It’s been 14 years since the unprecedented election of four women to the U.S. Senate led reporters and the public to dub 1992 the Year of the Woman, but here in Baltimore — even without the presence of presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton at the top of the Democratic ticket — an equal claim could be made for 2016.
As you’ll read in this week’s JT, the Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland, the last of its kind among federated Jewish women’s umbrellas in the country, is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Some might view the group as coming from another era, a time when synagogue sisterhoods and similar organizations pooled the collective talents of the Mrs. Steven Cohens of the world to build gardens, sponsor projects in Israel and send local students to college.
In that sense, the continued existence of the Federation of Jewish Women is a bit of an anachronism. Except that its members all use their own names — they dropped their husbands’ first names as monikers beginning in 1963 with FJW president E.B. Hirsh — and it continues to address such issues as refugee support, community education, reproductive health, domestic abuse and climate change. Commitment to social justice is always in vogue and never as necessary as it is today. These women get that.
Instead of looking at those who will celebrate May 19 at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation as a throwback to another time, we all should view them as an example of what it means to put such notions as community, dialogue and advocacy into practice. The tragedy is that there aren’t more groups like the Federation of Jewish Women, more organizations dedicated to wholesale empowerment and communal involvement on a grand scale.
“We’ve organized trips to D.C. and Annapolis to meet with our elected officials and testified on committees on behalf of [many] issues,” says FJW’s current president, Sheila Derman. “While we’re not lobbyists per se, we’re really teaching federation women the importance of being involved, in a bipartisan way. That’s the way things happen.”
At a time when apathy increasingly plagues the United States — just less than 55 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in 2012, while more than 80 percent took part in the Philippines’ presidential election this week — we all should be wishing the Federation of Jewish Women another 100 years. We should also be looking for other organizations to join, ways to educate ourselves, and opportunities to dedicate our time and talents to the community.
The Year of the Woman may have come and gone. With an eye to the sisters, mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers at the FJW, let’s make 2016 the Year of the Involved Citizen.