Israel, Sex & Gender

Remembering Marcia Freedman, z”l

Marcia Freedman passed away peacefully on September 21, 2021. Her many accomplishments include serving as the first  and only American born woman and only out lesbian ever in the Israeli Knesset, a founder of the Israeli feminist movement; the founding president of the U.S. Jewish peace group Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace (2002-2009); president of the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival; and  founding editorial board member of Persimmon Tree, an online magazine for women over 60. She was a longtime advocate for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, Palestinians, and elders. She was also a prominent voice on behalf of the struggle for Israeli-Palestinian peace and justice. Marcia’s activism impacted the lives of millions of Israelis and North Americans. 

This is a collection of remembrances from some of Marcia’s many friends and activist comrades about how her life touched them. Upon reading them, her daughter Jenny responded, “I’m speechless with gratitude for this at the moment. There will be a time when I can say more I think but for now I simply thank you from the bottom of my heart for enriching my memories of my mother with your own. Each time someone tells a story of her, I remember more and a new image is added to my narrative. She left a very big hole, larger than most of us do I think.”

Marcia requested that donations in her honor be directed to Gun Free Kitchen Tables (GFKT) in Israel. GFKT works to collect and seed knowledge and concern about guns throughout civil society in Israel, challenging and undoing the militarized equation of guns with security. They have placed their feminist critique of small arms proliferation —and their particular dangers to women and minority groups—on the agendas of Israeli policymakers and the Israeli public. 

For reference materials by and about Marcia Freedman click here.  

On November 1 at 12:30 pm EST, Orly Nathan, the Haddasah-Brandeis Institute Jewish Feminism Collections Scholar in Residence, will host: She Knows: Using the Brandeis Feminist Collection Archives to Explore the History of Israeli Feminism. The Zoom seminar will include her work on the Marcia Freedman papers in the Brandeis Feminism Collections. 

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Marcia Freedman, Alison Pepper, and Lilly Rivlin, May 2010

Marcia ha- lo marsha means Marcia who doesn’t allow.  I am not sure when I first heard it said about Marcia Freedman, but it was way before I met Marcia, who was a strong petit woman. We were like Mutt and Jeff when we walked together.  I’m still not sure why this was applied to Marcia but she was a strong woman and such titles get attached to strong women.  Let’s leave it at that.  It  was the late sixties.  I was involved with planning a conference in Jerusalem with members of the American Jewish Committee.  Harriet Kurlander, an AJC woman professional was assigned to work with us.  Suffice it is to say that the conference was quite successful and most of us became the Jewish activists of the next decade.   Many of those who attended have died since, one of the most important was Marcia Freedman an American living in Haifa.  The conference brought together the future American Jews and Israelis who became the activists of the Israeli and American Jewish feminist movement.  Marcia became the backbone of the Israeli feminist movement and went on to become a member of the Israeli parliament. It was first time I met Marcia Freedman and  the first time I met Heather Booth.   It was a historical moment for American and Israeli Jewish feminism.  The rest is history. 

Lilly Rivlin

***

I first met Marcia Freedman in Israel in 1974 when I interviewed her for the Chicago Sun TImes  because she was one of a group of “peace” candidates who had been unexpectedly swept into the Knesset in the 1973 elections. (Shulamit Aloni was among them and other luminaries of the Israeli Left.) I found Marcia exciting–a feminist and a peacenik on the Israel/Palestine issue. Both cutting edge and brave positions at that time (it may be hard to imagine now), especially for a woman. She so inspired me that I tried to persuade my husband for us to make aliyah to support this revolutionary group that was dreaming of making a progressive Israel. 

Fast forward 28 years to 2002 when Marcia turned up as a leader of our new Brit Tzedek v’Shalom  organization, again giving me hope and inspiration, this time for our work in the US (after the demise of Breira and New Jewish Agenda). She brought badly needed hope and energy. And she bravely entered the thicket that is internal progressive Jewish politics and hung in.

Carolyn Toll Oppenheim

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I lived in Israel from 1970 to 1976. I knew Marcia mostly after we both returned to the States, as she co-founded Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, but I knew her there as the courageous Knesset member who introduced legislation in the Knesset to outlaw domestic violence (it was called wife-beating), only to have these motions literally laughed down. She was persistent, earning respect and introducing the Knesset’s first session on violence against women, founding the Haifa Women’s Center, and eventually succeeding in getting funding for girls and for battered women among other ground-breaking initiatives. She was a strong activist in the Knesset for peace and for the rights of Arab citizens.  We had weekly women’s consciousness-raising meetings that informed our lives that were inspired by Marcia and her work. We loved her for her courage and determination, the “small, still voice that makes itself heard.”

Ruby Poltorak

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Marcia Freedman encouraged me to make a film for Israel’s Channel 1 to promote the legalization of abortion in Israel. Some of the Knesset members who had missed the initial screening watched it at the TV station before the vote. Ultimately, Marcia’s advocacy and the film I produced were responsible for the legalization of abortion in Israel in 1977.

Marcia encouraged the women’s movement to form a political party and run for seats in the Knesset. Unfortunately, the Women’s Party did not get enough votes to enter the Knesset. In my documentary, “Passion for Dancing: The Story of Shulamith,” I praised her work as a member of Shulamith Aloni’s Ratz Party (Movement for Civil Rights and Peace) and for her memoir, Exile in the Promised Land.

