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‘You don’t have to look to the sky’ to see a superhero

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What do Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Judy Blume, Golda Meir, Nora Ephron, the late German author Inge Barth-Grozinger, the Israeli activist Anat Hoffman, Ira Kellman’s wife, Martha Levy’s daughter-in-law and Abe Wasserberger’s mother have in common?

 

None of them wear capes (though Ginsburg’s Supreme Court robes with her signature lacy collars came close). Yet each of these women are superheroes — your superheroes.

 

Last week, I shared the story of Alexandra Early, who at the tender age of 9 had written a newspaper column calling on Hollywood to create more “Girl Heroes” — a newspaper column I cut out and have been carrying around for 30 years. It was almost an afterthought to invite readers to share their female superheroes, but I’m sure glad I did.

 

“This and every Yom Hashoah reminds us that you don’t have to look to the sky to see Wonder Woman,” Wasserberger wrote of his mother, Sonia, who survived a labor camp in Siberia during World War II. “The wonder that a child could survive a superpower’s desire to destroy her and everyone like her, to flourish with the promise and determination of new life is a power that is real and sanctified among all survivors.”

Here are some more excerpts of the reader responses, lightly edited for clarity.

 

Martina Navratilova (submitted by Thea Breite)

I was a tennis player and she was the one I identified with. People hated her. She was muscular and a super athlete and was great at the net. Of course she turned out to be a lesbian, which confirmed all the homophobic stereotypes of strong women athletes. Turned out, I did as well.

 

She was the opposite of Chrissy Evert — pony-tailed, slight, who sat back and hit at the baseline. Everett was everything that all the other girls loved. Prim and proper. Girl-like.

 

I hated everything “girl-like.” I was an athlete at a time and place when nobody liked us. We were supposed to be like Doris Day, the tomboy-until-she-liked-a-boy. Then she would magically swap her baseball glove for a frilly dress. At least that’s how I remembered it.

 

I’m so glad that my nonbinary kid now has so many other strong women to choose as a hero.

 

Gertrude Goldsmith (mother of Dick Goldsmith)

My dad got sick when I was 4 and my sister 8. He died two years later. My mom raised us both as mother and father and worked every day, taking over the business he had started. She schlepped a big heavy sample case around for years till her back wouldn’t let her anymore. She traveled around the Midwest for a week at a time, going at night from city to city by bus. Many women have done and are doing the same and they are all superheroes.

 

Anat Hoffman and Anita Hill (Linda Shivers)

Anat has done an amazing amount to help women and secular Jews in Israel and Anita Hill is one of the bravest people I have ever heard of.

 

Anita Emmercih Hyman (mother of Judith H. Darsky)

In the mid-1950s, as the president of our local elementary school PTA in Cincinnati, she attended a national PTA conference in Oklahoma City. There, she was outraged to learn that the accommodations were segregated. She spoke up publicly to ensure that never again would the organization’s conference take place in a segregated city.

 

Dolly Parton (Paula Berman) 

Not for her musical fame, but for what she has used her fame to do — support other women singers and songwriters; set up a foundation that provides free books to children under 6; single-handedly reduce the high-school dropout rate in her county by 30% (!) by providing incentives and setting up a buddy program; setting up a sanctuary for bald eagles; providing funds that were instrumental in developing the Moderna vaccine; and always, always speaking out for inclusion, welcome and respect for all.

 

Rona, my wife of 54 years (Ira Kellman)

She is an active volunteer helping people all the time personally and for organizations. She not only adopted an entirely new lifestyle when we married, but became a leader in our community. She is kind, loving and a great cook.

 

Inge Barth-Grözinger, author (Carole Blueweiss)

Inge wrote the novel Something Remains, (Etwas Bleibt in German). As I read the book while looking for information to complete an 80th birthday montage for my mother, I saw on page 38 the name of my great-great-grandfather: Julius Levi. … Because of Inge’s book, I found a cousin I did not know about (the son of the novel’s protagonist) and I learned more about my family.

 

Dr. Ida Davidoff, an expert on aging (Sonia Pressman Fuentes) 

Ida was the consummate Jewish mother. Shortly before her death at 97, my daughter and I came by for a visit. Ida’s daughter Leonore, a feminist professor who lived and taught at a college in the U.K., was there visiting, and Ida was serving lunch.

 

When she served my daughter her homemade soup, my daughter said she was allergic to that kind of soup. “No problem,” said Ida, and went to her freezer and brought another kind of homemade soup, which suited my daughter’s taste.

“She is kind, loving and a great cook.”

– Ira Kellman, on his wife, Rona

I loved each of the above, and many others we don’t have room for today. I think my very favorite, though, came from Martha Levy, perhaps because Mother’s Day is around the corner.

 

“I admire and I’m inspired by many women in public life (Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Judy Blume being two of many). My two superheroes are lesser-known, however,” Levy wrote. “They are my daughter-in-law and my daughter. Each of these incredible women are young, intelligent, and educated, but go above and beyond in all they take on.

 

“My daughter-in-law has four children between the ages of 11 and 16, one son and three daughters. She has chosen to not work outside the home right now and she is raising her children (with support from my son) to be strong individual humans. She also has become very active in the parent associations at the public schools that the children attend. She never ceases to amaze me.

 

“My daughter has taken a different route. She has one son who is almost 6. She has chosen to continue working for a federal government agency and, due to COVID, is the main breadwinner of her family (with support from my son-in-law). She also has taken a leadership role in her synagogue.

 

“Both of these marvelous women are doing what they want to do while raising wonderful children and enjoying strong, healthy marriages. They inspire me daily.”

 

I’ve been reluctant to name my own “Girl Heroes.” The whole concept of being a superhero seems fraught. But I have been enchanted, of late, with the notion that we each have superpowers. In fact, my new favorite question, equally suitable for dinner parties and job interviews, is: What is your superpower that you’d never list on a resume?

 

Talya Zax, our innovation editor, for example, is excellent at killing flies with her bare hands. Lauren Markoe, our news editor, can parallel park anything anywhere. Beth Harpaz, senior copy editor, has a gift for making the perfect gift bag filled with inexpensive but meaningful tchotkes. 

 

What’s my superpower? I can find the best place to have breakfast in any town in America, and generally pick the right thing to order. I’m also pretty good at asking questions. 

 

Dept. of Corrections: Last week’s newsletter incorrectly identified the star of Jane the Virgin, one of Alexandra Early’s favorite TV shows. She is Gina Rodriguez, not America Ferrera. 

 

Thanks to Matthew Litman for contributing to this newsletter,

and Adam Langer for editing it.  

 

Shabbat Shalom! Questions/feedback: rudoren@forward.com

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