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A Vagina-Friendly UJA-Federation

February2003: Imagine 30 of the most prominent women in the New York Jewish community—including author Letty Cottin Pogrebin, philanthropist Barbara Dobkin, Jewish Home and Hospital CEO Audrey Weiner, past Hadassah president Marlene Post, AOL marketing director Jackie Stone, UJA-Federation campaign chair Susie Stern, Broadway producer Daryl Roth, Lebenthal and Company president Alexandra Lebenthal —sitting on two rows of stools on a stage in front of 1300 people. “My vagina is a shell, a round pink tender shell opening and closing,” shouts one. Says Lisa Perr: “My short skirt and everything under it is Mine, Mine, Mine.” Vagina, says another, sounds like an infection, maybe a medical instrument (“Hurry, nurse, bring me the vagina.”), “In Great Neck,” another woman yells, “they call it a pussycat, in Westchester a pokie, in New Jersey a twat, and a split knish in Philadelphia.” Susie Stern, with great abandon, demonstrated a variety of fake orgasms. The audience cheered, clapped, applauded, cried, yelled, and stamped their feet.

The women, members of the UJA-Federation Task Force on the Jewish Woman, were performing Eve Ensler’s now-famous Vagina Monologues [LILITH published an excerpt in Fall 1998] in celebration of V-Day, a worldwide campaign to end violence against women. Ensler invites communities around the world to stage her Obie-award winning play every February. The proceeds go to organizations that are working to stop sexual violence.

In an especially compelling personal recitation, Shira Epstein, daughter of a prominent rabbi, told the audience how she was taught in her Orthodox high school to find “a nice Jewish boy.” But when she met someone who seemed to fill the bill in her first year at Brown, he forced her to perform sexual acts that she found repugnant. He was, she realized, anything but nice.

The UJA-Federation presentation was the largest ever, and raised the most money—$250,000. Ensler joined the cast onstage for the final monologue, and declared UJA”a vagina-friendly organization.” The show blew the minds of the executives at UJA-Federation, some of whom had been hostile when I, as chair of the Task Force, and others first presented the idea to them. “Who would have ever thought that we could live to see the day when the words ‘vagina’ and ‘UJA-Federation’ would appear in the same sentence?” a rabbi asked. In a congratulatory letter, one of the original male naysayers now said that he couldn’t wait to see what we women would do next.

V-Day is February 14, just around the corner. Stay tuned.