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Learning from Baltimore’s Jewish Female Elders

Physician, social worker, Zionist activist, shoe retailer, sex educator, artists. Women in the professions, in business, and working as community volunteers are among the 30 Baltimore Jewish women, all are over 75, whose photos and vignettes appear in an exhibition at the Jewish Museum of Maryland until the end of 2004.

The narratives in this show—which features photos by Joan Roth and multi-media art commissioned from Jewish women artists from across the country—come from oral histories of women whose lives spanned the twentieth century. Women in many communities have been written out of the official historical records. This exhibition, Weaving Women’s Words, created by the Boston-based Jewish Women’s Archive, seeks to right this. In the exhibition and its accompanying catalogue, women speak out about their roles in Jewish education, politics, reproductive rights, commerce, philanthropy, violence prevention, race relations, and more. Some of the women here—like Shoshana Shoubin Cardin, the first woman to lead many national Jewish organizations, and Maryland State Senator Rosalie Silber Abrams—are well known. Others arc women whose experiences, now preserved, will bring their lives into the light.

Brenda Brown Rever, who chaired the exhibition and whose foundation funded it, says she was “inspired by the lives of extraordinary and ordinary women who combat the stereotypes of Jewish women. We ignore this age group all too often. I loved the idea of saving these stories. There were so many bonuses to doing this. Everyday women can teach you things about living your own life, especially about resilience.” Among the life lessons Rever highlights: “Always have much older and much younger friends; it keeps you grounded.” And: “Family closeness is not by accident; it is often by design.”