Shuli Eshel

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Opening night San Francisco Jewish Film Festival, July 1999 (Photo/Richard Bermack)

Dear Jenny, Asher, Ella & Family of Marcia Freedman,

Sometimes people are introduced and then a bond is born. In my case, I read about Marcia Freedman in the press. She was a candidate in the Citizen’s Rights Party in 1970’s Israel. The world was changing, women were speaking up and Marcia, the first openly LBGTQ women to be elected to the Knesset, had something to say. I was living in Israel at the time and while reading about her I immediately felt a kinship with her efforts to challenge the Israeli macho society of the post ’67 years when we all thought peace with the Arabs was possible and Palestinians had not as yet found their voice.  She was a force in her gentle, intelligent way. Fighting the fight for women’s rights in Israel and daring to raise the question of pursuing peace when the Arabs said no to land for peace, no to negotiation. I wanted to be her friend.

Later in the 1980’s there was a rumor that Marcia was moving to Berkeley with her daughter Jenny.  It was the early years of the Jewish Film Festival and we were making a mark as a place for the Israel discussion. There was no other public space for this in the mainstream. It was a taboo.  

It did not take much to convince Marcia to join the Board. Eventually she would step up to be our President and coincided with my stepping into being the new JFF Director. There were big shoes to fill. The founding Director, Deborah Kaufman was ready to make her own films and departed in the Fall, 1993.  There, she became a friend.

I remember many a time when Marcia was with me for contentious meetings with community critics. We were fighting the good fight for justice and to have a voice at the table. She was my ally in fundraising, strategizing, gossiping and bolstering each other.  What a partner the Jewish Film Festival had, a comrade who could lead us to the next level. 

Although I often times scared myself with our boldness, I floated hand-in-hand with Marcia who made me feel protected. I felt I no longer feared the coming political storm.  Marcia had been part of a political breakthrough for women in Israel. She was a fighter, an activist and our petite, quiet leader who devoted herself to the civic good and said so—“her service was her contribution” she said.  She was a major ‘big giver’ when she volunteered her time and talent to the emerging cultural force called the Jewish Film Festival. Not only was she our President, but she joined our staff as a volunteer Editor for our 20th anniversary catalog entitled INDEPENDENT JEWISH FILM: A Guide To Films Featured in the Jewish Film Festival.

Now, in times of doubt I would ask  myself, what would Marcia do? In an imaginary voice Marcia would say: you shall soar! She was my model of steady, wise leadership.  She lifted me beyond the boundaries. She was my imaginary guide. The fear was real but there simply was no choice but to fly holding her hand.  We have lost her in the physical world, but her message and presence are still with us.  No doubt, she had changed us forever. Thank you, Marcia!

Janis Plotkin

***

I met Marcia very soon after she settled in Berkeley, where she immediately made an impact. In the early 80’s, her Lehrhaus Judaica class on Women in Israel was a bracing dive into the front lines of feminist politics there. Her bold 1990 memoir was an exhilarating, incisive, and moving read. Her organizing and leadership on many fronts, especially around Israel-Palestine, was vast. A record of our shared activism still exists in my email which covers our work in Brit Tzedek and J Street, the controversies about the Rachel Corrie movie at the Jewish Film Festival, ad campaigns in the Forward and elsewhere about Federation Guidelines restricting free speech in the Jewish community, solidarity around the Washington DC JCC/Theater J controversy, and so much more! Her leadership as Chair of the Board at the Jewish Film Festival was outstanding. And in my email there is also a record of Marcia as a friend – notes about birthday parties, dinner parties, caring for ailing friends, movies, trips to New York and New Zealand, references to fabulous women like Naomi Newman, Hannah Kranzberg, Lilly Rivlin – a circle of shared friendships. Subject headings like: “Possible signatories to Free Speech letter,” “Can I get a ride with you?” “The cost of the ad,” “Good article in Tablet,” “Occupy flyers,” “A thought.” Alan and I had the good fortune to film Marcia’s last interview on August 1st for a forthcoming Israel TV documentary about women in the Knesset, and she rose to the occasion with her usual brilliance, verve, and charm. Marcia will always reside in my head and my heart. 

Deborah Kaufman

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Marcia Freedman, August 2005 (Photo/Aliza Becker)

Marcia Freedman was a role model, a mentor, and a friend. Sometime in Dec. ’87-Jan ’88, Lil Moed brought back news of the emergence of Women in Black in Israel, so Clare Kinberg, Grace Paley and I co-founded the Jewish Women’s Committee to End the Occupation (JWCEO). I met Marcia for the first time a few months later when she was in New York and JWCEO arranged for her to speak. I began my intro by saying:  “I don’t know when you came out, Marcia, but I know you started doing it before I did.”  I looked over at Marcia and she was grinning from ear to ear, that incredible smile that was always ready to emerge at a moment’s notice and that’s so visible in so many of her photographs. Marcia became a critical supporter of JWCEO.  She got us significant funding that enabled us to publish and distribute a newsletter about activism here and in Israel and that helped strengthen ties among Jewish and Palestinian feminists and lesbians in both places.That funding also enabled us to send women on extended visits overseas. In short, Marcia was always focused on what to do, how to help. My interactions with Marcia taught me how to get beyond just “feeling” an injustice, and how to act on that feeling, how to make it known in the world.

 In 2002, when she began her work through Brit Tzedek, Marcia pulled me into the New York chapter. I have vivid memories of long, difficult meetings and during breaks Marcia and I would take walks and talk—not only about the issues raised in the meeting, but everything else.  Marcia had this incredible knack of being able to move almost seamlessly from politics to everything else—personal, artistic, gossip.  

I was also very moved by her dedication to her friends and witnessed her devotion to her lifelong friend Esther Broner. Marcia flew to New York so often to help Esther and support her at Esther’s most difficult times. What a loyal, committed friend she was.   

