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  • Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia

Interviews of, and Articles about, Sonia Pressman Fuentes

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Sonia Pressman Fuentes

The f-word Online exhibit features local Jewish feminists

by Debra Rubin, Editor

October 27, 2005

One is a U.S. Supreme Court justice, another founded a Jewish feminist magazine. One helped to create the National Organization for Women, another in the days before Roe v. Wade founded an underground abortion counseling service.

One is a former White House communications director, another a correspondent for National Public Radio.

These six Washington-area women Ruth Bader Ginsburg (D.C.), Susan Weidman Schneider (D.C.), Sonia Pressman Fuentes (Potomac), Heather Booth (D.C.), Ann Lewis (Chevy Chase) and Nina Totenberg (D.C.), respectively, are among 74 women who have contributed to a new Jewish Women's Archive online exhibition, Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution.

JWA historians and educators worried that, with the passage of time, vital information about Jewish women's contributions to the movement called Second Wave feminism was being lost. "We needed to stem that tide," JWA executive director Gail Twersky Reimer said in a press statement.

The result is a multi-vocal, online exhibit at www.jwa.org.

Feminism of the late 1960s and 1970s was one of the most dramatic social movements in American history, note the exhibit's organizers, with many Jewish women among those who led the movement and worked to advance its ideals.

"Jewish Women and the Feminist Revolution brings the story of Jewish feminism into the story of American feminism for the first time, connecting their histories in a landmark project," curator Judith Rosenbaum explained in a press statement. "Our goal has been to create an interactive exhibit that is multi-layered and rich in content, one that vividly exploits the potential of the Internet to educate and inspire young people today."

Fuentes, interviewed by e-mail, said she is thrilled to be included in the exhibit, noting that not only is it a teaching tool about the women's movement, but "it provides some Jewish women's faces for the faceless label: feminist."

The exhibit includes artifacts, documents, video clips, radio news reports, images, art and sounds.

Weidman Schneider notes in her online essay that when Lilith magazine was founded in 1976, its founders "thrilled to every mention of a woman's accomplishments, Jewish or secular. With real glee, we clipped from the papers every mention of a Jewish woman who'd made the news. The period of Lilith's launch was an era in which the emerging feminist press scorned Jewish women's issues as parochial (or, worse, antifeminist, because they sprang from our attachment to a parochial religion), and mainstream Jewish periodicals (all of them edited by men) trivialized the nascent Jewish women's movement."

Today, she says, her vision of the magazine is "more complex, glee replaced by fascination."

Some of the exhibit's statements, Totenberg's for example, don't deal with Jewish context, but are rather a look at a historical moment. The NPR correspondent looks back at the 1991 Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings and notes that while today, those hearings are seen as a watershed in American political and social life, at the time they began she had no notion of what they would come to mean.

Totenberg was the first journalist to report on Hill's sexual harassment charges against the U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

"True believers on both sides would probably argue that for good or ill, the hearings spurred political and cultural revolution across the country," she says in her statement, adapted from her book, The Complete Transcripts of the Clarence Thomas-Anita Hill Hearings: October 11, 12, 13, 1991.

For Booth, a visit to Israel and Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, following her 1963 high school graduation, had a transforming effect.

"I promised myself that in the face of injustice I would struggle for justice," she says in her online statement.

Ginsburg, the Supreme Court's first, and only, Jewish woman justice, uses her statement to look at two Jewish women who have inspired her: Emma Lazarus, whose famed poem is engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty, and Henrietta Szold, who founded Hadassah. Ginsburg terms them "two sterling examples" of the "many women raised in the U.S.A. whose humanity and bravery sustain me when my spirits need lifting."

With this new exhibit, "we've begun to invite women to become their own historians," Reimer noted, "and help build a virtual collection out of privately owned materials that document an important chapter in Jewish women's history."

To Fuentes, who was the first female attorney in the Office of the General Counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it is "a great source of pride to me that my work in women's rights has been recognized."

Noting that she "engaged in these efforts as a feminist and a humanist, not as a Jew," she said, "But, of course, my Yiddishkeit pervades everything I do, as I hope does the principle of tikkun olam," repairing the world.