In honor of Lilith’s 100th issue, Editor-in-Chief Susan Weidman Schneider is grilled by Senior Editor Susan Schnur.
Schnur: Egad, Schneider, did you ever think you’d see 100 issues of Lilith?
Schneider: A life sentence. It’s hard to believe. I’m so focused on the day-to-day running of the magazine that I rarely stop to take the measure of the whole enterprise. What’s turned out to be one of my biggest sources of delight: seeing, in each issue, the grand kaleidoscopic mix, shaping this mix, listening to all the different voices. I didn’t know that this part would feel so…enduring.
Q: What did you think at the beginning, 100 issues ago?
A: We were a “women’s collective,” the real item. We didn’t want to homogenize ourselves, to find “one true voice.” We wanted to hear all the voices. In the early years, I was the only one with children. The phone would ring, I’d shush the kids, there was a blurring of boundaries. Lilith has remained an honest feminist workplace in this way. Interns come and go and come back again; Naomi takes off two hours in the middle of each day; Mel shuffles her whole schedule when she takes classes; you’ve taken off six months here or there. We have a fluidity that serves the magazine well.
Q: Were there any big shifts along the way, crossroads where Lilith decided to take one fork instead of another?
A: In the 1980s there was a gradual shift of tone, away from the “we know best” of the earlier issues. And later, when we reported on Jewish family violence or on Shlomo Carlebach’s sexual misconduct, there was something of a shift in content, too, with the steely job of calling things as we saw them.
Here’s what has stayed constant. We made a precocious commitment to women’s personal narratives. We got how radical this was—that, woman by woman, these stories were absolutely pushing Judaism forward in powerful directions.
Q: Was there ever a point where you felt, “Oh, okay, Jewish women’s work is done. Time to pack it in?”
A: People do ask us that. And my feeling is that we could, God forbid, put out an issue of Lilith daily. (The Lilith Blog does this, in a way.) There’s so much that’s happening for Jewish women. Lilith legitimately needs to revisit some issues for each new generation. To introduce anew Bella Abzug, say, but with a new slant, or the long arc of abortion and fertility arguments, or the Jewish and female relationship with the Earth. Jewish women are so brainy and thoughtful and fearless and creative. Our work will never be done.
Q: What if Lilith had become a general feminist magazine—not Jewish? That would have charted a radically different course.
A: But to be honest, we would have had to give up our more historic task: to take these opposing poles of Judaism and feminism and pull them closer and closer into alignment. That’s what these 100 issues of Lilith are about. Jewish women no longer have poles to reconcile; we have a rich exploration of increasingly overlapping territory, and also territory that still has to be brought in.
Q: Sometimes, Schneider, if we’re working at the office really late and we’re utterly exhausted, you’ll answer the phone, “Lilith World Headquarters.” There’s some truth to this, like you’ve been a sentry, standing watch over the bow….
A: Yesterday we got a call—“I’m putting together a feminist curriculum for 8th grade girls, can you help me?” The day before, “Do you know anything about female moyels?” “I’ve just been asked to run a funeral….” Even with the Internet, Lilith’s office does feel like Jewish Feminist Central. There are now 80 Lilith salons worldwide; the internship program, the traveling exhibition.
Q: Three more questions and then let’s eat lunch, it’s 6 o’clock. Okay. What would the Jewish-and-female world have lost without 100 issues of Lilith?
A: Connective tissue. And a consistent lens on a critical set of issues. And a vast fabric woven of different threads.
When we created our fabulous Lilith exhibition panels a few years ago, it forced us to comb through every one of the magazines we’d published—we saw the evergreens and the one-of-a-kind pieces—and the experience put us plunk in the middle of our strength: our collectivity. I’m only one set of eyes and ears; I turn to everyone in the office. Lilith is primordially about feedback, about receptivity. What does everyone who troops through the office have to say? What are the thousands of manuscripts we get every year saying? A few 16-year-olds recently spent an afternoon at the office. Everything stopped. We wanted to simply listen to them, to learn from them, to run things past them.
Q: Suze, you started this magazine as a twenty-something young mother. Do you worry about staying the course with readers of all ages?
A: Well, experience has made me grow more confident in my personal editorial judgment. The magazine’s grown more confident, too. And Jewish women have grown more confident about how to effect change.
But I am not Lilith magazine—it makes me really uneasy when people posit that. Granted, aside from writing books, giving lectures, I’ve devoted most of my adult work life to Lilith; I’m the one who worries about how to raise the money, make the deadlines. I take credit for orchestrating the parts, and I do care fiercely about the quality of the writing, of the product. But what I love most is that Lilith works because of each one of us: each reader, each writer, each contributor at a salon, each sugarmommy. It’s the sum of its parts.
Q: A final kishkes question, since I’m so hungry. Do you have 100 more issues in you?
A: Yes. Alevei. Even 120. Though we may have to go monthly.