 I taught Exile in the Promised Land numerous times in classes at Barnard. Invariably the students (mostly between 18-20 years old) would bring up the issues of Marcia as a mother and her relationship with Jenny. Some of the most meaningful conversations that I had with these young women were about the “mother activist”—what did she owe her family and children, what did she owe society, in what way were they intertwined.  Marcia took care of her daughter and she took responsibility for the society that her daughter lived in. What a role model Marcia was: as a political activist, friend, mother.  

I so, so miss her. 

Irena Klepfiscz

***

Marcia died two days ago. A great sadness overwhelmed me, at the news of her ‘ loss. We had been close buddies for almost 25 years. 

Paradoxically, now I think I have found her even more.  More alive within me. What happened? 

Stories, touch and smiles are flowing back into my consciousness.  Hello, Marcia!

My god, and your God, O Dio mio e Dio d‘altro,  you have never been so vivid, so alive within me!

What a funny paradox of Dying.  You’re more alive within me than, say, last week. It’s been years since I have actually seen you.

Thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.  

Marcia, you were a giant, so many say.  Yes, true enough.  But, really you were a physical midget, as we know. You barely scraped the chart at 4 foot eight! 

Oh, that was Rosa Luxembourg but not much different.

Rosa’s motto was in fact,  just like yours:

“The most revolutionary act is always to say, WHAT IS.” 

Another giant. 

Remember though, that day long past, when you transformed before the whole Israeli Knesset’s staring eyes, stretched out your little body from tiny little Lady as they saw you, into a creature never seen before  or since in the Israeli government.   

Haha. You yourself didn’t know what to expect when you were, it seemed, accidentally, elected to the Israeli Parliament. An exPat. From the United States, teaching Philosophy in Haifa. Shulamit Aloni solicited you to join her Women’s Party..  You were a little noisy Jewish lesbian. No one thought you would win. But, with the flukes of the shifting clouds and storms of political dealing making, suddenly you were thrust into office.

As Yogi Berra says, when there is a fork in the road, take it!  That’s exactly what you did, didn’t you?

The first opening day of the Knesset meeting, you sat, credentials in hand, appalled.  The podium where you were to stand behind and give a perfunctory acceptance speech was very high. How would your midget self see over the top of it, you wondered. Your courage wavered.

Finally, you threw caution to the winds and strode your little body right up there. You’d shout, if necessary you told me.  

“Barbara, I stepped on the little platform behind the podium and at once I felt it rising, lifting my body up to the requisite height to give my chest and my head and shoulders visibility.”

It dawned on me, you said. “Oh, that’s how they do it here. All those short Jewish men from Eastern Europe, they would have all been hidden behind that impressively high podium which was needed for the stage prop of power. The little platform behind it lifted people up so they could rise and, proportionately, look like mighty giants. 

So I did step up!” 

Yes, Marcia, so you did. 

You became a giant, standing there before the world. Yes, they laughed when you announced you were planning to take on issues like abortion, violence against women in the home, and violence in general in Israeli society. Forbidden subjects. Breast cancer, women’s rights, lesbian and gay rights, and worst of all, the need for a Palestinian State for the refugees to come home to! They laughed audibly at you! (Sara laughed but Issac was born.)

You said it all. Your midget self never changed, did it? 

Indeed, you became and remained a giant, physically before them and also always in my mind. 

I love you, Marcia. 

You are not alone and neither am I, am I?

You are with me and also all of us our midget, giants selves, past present and future, accompany us  through the forests, through the deserts. 

In death, you have become more alive to me. 

Barbara Kane

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Elliot Figman, Diane Balser, Marcia Freedman, Barry Joseph, Brit Tzedek Officers, 2003.

One of Marcia’s many super powers was that while presenting as mild and unthreatening she was often the most dangerous mind in the room (dangerous, that is, to systems of injustice). She possessed a razor-sharp analysis backed by an unflinching determination and a politics grounded in the personal. Working with Marcia, I always felt I mattered, not just my ideas or my commitment, but who I was as a person. I learned so much from her about how to approach conflict, not just political but within the movement itself: stay focused, don’t get distracted by other’s mishegas, and reserve your energy for the fights that mattered. She leaves behind a rich legacy from which we can continue to learn for years to come. 

Barry Joseph

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I met Marcia at a gathering of concerned Jews in Barbara Kane’s living room in Manhattan either in late 2001 or early 2002. She was just back from a trip to Israel, and brought us up to date on what was happening on the ground. Being Marcia, she challenged us to get more actively engaged, and informed us of an upcoming conference of peace activists in Washington who were going to discuss the formation of a grassroots Jewish organization opposed to the occupation, and to advocate for a 2 state solution, so desperately needed given the stifling of dissent in the organized Jewish community. I was so moved by her presentation that I agreed to attend the conference scheduled for late April.  

It was a life-changing decision. As it turned out, my long ago first love, Gil Kulick was also planning on attending. We met before the start of the conference, attended it together, and have been so ever since. Moreover, we were among the founders and active members of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom. Gil was on the board till its merger with J Street. 

Since then, my personal friendship with Marcia grew. We made sure to spend time together on her visits to New York and mine to the Bay area. We both were deeply involved in work concerning seniors, and how to help enable people to remain living in their own homes even as they grew older and more frail. My work was on helping organize supportive communities for people residing in NORCs (naturally occurring retirement communities) and she in the Village model. As a founder and leader of the Ashby Village, Marcia helped build an organization that has succeeded in providing such support. This past year as she grappled with declining health she was a beneficiary of what she helped to build.

