At Lilith, we’ve always had wonderful board members, and each deserves testimonials. But none has ever turned 100 before! Mildred Weissman, longtime Lilith board member whose birthday is January 30, sent me a letter a few weeks ago with news she delivered with her signature frankness and humor: “As I contemplate my upcoming birthday, I realize that the time has come for me to step down from the Board, in accordance with my long-standing belief that the control of organizations such as Lilith should always be kept in the hands of those who are less than 100 years old.”
For decades Mildred has supported Lilith with her philanthropy, her insights and her thoughtfulness. It’s Mildred who is behind the Malka Fellowship at Lilith, which enables our staff to include a digital editor. And Mildred, who never goes online, nevertheless eight years ago recognized the urgency of a Lilith website redesign. “And it should be done in the best way possible. I’ll do that.”
Mildred traveled the world, often with her late husband, George. When they attended a polo match in England with Queen Elizabeth (“Her husband was playing polo.”), she recalled recently that they had decided “we were not going to curtsey to the Queen; we shook her hand instead.” But Mildred’s anecdotes aren’t all about high living at the polo matches. She tells a hilarious story (hilarious because it has a happy outcome) of being in labor and walking with George through a blizzard to reach the hospital where she delivered her son Danny.
Everyone serving on the Lilith board with Mildred appreciates her. Without spilling too much, I can reveal that the good-and-welfare item on our agenda spurs enthusiastic participation, and very often it’s a witty comment from Mildred that has engendered our laughter. “I want to know how to be you,” pleaded a sister board member who’s about 50 years Mildred’s junior.
Lilith is far from the only cause Mildred has helped fund. She and I first met when, in the early 1980s, we joined with a small cohort of other Jewish feminists to form U.S./Israel Women-to- Women, (now under the aegis of NCJW) to support feminist causes in Israel. Its motto: “Women must help women.” And Mildred hews to this.
Susan Rudolph, past president of Community Synagogue of Rye, Mildred Weissman’s temple, offers testimony. “At a lunch, I mentioned a dream I had for programming for women and girls at our own synagogue. After talking briefly about it over our shared dessert, Mildred said ‘Write me a proposal’.”
Joan Rosenbaum, for 30 years director of New York’s Jewish Museum, told Lilith that Mildred “very much lives in the present, understanding and appreciating new ideas in every area of the arts, and knowledgeable about the need for revision and re-creation within institutions. As a trustee, she championed the acquisition of contemporary ceremonial objects for the collection, encouraged the shop to represent young designers and purchased many of their works for her family and friends. She was also a rare and early supporter for behind-the-scenes projects such as archival work, food services, shop design, cataloging and the website.
“I love to talk to Mildred. No matter what may have transpired with her as she has faced some of the physical challenges of aging, she is attentive and responsive, and reacts to amusing stories with her wonderful laugh. In recent years I have worked with Mildred on her Malka Fund, once again experiencing her keen understanding of the merit and needs of nonprofit institutions, especially those offering empowerment tools for women.”
Lilly Rivlin, whose groundbreaking films about Jewish feminists were partially funded by Mildred, teared up talking to Lilith about this help. “Without Mildred Weissman I could not have made my trilogy of films about activist women: Grace Paley, Esther Broner and Heather Booth. Without Mildred Weissman I would not have made my first film, in 1984—‘The Tribe’, about my family, 2,500 of them. Mildred was always there for me. Some of the best times in my life have been telephone conversations with her. That husky laugh, the sound of her voice! We gossip about her family, her political views. She is a girlfriend with the wisdom of experience. I salute you, Mildred the Wise, on your 100th birthday. I love you. In Hebrew we say ad mea ve’esrim, til 120, and for Mildred, til 120 with all your humor and elegance of spirit intact.”