Power CouplesDecember 29, 2015
In an effort to use digital technology to “explore in-depth the struggles and successes of American Jews,” the Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA), based in Boston, has various exhibitions in constant rotation on its website, jwa.org. Each online exhibition focuses on a different aspect of Jewish womanhood throughout time, offering essays, images, audio, and interactive timelines to tell the stories of such topics as women of valor, feminism and western pioneers.
New in the online collection is Power Couples, a smart showcase of contemporary Jewish women, paired up with an historic but equally trailblazing counterpart from a different era. The brief biographical essays offer a side-by-side (but uncompetitive) comparison of each woman’s accomplishments. The list makes it clear that we’re all standing on the shoulders of giants, and with 32 women on the list, you’re bound to learn about someone you’ve never heard of.
Included here is an abbreviated list of the power couples. To view the full collection and delve deeper into these women and their pioneering efforts in the fields of arts, sciences, fashion, athletics, business and activism, visit jwa.org/powercouples. To be clear, though some of the “historic” women are still alive, they are not collaborating in any way with the modern women, JWA is the one making all the connections.
Susan Stamberg and Sarah Koenig
Susan Stamberg was the first female anchor of a major news program – on National Public Radio – and Sarah Koenig was the first, of anyone, to achieve podcast superstardom with her show Serial. It’s like music to your ears.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Debbie Stoller
Remember Ms. Magazine? It started when Letty Cottin Pogrebin met Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem in a hotel room in 1972 to assemble packets for the National Women’s Political Caucus. Two decades later, Debbie Stoller created BUST, a magazine about pop culture and the fun of being a woman.
Lena (Lane) Bryant Malsin and Nicolette Mason
When dressmaker Lena Bryant Malsin found herself widowed with two young children, in the early 20th century, she supported her family by serving a niche market: pregnant women and those too big to fit in the narrow range of sizes available at that time. “Plus size” may be more common nowadays, but fashionable options are still hard to find. Enter Nicolette Mason, a Jewish American of Iranian descent who has found success running a fashion blog called “Big Girl in a Skinny World.”
Claudia Roden and Deb Perelman (cookbooks)
It’s no secret that food is a hugely important aspect of Jewish life. Claudia Roden brought awareness to Middle Eastern, and Jewish, cooking in the 1970s, well before it was common to explore ethnic cuisines from America. Deb Perelman has continued pushing the fork across the road with her wildly popular blog and later cookbook “Smitten Kitchen,” which adds a similar level of storytelling as was common in Roden’s books.
Gilda Radner and Abbi Jacobson & Ilana Glazer (comedy)
This one’s a trifecta of hilarity. It’s likely that comediennes and writers Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer grew up watching Gilda Radner say things like “Jewess jeans” and embody the tactless reporter Roseanne Roseannadanna on Saturday Night Live. Now that the two have their own show (Broad City, on Comedy Central) a new generation of funny girls will be enlightened and inspired to embrace their weirdness and laugh out loud.
Adrienne Rich and Erika Meitner (poetry)
Erika Meitner can trace her lineage back to Adrienne Rich. Not her genealogical lineage, but her poetic roots. “To me, Adrienne Rich is an inextricable part of the matriarchy of Jewish poets,” Meitner told JWA, “[those] who speak truth to power in verse, and engage in struggles for social justice and emotional honesy. They teach us, over and over, that our stories and words have worth, and that our work is never finished.”
Dr. Ruth Westheimer and Jaclyn Friedman
Both these women are still working today. Dr. Ruth Westheimer continues to serve as a sex therapist and active purveyor of sex education tidbits on Twitter while Jaclyn Friedman is starting her career with a slew of books and podcast episodes that explore women’s changing relationship to sex
Bobbie Rosenfeld and Aly Raisman
These women go for the gold. Bobbie Rosenfeld was good at almost every sport that women were allowed to compete in during the early 1900s, but her Olympic gold came in track. She offered a new role model for female athletes. Aly Raisman comes to Olympic competition almost 100 years later, but the attention on female athlete’s bodies remains a mainstay (Raisman made headlines in 2015 for her nude appearance in the ESPN Body issue).
Gertrude Elion and Nina Fefferman
There is always talk of women in the sciences. Where are they? The questions are good, but sometimes it’s better to stop wondering and start doing. Gertrude Elion fought all the uphill battles of women in the sciences on her way to becoming a Nobel Prize winner (even though she was never able to earn her doctorate) in 1988. Where Elion focused on finding treatments for cancer and AIDS, the young Nina Fefferman is working in the world of infectious diseases, and along the way might be making the field more interesting to broader audiences through engaging TED talks and a keen understanding of popular video games.