On my last visit to Oakland in late August, I had the good fortune to have brunch with Marcia, who seemed to be doing well after her hospitalization last spring, and I said so.  It was then that she broke the bad news that she was given less than 6 months to live. She assured me that she was reconciled, that she knew she had lived a fulfilling life, was grateful that she would have the time to say her goodbyes and finish whatever she felt necessary, and most especially to die in her own home.  She was so glad that her daughter was coming to be there with her, and thankfully was there at her end.

Marcia Freedman, of blessed memory, was a remarkable woman, a change agent, a force for good, who made her presence known in so many ways. She lived a life of purpose and meaning. I for one know that my life has been enriched because of her, and so very sad because I won’t be able to visit with her anymore…

Anita Altman

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Nan Gefen and Marcia Freedman, Ashby Village, January 2018

Marcia was my dearest friend for over thirty years, and we had many talks about Brit Tzedek during the time she was president of the board. 

I remember once after a particularly difficult board meeting I asked her why she continued on as president. The answer for her was obvious. A person does what they need to do even if it’s hard. They don’t quit. Marcia grew up as the sidekick of her union-organizing father, who taught her that change happens one leaflet at a time, one meeting at a time. She learned to take the long view and not expect immediate reward. You just show up to do your part and keep on fighting. That’s who Marcia was, through and through.

With much sadness and gratitude for Marcia’s life, 

Nan Gefen

***

Marcia was a cofounder of Bay Area Women in Black (WIB), which I was honored to be part of, during the second intifada. There were about 13 or so of us, all white women, mostly Jewish, some with Israeli-US citizenship. We were activists, artists, poets, actors, musicians, writers, filmmakers, mothers, rabble-rousers, more…Rather than standing at weekly vigils as many WIB groups did, we created theatrical spiritual rituals for specific Jewish holidays, or other occasions, around the theme of ending the occupation, tearing down the Wall, honoring those who had been killed, etc.  One supporter said that we were creating a new Jewish liturgy. Sometimes hundreds of others  joined us at these events.

It’s worth bringing in here because it was certainly connected to the work of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, though our political views spanned a broader spectrum. When I served on the founding board, Marcia and I were occasionally at opposite ends of the political spectrum, and so our meetings were sometimes heated — but I respected her feistiness, her deep commitment, her pragmatism, her experience, her dogged determination to make a difference. She was a driving force in our group of powerful Jewish women, and I learned from her. She cared deeply about justice for Israel and for Palestine, so she fought for it as hard and well as she could. Thank you Marcia…may your memory be for a blessing.

Penny Rosenwasser

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As a young Jewish lesbian feminist activist seeking to make a difference  on the heartbreaking issues of Israel-Palestine, Marcia was an inspirational role model in so many ways. I am deeply grateful to have gotten to know and work with her in the early years of Brit Tzedek. May her memory be a blessing and an inspiration to the new generations of feminists and queer folks and others still engaged in trying to save our peoples.

Tamara Cohen

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Marcia Freedman and Diane Balser, Geneva Accord Ceremony, December 1, 2003, Geneva, Switzerland

As a U.S. Jewish feminist and activist in the U.S. Jewish peace movement for a two state-solution, I had heard of Marcia for many years, so it was such a treat to finally  attach the face with the name at the Brit Tzedek founding conference. I loved her smile, her wit, her intelligence, and uniqueness. We became very close work partners in Brit Tzedek—not without our differences—but  we built a  sisterhood and alliance that I cherished. As I think back, so much is coming back about what a special experience Brit Tzedek was for me and for so many others and what Marcia in particular stood for. 

When I got the job of CEO and started working with Marcia when she was board president, I went to her home in Berkeley, and we spent about three days together. Marcia talked to me for a long time about everything she wanted me to know about about Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli politics, and Brit Tzedek. We should have taped it; it was such a treat. But most special was the fact that these days took place at the time of the Israeli disengagement and removal of settlers from Gaza. To share that with Marciayou can only imagineglued to the television while Marcia made comments. We celebrated and perhaps cried with many activists. (We did not have Zoom yet but that did not stop us).

Marcia, of course, was ahead of the game in terms of the downside of Gaza, and wrote about that very quickly. However, I recall that even she had some moments of joy. 

It should not go unmentioned that Brit Tzedek’s work on the Geneva Accords, in which we worked closely with its leaders and others on a parallel path, played a significant political role in its development. I was honored to travel to Geneva, Switzerland with Marcia and Steve Masters for the October, 2003 signing ceremony.

Marcia really was a good friend to me in many ways. She was very generous and very honorable. It is unusual when someone in the limelight is willing to back someone else to also play a central role. Marcia did that for me, because she did it for Brit Tzedek, and particularly because she deeply believed In women’s leadership. She was very proud of the large numbers of women peace leaders for our cause in Israel and in the United States, many of whom came to speak to us in the United States, i.e. Naomi Chazan.

Brit Tzedek, although relatively short-lived, was a grassroots organization that made a difference and did remarkably well for its time. It thrived on community involvement and caring connection in a cause we believed in so strongly. It was very special.

It took Marcia’s death for me to remember the years many of us spent building this organization. So many people worked so hard, and so long. Marcia was central and yet we built a home for her as well.  Something really worked, and yes of course it was not perfect, but perhaps it was the imperfections that made it what it was.

And for Marcia—a special thank you.  I like knowing that your name and accomplishments are being remembered.

Love, 

Diane Balser

***

Marcia Freedman was the most understated giant I have ever known. 

I spent my 20s as a leader in Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, getting to serve alongside Marcia on the board. From the beginning, it was immediately obvious that everyone cared greatly what Marcia thought and I didn’t at the time know her background. 

