The Wonder Women in my Life and What I Learned From Them

I am descended from a long line of powerful and strong Jewish feminists. Not all of them identify themselves as such. Some, probably hadn’t ever heard the term before. Not all of these women are directly related to me, but I am the inheritor of their life’s work and dedication to their people. And yet, I write here, proudly, that I am descended from this long line of Jewish feminists.

I include in this list both my mother and my father. Both of whom instilled in me a strong work ethic and socialist values. We all must work for the betterment of our world. We all must help maintain our house. We all must achieve our very best. I was never told that a sport belonged to any particular gender. I had barbie dolls and played with Lego. From my parents I learned a powerful message that hard work was what mattered, not your gender.

Both of my grandmothers worked full time, even with children. This was not a choice or a right that they fought for. It was a reality of their economic status. It was the reality of one of my grandmothers becoming a widow in a strange new country. My Bubba Mira, who was a Holocaust survivor from Vilna, worked for decades educating small children at the Sholem Aleichem College kindergarten. My Bubba May, on the other side of the globe, became a nurse practitioner and was, for a time, the head nurse of a Bronx based ER. Both were/are famously tough as nails. I recently asked my Bubba May for her thoughts on feminism. She didn’t really understand it. Of course women worked the same as men. Of course they should be treated the same. For working class women, this was a reality. Even her mother, my great-grandmother, had worked in the family laundry business. From these women, I learnt that you can be an equal partner in the economic world and still embrace the domestic duties of the home.

And before these women, came my great-grandmother Sonia. A rebellious young woman who attended a May Day rally barefoot when her father had hidden her shoes in an attempt to keep her from going. My Bubba May’s grandmother, for whom she was named, Mayte, convinced her father to let her choose her own husband. A successful marriage it wasn’t, but it was her choice. They taught me to follow through with your beliefs, even when they aren’t so popular.

Pati Srednitskaya Kremer was one of the original Bundistkes. Married to Arkady Kremer, one of the founders of the Jewish Labor Bund, Pati was a revolutionary in her own right. She missed the founding of the Bund, only because she herself had recently been arrested for revolutionary activities. She also focused her attention on education. She worked to educate working class men and women, who otherwise would never be given the opportunity. She understood that knowledge was power. This message I carry with me.

I am descended from Ruth Bader Ginsburg. A woman who stands up for those who need her. A woman who takes pride in her appearance and takes great care with her health. A woman who walks around with a tote bag, with her own face on it. A picture of confidence and self- assuredness that comes with her vast knowledge and experience. From her I learnt about the power of self-confidence, even in the face of utter, utter stupidity.

I am descended from these people. From all of them. Each a strong and independent person, who were and are so proud of their Jewish identity. The fight for equality doesn’t mean ignoring that which makes you different. I carry their messages forward with me. I carry them, when I feel guilty about my messy house. I carry them when I feel guilty for asking my husband to cook dinner because I still have a bit more work to do. I carry them when I get recognition for my work and my ideas. I carry them whenever I make a choice for myself that they may not have had the luxury to make.

I look forward to, one day, passing their messages forward and hopefully adding my own message to the mix. My own message of the importance of insisting that your own voice be heard and to use your voice for those who cannot be heard.

 

Feygi Phillips

Feygi Phillips

Feygi Phillips grew up in a Yiddish speaking household in Melbourne. She graduated from Monash University with a Bachelor of Arts/Education in 2008 and from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America with a Masters of Modern Jewish Studies in 2011. She has dedicated her life to Jewish education and lives in Melbourne with her husband, Zac.