Bella Abzug

Excerpts from the keynote address

As Jews and as feminists ours is the task of self-definition. We’re here today to discuss how to define the needs, state the objectives and commit ourselves to the changes that are necessary in the family, in the workplace, in the political arena and within the Jewish tradition to accomplish the kind of world we want to live in.

We cannot continue to play in the playpen by the rules of the patriarch. They were not crafted to include us. We must change the rules if necessary. Furthermore we must be prepared to resist any efforts to diminish rights we have already achieved whether it is the right to choose when or whether to have a child or the right to choose to be a Jew.

More than that we have to remind and help the male leadership restore Jewish morality to Jewish actions in our daily lives — by which we care for ourselves but never forget to care for others. We have to address the mizug galiot — the ingathering of Jews especially the Oriental and Ethiopian. I am glad to see some progress but we have a long way to go until we become an integrated Jewish people without ethnic barriers. So must we also evaluate our relationship not only with every kind of Jew, but also redefine our relationship to non-Jewish people of color, conflicts with whom have resulted in serious deterioration.

If we are indeed people of the book, the chosen, then we must be free to choose. If we are people of justice, then we must grant the same rights to others that we have fought for ourselves. And if we are a people of compassion and love then we must learn to love people less fortunate than we are and be willing to help them.

Above all it should be made clear that though we Jewish feminists question traditional sex role differentiations and call for a feminist ethos and a Jewish ethic, we continue to struggle to maintain a strong commitment to Jewish tradition and survival.

As we seek change or as we seek seats of power there is always the danger that we forget our own language and adopt the language of those whom we seek to change. Women are active in more and more spheres of society — but are we bringing our values into these spheres or are we just knocking on the door saying, “Let me in?” Even as we work within the system we have to be ahead of it.

It’s not that I believe that women are superior to men, it’s just that we’ve had so little opportunity to be corrupted by power (and we want that opportunity). We can argue at length about whether women will change the nature of power or whether power will change the nature of women. I believe that women will change the nature of power. I believe women are prepared to change the status quo. We must if we are to attain our goals.

And so, we are here today because we believe that we can make a contribution to our own empowerment. The empowerment of Jewish women is not empowerment for us alone, it is empowerment for many generations, it is empowerment for those whom we love, it is empowerment of men as well as women, so that we can find the ways in which to deal with the question of the world’s diseases and the world’s poverty and the economic disparity and the inequalities, the violence.

Ours is such a movement. It consists of women who really think they make a difference. I have always believed that I make a difference. I believe that every single individual in this audience makes a difference. Millions of people no longer believe that and part of our effort here this week is to remind ourselves of just how much of a difference we all can make.

Former N. Y, Congresswoman Bella Abzug chairs AJC’s International Jewish Feminist Network.