She was tiny. She wasn’t loud. She exuded a firmness and patience that belied what I later learned was a lengthy history of firsts and accomplishments (first US-born woman MK, first ‘out’ lesbian MK, a pioneer of Israel’s women’s movement). 

Marcia didn’t wear her accomplishments on her sleeve. She didn’t seek outsize attention for herself. She wrote and spoke simply and without pomp. Her thoughts were always detailed, balanced, and delivered calmly even during times of violence. She never used her seniority to persuade — one might even forget her storied activism while speaking with her. 

I will always remember Marcia for her quiet yet firm leadership. Younger activists like me are standing today on her shoulders, seeing an Israel that has her invisible, outsized touch in so many ways. 

Baruch dayan emet. May her memory be for a blessing.  

Ben Murane

***

I’ve been flooded by so many memories of Marcia – making good trouble at the General Assembly of Jewish Federations in Philly early in Brit Tzedek’s life, warmly connecting with so many Israeli and Palestinian political leaders at the signing ceremony for the Geneva Initiative in Switzerland. Her spirit was indomitable. 

We formed Brit Tzedek after JUNITY with a geographically diverse group of energetic and passionate Jewish social justice activists with an urgent agenda. Some of us had worked for years organizing US Jews but Marcia brought us something no one else had – deep ties to both grassroots and political leaders in Israeli/Palestine.

Marcia elevated Brit Tzedek’s profile and impact the moment she accepted the nomination to be our first president and ensured that our work both in the US and in Israel/Palestine was authentically and deeply grounded with the full range of grassroots activists and thought leaders.

There were times when we clashed but even then I believe we came out of those encounters with more respect for each other. 

Barach Dayan haEmet.

Steve Masters

***

Alison Pepper, Esther Bronfman, and Marcia Freedman, 2006

I had the perhaps unique experience of getting to know Marcia personally and see her frequently in New York as she was here often to network, fundraise and also to be with a chevra of dear friends including Esther Broner, Barbara Kane, Anita Altman, Gil Kulick and others. There were many dinners and celebrations together over those years as well as significant fundraising events bringing in resources that promoted the ability of Brit Tzedek to grow. One particularly successful event included Tony Kushner and Marcia at the home of Barbara Dobkin—standing room only!  

I had a close alliance with Marcia and all she had to share politically—I learned a lot about how to speak on our issues from my personal experience of having lived in Israel for a decade with the relevant status of the day. We held events at the synagogue many of us were active in, B’nai Jeshurun, where hundreds of people attended and joined Brit Tzedek. Marcia’s command of an audience was always compelling and informative. 

Alice Shalvi, Tony Kushner, and Marcia Freedman, November 2006 (Photo/Alison Pepper)

Marcia was a remarkable friend. During the months when Esther Broner was ill, Marcia stayed in the neighborhood for weeks on end to support her. I was blessed to live in the same building as Esther and Bob so saw Marcia frequently during that time. Even though BTvS had long merged with J Street, she was still making an impact of the issues we were dedicated to. 

How remarkable it is to reflect back on the work we did together so many years ago. And how unnerving it is that yet the “matzav” has only deteriorated beyond our imagination.

May Marcia’s memory be a blessing and a push for us to continue making “good trouble” pursuing peace.. 

שנה טובה 

Alison Pepper

***

As one of the dozens of local Middle East peace activists convening in Washington (actually Arlington, VA.,) from around the US on April 27, 2002, I first encountered Marcia at what turned out to be the founding meeting of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom. I remember being immediately impressed by the soft-spoken dynamism of this diminutive woman who emerged from a pack of passionate, opinionated Jews as the obvious choice to lead this nascent organization. It was largely thanks to Marcia’s forceful leadership that I agreed to serve on Brit Tzedek’s Board. After a year or so, for reasons I can’t quite recall, I tired from BTVS’s often contentious internal politics, and I informed Marcia of my intention to resign from the Board. Somewhat to my surprise, Marcia responded persuasively that I was indeed contributing meaningfully to the Board’s policy debates and should remain on the Board. Buoyed by Marcia’s validation, I withdrew my resignation and remained on the Board until its nearly unanimous decision to merge with J Street. Thank you, Marcia, for your vote of confidence in me. It was an honor and an inspiration to serve the cause of peace with you.

Gil Kulick

***

From the first moment I spoke to Marcia over the phone, I felt listened to and heard. She understood and respected my dual citizenship angst. In those initial days, I was spending much more time in Israel at our apartment in Jerusalem. Marcia heard me, then involved me in Brit Tzedek. She was encouraging, thoughtful and sensitive. I especially recall the time she spent here in Atlanta during which my husband and I had a lot of time alone to get to know her. Even after Brit Tzedek, we stayed in touch. She stood by me during all my health problems, letting me know that she cared.

She was a mentor and a friend. And I miss her greatly,

Jan Jaben-Eilon

***

Marcia Freedman addresses plenary at Western Regional Conference: From the Ground Up: Building Israeli Palestinian Peace in Uncertain Times, San Francisco, CA, February 2006

How unbelievably fortunate I was to work for, and with, Marcia Freedman in my first “proper grown up” organizing job post-college. It still feels almost too good to be true that I landed and was welcomed into an organization led by such a storied feminist, a woman who never bowed to convention or formality, a woman who was always ahead of her time. 

I remember calling my mum after my interview at Barbara Kane’s house in breathless awe of this small-in-stature-only former Member of Knesset who had told the Israeli patriarchy to shove itcould you imagine, I said to my Ima, if I actually got to work with her! 

