemon Davis
Natalie Zemon Davis, the author of books including The Return of Martin Guerre and Trickster Tales, inspired many history students, including me, to read and write the stories of individuals. I had admired Natalie Zemon Davis for years, but it wasn’t until browsing in the JWA encyclopedia that I discovered she was Jewish. Later, in a history seminar at Smith College (Zemon Davis’ alma mater!) I read an interview with Davis from Roger Adelson’s Speaking of History: Conversations With Historians. From this interview, I learned that Davis was not only an excellent historian, but also a committed activist who protested the Korean War and the actions of Joe McCarthy. Her activism also seeped into her work as a socially conscious historian. Zemon Davis tells the stories of people who are often left out of the historical record, and encourages her students to look beyond historiographical wranglings and focus on primary sources, the voices of the people whose stories we tell. Natalie Zemon Davis is an inspiration to me as an aspiring historian!
-by Gwen Gethner
My discovery of Fanny Brice, the great Jewish comedienne, came through two other Jewish women I admire. My mother (admired Jewish woman numero uno) raised me on a steady diet of show tunes, not least the songs from Funny Girl, in which Barbra Streisand (#2) plays Brice. And what songs! From “I’m the Greatest Star” to “Don’t Rain on My Parade,” they still rank among my favorite show tunes of all time. (They are also my dog’s favorite, particularly when my mom and I sing them together.) But beyond the songs, the show taught me the story of Fanny Brice, herself an inspiration. Sure, she married a gangster and didn’t always stay on the right side of the taste tracks, but she showed the world how a smart Jewish woman could make fun of herself and have the last laugh.
Lucy Kramer Cohen—A Generous Spirit
Lucy Kramer Cohen loved to work and she loved working to help others she thought deserved that help. She remains a vivid and generous presence in my memory and in many others. Lucy was my aunt and the warm center of a network of family, friends and colleagues. She always wanted to know what you were doing; she remembered everyone and their doings; she connected folks she thought should know one another.
During the Great Depression, she and her husband Felix Cohen had worked to help Native Americans gain more control over their own lives and lands—as part of Roosevelt’s “Indian New Deal.” Felix died tragically young at 46. Lucy soldiered on: raising her two daughters, pursuing a distinguished career in the Public Health Service, working to support Indians and their causes and preserving Felix’s work in law and philosophy.
Despite the blow of Felix’s death, Lucy maintained her relish for life—for family, for new friends of all ages and places and for experiencing and learning new things. At midlife, she discovered and followed a talent and love for drawing the human body. Lucy was modest; she did not dwell on her own accomplishments. To learn more about her, visit lucykramercohen.com to preview the film A Twentieth Century Women: Lucy Kramer Cohen, 1907-2007.
My friend Margaret Joskow would never have identified herself primarily as a Jewish woman, nor would she have thought of herself as inspiring. But she was both. After receiving the diagnosis of bladder cancer that would eventually kill her, she looked for a wellspring of hope and resiliency and found it in an alternative Jewish congregation that had recently established itself on New York’s Lower East Side—not far from where Margaret’s ancestors first settled. Before long, Margaret and her devoutly atheistic husband, along with my husband and me, were singing and swaying and saying all the familiar prayers almost every Friday night. It was, at first, slightly odd, but we all got into it for Margaret’s sake. In that sanctuary, we felt not only that we were praying, but that we were prayed for. It healed us. And while it couldn’t heal Margaret—nothing could—it provided her with the strength to fight an almost superhuman battle until the end. She inspired all of us. Margaret would have been 61 next week.
My Grandmother, Flip Imber
My grandmother, Phyllis “Flip” Imber née Schiff, embodied grace and kindness, elegance and wisdom, and inspired those around her by her own example to live each day with enthusiasm and zest for life. Born on Long Island in 1922, my grandmother was raised by her mother and her grandparents, immigrants from Poland. She went on to attend Connecticut College where she was one of two Jewish students the class of 1943. During her final year at school, she interned at the Hartford department store G. Fox & Co., where she met my grandfather, Herman Imber, a recent Harvard Business School graduate who had just started his first job in retail. My grandfather enlisted in the army soon after the couple married and shipped off to Europe in December 1943. For two years, they wrote hundreds of letters.
The two eventually made their life in Reading, PA, my grandfather’s hometown. He initially went into business with his father before branching out and opening his own women’s clothing stores, The Jeannette Shops. Once my father and uncle went off to college, my grandmother became fully involved in the stores. Her impeccable taste, style sense, and intuitive know-how guided The Jeannette Shops. She and my grandfather made a truly wonderful team—they traveled the country and world together on buying trips for the stores, folk art hunts (one of my grandmother’s passions), and other adventures.
From questions of fashion and art, to life’s bigger challenges, my grandmother always knew not only how to make the best of things, but how to make the simple things in life magical. Her indomitable spirit was positively contagious. She died last year, but I feel so blessed to have had her in my life and to have loved and learned from such a remarkable spirit.
Dona Gracia Nasi and The Dona Gracia Project
Dona Gracia Nasi (1510-1569) was born in Lisbon, into a venerable family of conversos (forcibly converted Jews) originally from Spain, who had fled to Portugal when the Catholic Monarchs expelled the Jews in 1492. Following the death of her husband, she ran the family’s banking, trading and shipping entities. One of the wealthiest Jewish women of Renaissance Europe, she became an outstanding leader of her people using her position to help other conversos - who had become prime victims of the Inquisition - to flee to safety in the Ottoman Empire. She also made an attempt to start the modern state of Israel in Tiberius as a result of an agreement with Suleiman the Magnificent.
We at The Dona Gracia Project are committed to globally recognizing and honoring this incredible Jewish heroine who was fiercely dedicated to her Jewish faith and serves as a role model of an outstanding woman who can inspire similar leadership and skill in today’s Jewish women, while fostering pride in their history.
