From the Editor

The importance of the back story

You’re holding in your hands a magazine with an unusual mix of stories. Among other things: a retrospective glance cast by the pioneering first generation of female Reform rabbis, and a preview of a work-in-progress—a cartoon novel about another Icind of pioneer, a Jewish abortionist and “women’s doctor” on New York’s Lower East Side in the early years of the last century.

But one of the most profoundly stirring of the articles in this issue is the one about bereaved mothers, women whose losses have become the engine driving them to help improve the world a little for other people’s children. As I was reading one of the conversations Susan Schnur had with the women profiled here, I was visited by the lines from a Marge Piercy poem, “The Art of Blessing the Day.” Piercy writes: “What we want to change we curse and then pick up a tool. Bless whatever you can with eyes and hands and tongue. If you can’t bless it, get ready to make it new.” These women manage to do this, maldng something new, and necessaiy, which keeps alive the spirit of their children.

How does a report like this come into being? Like a lot of the unique reporting you read in Lilith, this section started out as a conversation around the Lilith conference table, where the Lilith staff (and the occasional visitor) sits to mull over a subject one of us has brought to the table —literally. I’d loiown a little about the work of all three women—and of some others like them, as I imagine many of you do too—and realized that I wanted to try to understand what enabled them—drove them, really—to decide to improve the world rather than staying in bed forever. How were they able to face each day after a child had died? And how were they able to find such a storehouse of forgiving energy within themselves to do good for other people’s children, rather than feeling angry at the universe? We learn an enormous amount when we ask how something gets to be what it is. Too often women credit chance for our accomplishments, or for setting us on the paths we take, but here are three women who are very clear about the events— nightmarish, unwelcome events—which spurred them to create change.

We learn from what is sometimes casually called the “back story.” And the back story can become an example, or can show us alternatives. After this section was edited, I sat in an audience watching excerpts from a still-unfinished documentar)’ about white resistance to apartheid in South Africa (“Breaking the Rules,” Carolyn Projansky and Susan Barocas, producers). I asked the filmmakers whether they would explore how these uncommon white agitators for racial equality in South Africa became who they were—Llelen Suzman, the Jewish anti-apartheid liberal parliamentarian, among them. When the others nodded as I asked about what I wanted to know, I perceived again how hungry we all are to learn (well, learn and try to understand) the “why” behind the actions people take.

Talking; talking back; talking up. For several years Lilith has been available on tape for people who have limited vision. Now you can download Lilith podcasts, the tallcing versions of select current Lilith articles, and even some pieces from back issues. Talking Lilith is a boon both for those unable to read the print magazine and for people who want to listen to Lilith’s articles while driving, running, skating, cooking, and who knows what else. You can check out our podcasts at and do the mitzvah of assisting others by letting anyone you know who has difficulty seeing that she can listen to some of Lilith right now.

And you can even talk back. On the website you’ll see our blogs, some written in response to Lilith articles, some on other subjects our authors and others want to explore on If you’re moved by something in the magazine, send us a letter or an email. Or add your voice to the Lilith blog presence.

Talking up? Maybe you do it a lot. Lilith writers do. In print and on the Web, Lilith amplifies their voices and the voices of women like—and unlike—you.

Here’s to provocative reading and talking.