Throughout my time at Brit Tzedek and after, she was always so kind to me – I could tell, even when we disagreed, she wanted to do right by me, show me how to traverse a path of principled politics. I loved sitting in her garden in Berkeley, or nervously walking the halls of Congress by her side, even as I was always at least somewhat intimidated byand sometimes very frustrated!with her. She could see through bullshitand she called it out. I loved that about her too. 

I can picture Marcia now, her sparkling eyes that twinkled whether she was inspired, getting into trouble, or full of righteous indignation (and often all three at once). What an honour it was to be in political struggle together. I’m forever grateful to you Marcia. May your memory be for a blessing. 

Carinne Luck

***

I was honored to work with Marcia and impressed by her accomplishments for Israel and, particularly, on behalf of Israeli women. Brit Tzedek was an influential part of a landmark movement to show affection for Israel without ignoring Israel’s moral compromises. Marcia deserves much credit for that organization’s success (together with others). Even after Brit Tzedek became a wholly owned subsidiary of J Street, Marcia could still be counted on to inspire a crowd.

It seems insincere to ignore Marcia’s words. Usually thoughtful and intelligent, her remarks occasionally felt tactless and, well, unhelpful. But though Marcia could trounce a helper with an unnecessary put down, she managed to maintain her/his allegiance. Marcia developed hundreds of admirers who shared her vision…myself included.  

Tanuach b’shalom al mishkavah,

Rabbi John Friedman

***

Our Brit Tzedek days in the sun were unique, I believe, because we were not a PAC (Political Action Committee) and yet we made our voices heard in Congress. 

I am profoundly grateful to Marcia for helping me find my political voice.  

Although I don’t live very far from Marcia in Berkeley, I did not see her often, yet sometimes in a store or cafe when we would wave to one another. I last saw her while she was leaving a Cafe with friends just a few months ago. Although both masked we recognized and gestured fondly to one another.

My most vivid memory of Marcia is walking very fast in the underground passage from one Congressional building to another. As I recall we were both giddy with excitement and anxiety about where we were, what Members of Congress were rushing by us and thinking we might be late for our next meeting.

May Marcia’s memory be for a blessing and a call to action for us all.

with great fondness,

Molly Freeman

***

Bloomington, IN Brit Tzedek Chapter Meeting with Marcia Freedman, October 2003

Marcia came to our southern Indiana town in 2003 to meet with our Brit Tzedek chapter and speak at an event held at our university town synagogue. Although we were a small chapter in a relatively Republican state, Marcia was warm and generous with our group, posing for photos & treating us with seriousness—as if there were no place else on Earth she would rather be. What I remember most was her energy and encouragement of our work. 

In the first half of 2007, both Marcia and I were in Tel Aviv and arranged to meet at an outdoor cafe. By then, I was a Brit Tzedek Board member and had watched Marcia in action many times both behind-the-scenes and in public, and was struck by her determination and purpose. I’ll admit that I was slightly nervous hanging out with her one on one (eating, as I recall, really good hummus & salad), but after an initial awkwardness we fell into a lovely conversation about family, writing, and life outside the struggle. We spent a couple hours moving seamlessly between work and not-work in a surprisingly sweet way. I was bummed to get in the car to leave.

Marcia could be difficult (can’t we all?) and I hope she came to the end of her life knowing she made a difference in so many ways and with so many of us.

May her memory be a blessing.

Sue Swartz

***

I’m Bruce Solomon, partner of Sue Swartz —Sue was Brit Tzedek national vice president for a year or two. We got to spend quality time with Marcia Freedman when she came to our town, Bloomington Indiana, and spoke at our shul. 

But my most vivid memory of Marcia took place on Capitol Hill in DC, where the national Brit Tzedek convention included an advocacy day. Attendees split up into small groups that fanned out to lobby Senators and representatives all day. Sue and I had the good fortune to be grouped with Marcia and maybe one or two others. We visited Sheldon Whitehouse, in his first term as Senator, and he seemed very sympathetic. We visited the far more senior Senator Richard Lugar’s office, but only got to speak with staffers. Then we headed for the office of Representative John Lewis. I hesitate to admit that his name meant nothing to me as we walked into his reception room. That was about to change. We took seats and after a few minutes, Congressman Lewis emerged from his private office. We rose, walked over, and shook hands with him. Then he said “Please, sit down.” But my impulse to accept that invitation was immediately arrested when Marcia, without skipping a beat, declared, “For you, we stand.” I didn’t know why at the time, but I certainly got the message, and knew I had some homework to do.

Bruce Solomon

***

It is said that those whose souls depart shortly after Yom Kippur hold a special place in the Shekinah’s heart. While it was time for them to leave, it is recognized that they join the few who have significantly changed the world in a positive way. This describes the Marsha Freedman I knew.

Marcia’s strength and determination changed my world and I know touched many others.

May Marcia’s memory be a blessing, 

Joanne Witt

***

Marcia taught me a great deal about political activism and I am grateful for that. In the style of her directness and honesty, I learned from her example a lot of what to do as an activist and a lot of what NOT to do as an activist. What not to do is often more valuable.  

I write this as I head out-the-door to head to the Texas Capitol to testify against the latest dreadful Texas redistricting map. So maybe what I learned from her example (although she wouldn’t use these words), never stop fighting for Tikkun Olam – to change the world.  She certainly spent her life doing so.

May Marcia’s memory be a blessing,

David Albert

***

Rainer Waldman-Adkins, Marcia Freedman, and Sumaya Farhat Nasser at reception, February 2005

I was a bit in awe of Marcia, regardless of agreement or disagreement (and we had both). In my own life experience and also in the development of Kadima, the progressive Jewish community in Seattle, learning from our elder trailblazgin activists was key to finding footing for continued activism. I deeply appreciated Marcia’s capacity to unite the sweep of the work for justice and peace in Israel and Palestine, sharing the progression of our movement’s history. We did and do difficult work, and I’ve found that knowing our context, how different actions intersect (e.g. feminism, peace and justice politics, LGBTQ+ ) and upon whose shoulders we stand gives strength to continue. I found Marcia to be an important teacher on this as well as an important political leader.

