This past Wednesday marked International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate women’s achievements and raise awareness of persisting inequities. Many have noted the serendipitous proximity to Purim — the Jewish holiday we celebrated this week, which is driven by a female-led narrative, with Esther’s heroism saving the Jewish people, and Vashti’s rebellion setting events in motion.
We literally read a whole megillah about indomitable women. But we also know that history is replete with stories of women silenced and stymied, and the fight — still being waged — to achieve parity.
An interesting case study: Along the corridor of UJA’s 6th floor, there’s a wall of photographs of our past leaders, beginning in 1917 with Felix Warburg, the first president of what was then known as the Federation for the Support of Jewish Philanthropic Societies of New York City. The first rows of photographs are all men, save for Madeleine Borg, who in 1938 became the ninth president of Federation.
What we know about Madeleine: She was born in 1878 and was a founder of the Federation. She created the women’s division, chaired it for 27 years, helped found the Jewish Big Sister movement, and was president of the Jewish Board of Guardians (one of the predecessors of today's Jewish Board, a major UJA partner).
One wonders what Esther-like courage she possessed to sit at the head of male-dominated tables and lead our community during the final years of the Great Depression and the start of World War II.