This season we mourn the passing of Bella Abzug (1920-1998), Congresswoman, candidate for U.S. Senate and Mayor of New York City, creator of WEDO, an organization devoted to putting women on the worldwide political agenda (see p. 46). But Bella played a special role for Jewish women that wasn’t mentioned in the standard obits. Each time her views appeared in LILITH, her refreshing astringency and reassuring power affirmed Jewish women’s rightful place in every decision-making process. In particular, I recall her telling a group of women convened to talk about peace in the Middle East that “We women, from both sides, should sit around a conference table and get the peace process going. Then we can get up and let men occupy our seats at the table, after we have modeled for them what a dialogue really is.” And she meant it.
Her courage in giving voice to her ideas made her an enduring role model. A few months ago, when LILITH announced a feature on Jewish women who defy the conventions of politesse in order to be heard, we put out a call to our readers to tell us about women they admired as “Big Mouths”—the working title of the article. It came as no surprise that Bella Abzug was the name most frequently mentioned; Bella defined the genre. All we had to do when explaining the forthcoming article was to say, “You know, like Bella Abzug.” And everyone got it.
Remembering Bella, I thought about a visit I paid recently to my great grandparents’ graves on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. When I noticed a marble column lying on its side over a grave, I complained to my guide that this was a desecration. “Oh no, he replied. “You miss the point. This is how this gravestone is supposed to be. The message is: A pillar of our community has fallen.” The same must be said of Bella, may she rest in peace.
Usually I take this space to give you some background on the stories we’re bringing you in the current issue. This time, I come to you with a plea for your participation in LILITH in a more active way than just as a reader.
Over the years, LILITH has made a difference in the way Jewish women perceive ourselves, and the way others see us. Articles on the dangers of the JAP stereotype. On Jewish hair, abortion rights, the “Eat, eat! Diet! Diet!” messages. On Jewish women’s philanthropy—how women give money to change things for the better, while men often write checks to support the status quo.
LILITH has challenged the status quo again in reporting the allegations of sexual misconduct women are making about the late rabbi and musician Shlomo Carlebach (Spring 1998). As you’ll see when you read a selection of the letters LILITH has received (p. 12), the LILITH article triggered some anger, but it also, more importantly, gave women permission to tell their own stories for the first time.
Please help us continue to be able to speak the truth on crucial issues for Jewish women. “Important and courageous” articles like this (and these words come from our readers) are very costly to research, to report, to verify and to publish. LILITH is a not-for-profit enterprise. To publish, the magazine depends on tax-deductible contributions from readers like you. We need your generous support urgently—right now—if we are going to be able to continue the kind of investigative reporting that makes a difference in the lives of women and men.
Please send a check now to Lilith Publications Inc.—or put a contribution on your credit card (the mailing address and other contact information appear on the previous page). Thank you for helping to sustain LILITH in this critical time.