As a political leader, she did a remarkable balancing act with reasonable grace and a huge time commitment—astonishing considering how fractious a group of progressive Jewish leaders and activists can be (as gently referenced by others). When she came to Seattle and went with me and others to meet with Federation appratchiks and leaders in the Jewish community, she dealt with guarded sympathy, outright scorn and more with grace and resolution. I never saw her lose her cool in those encounters, and she, again, taught me a lot about doing the work, building relationships and maintaining sanity.

Finally, she had a physical impact on me. During one of our group meals in Washington DC, I sat with her and we had a nice chat, the sort of wide-ranging talking others have mentioned. She had paella, and offered me a taste. In doing so, honest to HaShem, I bit on a pearl, and later discovered that I’d cracked a tooth. There’s some sort of metaphor there!

When we look at the sweep of Marcia’s activism, including in the latter part of her life regarding elder rights as part of the fight for justice…what an aspirational model!

Zikhronah l’vrakhah u’mapekhah – her memory for blessing and revolution.

In love and solidarity, 

Rainer Waldman-Adkins

***

I am particularly remembering Marcia from the early meetings when we first founded Brit Tzedek.  When we had a million meetings for hours every night. What I most remember was Marcia’s unwavering commitment in spite of all our newness and just getting to know about working with each other. She was tireless, passionate, and deeply committed. And I remember how hard she tried, even in the face of major political differences to think afresh and try again. She was political and not always super fond of the personal, sharing feelings end of the work that some of us thought was important to do.  But she was always willing to trust us and at least try whatever some of us thought was needed for community building. I so appreciated her for that.

I also deeply appreciated her commitment to feminism. May her memory help all of us to keep going in this work particularly when it gets hard.

Cherie Brown

***

Just a few weeks ago I visited San Francisco which led me to tell some friends about my favorite memory of Marcia. Although it may not sound like it, I swear that this actually is a fond memory.

When I was on the Executive Committee of Brit Tzedek, I had cause to visit the Bay Area near where Marcia was living. Although she and I had our policy differences, I thought it would be good for us to get together. So I emailed her asking if she wanted to get coffee. Her reply was only a few words long, something to the effect of “Oh, let’s not.” Very Marcia. She was never one to mince her words. 

Aaron Ahuvia

***

I loved Marcia’s deliberate and incisive thought and action. In Brit Tzedek she used the slogan of bringing the settlers home (meaning back within the Green Line). I thought it was brilliant. For a while many of us used Rabbi David Cooper’s paradigm of tending towards being a guardian or a prophet when it came to Israeli/Palestinian issues.  She was the only “guardian” I knew who wasn’t unequivocally hawkish and supported a two-state solution through that perspective.

Later she would include me on literary invitations to read this or that, follow Persimmon and other journals and generally stay in touch. While she may be remembered most as a history-making feminist and lesbian in the Knesset she was also downright heimish, generous, and open-hearted.

We have lost a giant (and this is from someone who had a couple of inches on her).

Ruth Atkin

***

Aliza Becker, Stav Shaffir and Marcia Freedman, J Street Conference, Sept 2013

There are two things that stand out for me about Marcia Freedman, The first was her sharp analytical mind and her firm grasp of the details. She was amazing to watch at her public speaking engagements as she was able to win over many skeptics. She systematically laid out her argument on how Israel was failing both its own people and the Palestinian people. I greatly appreciated her sincere commitment to give her all to our peace work at Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, which required her to spend many weeks on the road in the early days. 

The other thing was how she backed me. She spearheaded the decision to hire me as the founding executive director of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom even though I had never worked in the Jewish community nor run a start-up non-profit, especially one with such bold aspirations and a board of strong-willed grassroots activists. She arranged mentors to tutor me in needed skill areas and trusted me to do the hard work it took to implement her vision of what she called “the most successful activism of her life” in an oral history interview I conducted with her in 2015. As a result, I grew in my confidence and leadership skills during my tenure at Brit Tzedek and have been unafraid to delve into all sorts of startup projects since then. Marcia’s backing, in part, made possible the life I have today.

May your memory be a blessing dear Marcia.

Aliza Becker

***

Jenny told us a story about Marcia.

Outside the Jewish Film Festival, she was standing with a friend when a woman ripped the friend’s purse from her hands and jumped in a taxi. Marcia jumped in after her trying to get the purse back. The taxi driver turned around and started cursing the thief, and Marcia turned to him and said, “Never talk to a woman that way!”

The purse was returned and the thief ran away.

It’s a wonderful story and a delight to imagine.

Alan Snitow

***

I knew nothing of Marcia before joining Brit Tzedek.  That is because I was part of the left that opposed Israel until I finally realized the foolishness of that position that was never going to achieve peace or end the violence in the region.

I never got to know Marcia that well, but the things that impressed me about her were several. First, whenever she was in a room, she was almost always the center of gravity of whatever was happening. Secondly, the number of people who knew her or knew about her was also very impressive, especially since I had never heard of her before.  Thirdly, while she was generally quiet and reserved, her eyes betrayed a fierceness that I found to be both exciting and reassuring—she was very serious and capable. Finally, her commitment to social justice in all of its dimensions was really crucial for me.  Marcia was a committed Jew with an expansive view of justice, hardly a one issue or one identity person.

