Good News: Women in Power

Progress in women’s leadership in the Jewish community may be slow, but some new appointments by feminist fellow-travelers give us cause for hope…. Pamela Nadell, professor and director of the Jewish Studies Program at American University, has been named Chair of the Academic Council of the American Jewish Historical Society. The recently created Society represents the merger of some giants—YIVO, the Leo Baeck Institute and others—and will become a central address for Jewish historical research. So it’s nice to have, heading a group of 80 historians and overseeing the Society’s scholarship, publishing, libraries and archives, the woman whose recent book was Women Who Would Be Rabbis: A History of Women’s Ordination, 1880-1985…. Baltimore Hebrew University recently announced that Dr. Rela Mintz Geffen will serve as its Interim President. BHU is the only college of Jewish studies that has ever been headed by a woman before: the late Dr. Norma Fields Furst…. In Great Britain, Jo Wagerman was elected to be the first woman president in the 240-year history of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, according to an article in The Jerusalem Report. The 67-year-old will serve as lay leader of British Jewry, heading the 330-person board, which represents British communal organizations. Modern Orthodox by affiliation, Wagerman told the Jerusalem Report she plans to fight the Orthodox rabbinical courts’ discrimination against women, particularly on the issue of Jewish divorce, and to reach out to the “missing generation” of unaffiliated 18- to 35-year-olds.

Wagerman recounted for the magazine her birth into London poverty, and her fight every step of the way for her education. She had a Jewish mother, she recounts, “who was anti-Semitic, abusive, neglectful and everything a Jewish mother shouldn’t be.” But opposing her mother’s “deep-seated English working-class antipathy to education,” Wagerman went on to a multi-ethnic girls’ high school where she learned, she says, “to be very proud of being Jewish, to have respect for others, and that work could get you anywhere.”