At her first meeting, she spoke of how Jewish values of justice had influenced her feminism, indeed her entire outlook on life. Later, we would learn that being a smart, Jewish girl growing up in Peoria, Illinois, shaped her sensitivities as an outsider and sharpened her abilities to engage in confrontation, both of which helped her in the early feminist battles.
She was concerned about the Jewish family. Once, in the early eighties, as she and Susan Weidman Schneider and I shared a panel in Chicago on "Feminism and the Jewish Family," I quipped that I was a slow learner for I had read The Feminine Mystique in 1963 while pregnant with my second child but went on to have three more children. (In the book, she caricatures the woman with a vision of five children). Friends though we were by then, she took considerable umbrage at my comment for she disliked being associated with a decline in the Jewish birth rate.
She saw Jewish feminism as a logical extension of secular feminism--access, education, the need for "outside" or public roles as well as inside ones; freedom to control one's destiny in marriage and divorce.
In those years, the task force held conferences on the agunot, women unable to obtain a Jewish divorce, on infertility, on the Jewish family. Though peripherally involved in those conferences, she remained curious and interested in their outcomes.
Betty's greatness also lay in her ability to rethink matters. In publishing The Second Stage, she recognized that she had gone too far in The Feminine Mystique in denigrating women's roles in the home. She wrote of transcending the false polarization between feminism and family, between men and women. She addressed the realities and satisfactions of work of the home and the satisfactions of women who chose those as their primary roles. She was criticized by some of her more radical counterparts for selling out the original vision, but then, as earlier, she held her ground.
She once acknowledged that some of her writing in "The Second Stage" was influenced by her encounter with Jewish women of the federation world who successfully put together family and service and who successfully made sequential choices in their lives regarding family and career.
Jewish history is full of flawed models, sometimes more powerful because of their flaws, and certainly more accessible. Betty was straight as an arrow, totally transparent, nothing behind a veil. What you saw was what you got, including anger or bruised ego. But that made the love, the caring, the creative mind, the generous spirit, the passion for justice all the more precious. It was a privilege for me not only to have personally known this extraordinary woman, but to be among the billions of men and women, now and in the future, whose worlds she would alter. May her memory be for a blessing.
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