She did not adequately answer for me the question of equal careers and who would make lunch for hungry toddlers, prepare for Shabbat dinner with guests, or meet the school bus each afternoon. She could not, because someone had to do the drudge work that accompanied the peaks and joys of raising children and running a Jewish household, and society was not yet organized to split these roles. But once she implanted in our minds and hearts the idea of equality of genders, once she posited this as ethics rather than as a battle between the sexes, each of us would work out the details in our own lives.
More than that. She opened the door to broader application of the idea of equal access and dignity to other spheres of life. In 1963, I made no connection between feminism and Jewish religious life, the imbalances in traditional Judaism created by gendered religious roles, the prevailing limitations on women studying Talmud or even the real disabilities in Jewish divorce.
But others did. These were a handful of Jewish women of the 60s, women of Ezrat Nashim, women of other denominations who were writing about or modeling the new values, women who mediated secular feminism into Jewish feminism. Once these pioneering Jewish feminists established the connections, I could apply them to my own community--not out of a sense of abuse for still I felt none, but out of a sense of ethics, of meeting the original biblical paradigm--male and female created as equals in the image of God.
Betty taught us several other important lessons. Not content to rest with the mighty power of her pen, she understood the covenantal nature of organizational life: for a job to be done and the work to continue, one needed more than an idea, more than cohorts. One needed organizational structures that would allow others to find an address and to take up the work. Betty went on to found or co-found NOW, the National Women's Political Caucus and the First Women's Bank and Trust Company. She co-organized the first protest march, the Women's Strike for Equality in 1970. In 1969, though already beleaguered by opposition to feminism, she was unafraid to publicly take on the abortion issue, founding NARAL, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.
These organizational models and her writings spawned hundreds of others. A spate of books and periodicals followed hers, and many hundreds of independent feminist organizations were created on these shores and far distant ones. Thus, her work in the world was multiplied in the arenas of politics, domestic life, religion, economics, education and all of the professions. It was, I believe, more than some of her sisters in the movement would acknowledge in later years.
Betty never denied her Jewishness. In fact she wore it proudly. In 1975, Rabbi Isaac Trainin and I invited her to join a New York Federation task force, then called Jewish Women in a Changing Society. She joined in an instant, as if waiting for the Jewish community to invite her in.
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