“We were angry that the first time Jewish issues were presented on a plenary [of the National Women’s Studies Association (NWSA)], the topic was completely negative,” said Mindy Sue Shapiro, National Coordinator for student programs for B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation. To better deal with Jewish issues, Shapiro helped found the Jewish Women’s Caucus of NWSA.
The group started as a task force of Jewish women in academics who responded to an NWSA session on “Anti-Semitism and the Women’s Movement.”
Gradually, the task force evolved into the Caucus, organizing workshops for Jewish members attending the annual NWSA conferences. The programs were designed to enhance connections with Judaism and Jewish feminist concerns.
At first, said Shapiro, there were only a handful of workshops alongside the regular conference events. But at the NWSA conference, held in June 1988 in Minneapolis, the 60-odd members of the Jewish Women’s Caucus had a lot to choose from.
In addition to special Shabbat services, readings and musical performances, the Caucus’ program included forums on anti-Semitism and women, Jewish law, Israeli politics, lesbianism, relations between Black and Jewish women, and the experiences of Sephardic women.
The workshops provided a place for Jewish women from around the country to meet and share ideas. “Lots of Jewish women from small towns feel really isolated and invisible,” Shapiro said. “There are no Jews where they live, and the rituals haven’t spoken to them. But now they are labeling themselves as Jews, reclaiming their Jewishness. My goal is to make all Jews feel good about being Jewish. It’s hard work.”