Self-Doubt, Charity and Alimony

At a Jewish women’s conference at Queens College in New York City this past Spring, Judith Stern Peck, one of the keynote speakers, made these comments:

One thing women have to learn to do is to take risks. We must learn to deal with anxiety, fear of failure, fear of rejection and fear of making wrong decisions.

You know, little boys on the ballfield are encouraged to run and stretch to catch that high-flying ball or to come screeching into home plate, even at the risk of getting hurt. By the time they reach the grown-up world, they’ve learned to dust themselves off after a fall or a defeat and keep moving forward in a manly way. We have to learn to risk failure and defeat, too, secure in the knowledge that, win or lose, we will bounce back if we have to and move on to other projects, other challenges.

Another thing that I’ve had to do has been to know when I have accomplished my purpose and it’s time to exit gracefully — leaving the rest to others. Having moved the project into existence, we have to learn to let go of it. It’s just what we have to learn to do with our children.

You know, when women go back to work after many years of being homemakers, we need to value all those real and substantial skills we’ve mastered through running a household and managing a family, as well as the skills we developed in the voluntary sector. If letting go of a project when it’s in place is a skill we already learned when we had to let go of our children, so much the better: let us use it!

How will the women of the 90’s relate to the traditional paths to power in Jewish communal life, which have been twofold — contributing money and working hard?

Traditionally, we women have not viewed ourselves as having the autonomy to give money on our own. We perceived the money in the family as our father’s or our husband’s money, and frequently they would decide what the family contribution would be, and, more often than not, they were known as the donors, not us.

When I was divorced, I actually included maintenance of charitable contributions as part of my divorce negotiations, precisely to avoid having divorce end my ability to maintain leadership status in the community. This is certainly one thing other women in this position should think about doing.