Reading Red Diaper Daughter (Summer 1992) reminded me of Janet Rosenberg Jagan, the American-born wife of the first Prime Minister of Guyana, where I was born. As Janet was white-skinned and her husband was Indian, they faced considerable racism. As communists, the couple fought the British for independence throughout my childhood.
The British government tried to turn the country against the Jagans (but the people saw the Jagans more as nationalists opposed to colonial rule than as communists), then they began a smear campaign against Mrs. jagan, exclusively on the grounds that she was a Jew. Luckily there was no tradition of anti-Semitism in the country and the campaign came to nothing.
For me as a Jew and an African Guyanese, Janet Rosenberg Jagan IS a model woman of courage, who fought with her husband for the independence of a people who were being crushed by British rule. That I received a scholarship and went to the country’s best school, despite my ethnicity, I credit to the Jagan’s fight for educational reforms in racist British Guyana. That, and independence, changed the life of my entire family.
by MONA WILLIAMS, Writer in Residence, University of the Waikato, New Zealand
CHECKING OFF “OTHER”
I relate to Robin Beth Schaer’s article, “I’m Tired of Checking Off Other” [Summer 1993], I attend a small, liberal arts college in upstate New York. My campus has very vocal Black Latino, gay, bisexual and women’s organizations. However, the Jewish community is strangely silent. Why? Because the Jews are afraid of being labeled racists if they speak up. Jews are regarded as part of the white majority. If a Jew were to mention that she felt marginalized, the Black community would laugh and rattle off a list of successful Jews and at the same time cite the lack of successful Blacks.
Ms. Schaer is correct in asserting that multiculturalism “not only excludes Jews, but often represents Jews as an especially oppressive group.” The proponents of multiculturalism need to realize that Jews are not members of the white majority. We too are a minority group. Jewish women suffer the burden of being oppressed both as women and as Jews. My generation needs to make sure that our voices are not silenced!
by REBECCA WOLITZ, Poughkeepsie, NY
MORE WOMEN UNBOUND
The LILITH article “Women Unbound” [Summer 1993] described the situation in Israel of agunot (women whose husbands will not grant them a Jewish divorce) quite adequately. I was surprised, however, that you referred to the efforts of Sharon Shenhav, Director of Na’amat’s Legal Aid Department and yet neglected to list Na’amat among those agencies assisting agunot.
Na’amat has been in the forefront of assisting women with various personal and gender-biased legal issues since its inception 68 years ago. The Legal Aid Department was formally organized following the 1967 war in recognition of the fact that families, widows and children of those killed in the war required competent professional legal advice and guidance. Today there are 26 Na’amat offices throughout Israel, Na’amat’s attorneys offer legal aid to women, answer questions and give advice concerning alimony, divorce, child custody, adoption, employment, pensions, national insurance, income tax, etc. Na’amat is also active in attempting to get new legislation passed that will reduce gender bias.
by BARBARA NOVICK, Executive Director, Na’amat USA, Chicago, IL
LILITH brings a lump to my throat. It makes me feel so connected, yet so distant from what appears to be the “center of things.”
In early 1992, I moved to Vancouver to take up the position of Executive Director at the only Conservative congregation In the city. After 17 months, I left the position, coming to the conclusion that women’s rights are often an oxymoron. I have now rejoined the Reform movement and am home again as a woman, but having to start all over to savor the warmth and importance of being welcomed and encouraged to participate in all aspects of Jewish ritual, rather than “allowed” to participate in only some aspects.
LILITH reminds me that it should feel right to live a contemporary Jewish woman’s life. I feel part of your publication, not merely a reader.
by EVELYN H LAZARE, Vancouver, Canada