Harriet Porto, President
The Dona Gracia Project
Patricia Vile & Volunteer Expeditions
I am inspired by Patricia Vile and her amazing organization, Volunteer Expeditions.
When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in August 2005, Chicago native Patricia was shocked. She couldn’t believe a part of her own country was so devastated. When it was safe to travel there, she went on a volunteer trip with the URJ and returned moved by her experience. She met with her rabbi and explained all the good her synagogue could do there on a volunteer tour.
Her rabbi said, “All right. Make it happen!”
Patricia didn’t know anything about travel planning, but in March of 2007, she led a group of nineteen volunteers into the heart of the renovation. Even eighteen months after the hurricane, the scale of the destruction shocked the group. Thousands of homes were destroyed, and thousands more had to be completely gutted before they could be rebuilt due to mold and insulation problems. After a powerful volunteer experience, Patricia knew she had found her new lifework.
Even though she was retired, Patricia set up a nonprofit: Volunteer Expeditions. Through her organization, she plans and organizes cost-efficient volunteer tours for student groups, religious groups, and corporate groups. With her help, others can easily aide the relief effort and have a passionate experience. Her primary focus is on New Orleans, but Volunteer Expeditions has expanded to bring groups to tutor in Jamaica and help the homeless in Chicago and Washington, DC. Patricia plans so the groups can focus on giving back and enjoying their time in the city.
Even though she has never taken a salary, Patti can’t imagine spending her time any other way. She loves planning each trip to the specific needs, interests, and budget of every group and helping them to experience New Orleans’ rich culture. Through her efforts, by the end of 2012, over 1200 volunteers will have traveled to rebuild New Orleans. They have helped build more than 80 houses and have spent hundreds of hours helping the community. Her volunteers sort, serve, and distribute at a local food bank, clean fields and parks, organize and tutor in schools, and volunteer in the Bayou. She is so proud of her volunteers and thrilled that her efforts have resulted in such amazing support.
Patricia is an inspiration to Jewish women everywhere. Her determination to help others is incredibly moving, and her kind nature makes her a pleasure to work with.
My mother inspires me.
Transmitting the memory of the vibrant culture before the Holocaust is just as important just as the memory of the Holocaust, to combat ignorance and prejudice and sharing of cultures and knowledge of history.
It is my goal to bring my mother’s book out of obscurity and into a wide readership, a book, which will take its place in the curriculum at the high school and college level, while teaching the important aspects of Eastern European twentieth-century history.
Keep Pace with the Sun: the Story of Roma Talasiewicz-Eibuszyc is a riveting account of a vibrant young woman’s courage and endurance. This thirty-year remembrance of the author’s hopes and dreams for a better world begins in a Jewish neighborhood in Warsaw in 1917 and follows her tale of survival in Soviet Russia until March 1946. The book is narrated in a compelling, unique voice that conveys the historical background of a personal story in an accessible format for modern readers. Roma’s richly-textured descriptions of the physical and emotional lives of Jews in Warsaw after the First War and candor about surviving World War II make Keep Pace with the Sun a deeply universal story.
There are only a few thousand Jews left in Poland today, but once Poland was the home to the largest Jewish population in Europe. My mother always felt that Poland was her homeland; her ancestors had lived there for some four hundred years. Before WWII, over 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland, making it the second largest Jewish community in the world. WWII destroyed this community completely, devastating their distinctive culture and society. The extent of the loss was so great, so destructive; we know it as the Holocaust, the Shoah.
As I proceeded to translate my mother’s story from Polish to English, I quickly realized how important it was that the stories of her life, as well as the legacy of Jewish life in Poland be remembered by generations to come.
The second part of the book is a tale of survival in Soviet Russia and Uzbekistan until March 1946. Soviet Russia and Soviet-occupied Central Asia proved to be for Polish Jews the single best chance for surviving and escaping the catastrophe that engulfed Poland’s Jews during the Second World War.
This 30 year account of Jewish life in Warsaw before the war and on Russian soil during the war , appears rarely in literature.
This is a book in progress.
The manuscript already been submitted to scholars in the US and Israel
http://beshertbook.com/Reviews_By_Scholars.html and received a dozen wonderful reviews.
Excerpts were published in Magazines and on the Internet. www.beshertthebook.com.
Reading excerpts from the book on youtube, by Yuval David, 3G, a celebrated actor who has received accolades for his work in film, television and theater recorded a dramatic reading can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3EnbQvpgZM.
My inspiration is a neighbor, Beverly, who is a former New Yorker who now resides in the retirement complex ATRIUM Village in Owings Mills.
Twenty some years ago Beverly was leaving work one evening and was run over by a car driven by an acquaintance, and when she was knocked down and screamed-the friend accidentally reversed and rolled over her a 2nd time. She awoke a few days later to find that both legs had been amputated , one at the knee and one slightly below the knee. After 6 months of therapy and recuperation she went home finally.
When I get down or when I hear someone griping over petty things I can only call to mind my friend. She stayed in her home in Long Island with adaptations made for she and her husband Ollie, until 8 years ago when they relocated to be near her daughter and family. She has 2 prostheses and and uses a walker, when going to the grocery she will go on our bus in her wheelchair in order to carry her packages. No one can push her chair-extremely independent. Beverly is still a beautiful woman-even at her age. Immaculately groomed and coiffed. She lost Ollie 2 years ago, but her fantastic demeanor remained. She lives alone in her apartment and is amazing . The only time she uses her wheelchair is when the prosthesis give her problems every so often and have to be adjusted. There is always a smile and a greeting for all.
Her response when asked is “Why Not?”
- Gert Levitan