She has left her mark on the world. Time for the rest of us to continue on, we are part of her legacy. 

Ivan Handler

***

If Marcia had needed and wanted a liver transplant, I suspect the line of would-be donors would stretch for miles

What about Marcia drew us all in to her? Some different things for each of us, for sure.  

But among them, I suspect, were her vision. Her courage, passion and determination.  Her strength and her energy. Her fun side.That she so often looked ahead.  

And that she thought BIG. Really, the only small things about Marcia were her height (not her stature) and her bank balance.

I feel so lucky to have gotten to know Marcia. We met a second time when I joined her on the board of Ashby Village (AV) back in 2015. We dove right into our “late-in-her-life-friendship”, quickly dispensing with formalities and small talk.

Only much later did we both discuss our first meeting, when Marcia sought out, with a mutual friend, my progressive communications firm Pro-Media’s services for Brit Tzedek. Back then, she told me I charged too much, but saved my brochure, which she brought one day a few years ago to one of our many working lunches at Saul’s, Berkeley’s premier deli, whose portions Marcia taught me to cut in half upon receipt and take half home for a second meal (except for when she regaled me with ideas that kept me mindlessly eating my chopped liver on rye).

Ashby Village is one of the many communities for which Marcia was a pillar.  It’s one of the leading hubs of a fast-growing national movement of elders, which, as Marcia herself wrote, is “…devoted to supporting elders to remain active, independent and engaged as we age”.

Marcia and I were both on the board of directors of this non-residential community in Berkeley, CA—with around 400 + members and 300+ volunteers, who do everything from walk dogs for members recovering from surgery to changing the lightbulbs above our staircases and drive us to and from our MDs. All services that many elders applaud, yet insist “I’m not ready yet”.

So Marcia and I put our heads together, to entice our peers to meet well before they need community. We co-founded two magnets, an Arts & Culture Series, with AV members like poet Chana Bloch and writer Maxine Hong Kingston, who, on Zoom, now attract over 500 attendees (how old must you be to enjoy great presentations?) and Elder Action (EA), an AV social justice interest group that gets 100+ AV members with the time, experience and wisdom to impact diverse, intergenerational coalitions. We take on issues from refunding CA public services, to climate change and long-term care. We’ve gathered thousands of petition signatures and attracted national leaders like Bill McKibben as our partners thanks to Marcia, who sent emails, wrote agendas, ran meetings, and identified new leaders.

When we reconnected, we cut right to our shared passion for social justice. We talked, texted, emailed, often several times a day. At Ashby Village, to which she proudly noted being a “subsidized member”, she gave so much–of her time, strategic thinking, wisdom, commitment to diversity and inclusion, and of her dedication to rooting out ageism, including her own. 

It’s taking me time and I suspect long will, to feel the full weight of this incalculable loss. 

Marcia and I worked closely together these last seven years.  I learned so much from her.  About creating successful social justice advances.  About compiling shorter agendas and presentations. About setting limits and sticking to them. About how to inspire others to act on their values.  Most recently, while being fiercely independent, accepting help with grace.

And about how to show your deep love of your adult offspring while pursuing your own dreams.  Marcia talked to me, often this past year especially, about how she felt the most confident in Jenny’s care, about how she saw Jenny’s taking charge of her own health with a vegan diet that Marcia said she loved meat too much to follow. About how proud she was of Ella, especially of Ella’s political efforts in Israel and Ella’s writing.

I already miss Marcia so much. We worked closely together these last seven years.  I will miss the remarkable group of women she brought together as each other’s’ Seder Sisters for the Seders I loved best in my life.

 Back in 1974, in Boston, I helped start a socialist feminist monthly newspaper we called “Sister Courage”. I hope these joy-filled, meaningful sisterhoods propel me to find the right mix of Seder (“order”) and courage, that I think are needed to move Marcia’s vision forward, to learn to set boundaries even half as well as she did, and to inspire others to turn their dreams into actions that have the impact Marcia sought, that we sought with her.

During the last dinner I shared with her, Marcia showed me how she twirled a baton during her High School football games. The best youthful gyration I can do these days is hula hoop, but I’ll try to keep that up, inspired by my image of Marcia, last month, twirling her cane at her table.

Rochelle Lefkowitz 

***

Marcia Freedman (Photo/Alison Pepper)

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Resources

A Tale of Two Conferences: Jewish Feminists Organize to end the Occupation by Marcia Freedman, Bridges Magazine, July 1989/Tamuz 5749

American Jewish Peace Archive Interview by Aliza Becker, August 26, 2015.  Farewell to Marcia Freedman, edited audio of American Jewish Peace Archive interview with introduction by Ori Nir, Americans for Peace Now, September 23, 2021.  

The American Jewish Woman Who Brought Feminism to Israel by Tzafi Saar, Haaretz.com, March 8, 2010.

Berkeley’s Marcia Freedman, first out lesbian in Knesset, dies at 83 by Dan Pine, J. The Jewish News of Northern California, September 27, 2021

Bring the Settlers Home to Israel by Marcia Freedman, Tikkun, Volume 18, Issue 4, November 2, 2003

Brit Tzedek’s Marcia Freedman Discusses Role of American Jewish Community by Sister Elaine Kelly, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January/February 2005 

Dovish group still pushing talks by David Silverman, June 27, 2006

Exile in the Promised Land: A Memoir by Marcia Freedman, Ithaca: Firebrand Books, 1990.

Lesbiōt: Israeli Lesbians Talk about Sexuality, Feminism, Judaism and

Their Lives by Tracy Moore Review by: Marcia Freedman

Bridges, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Summer 1995/5755), pp. 109-114

Marcia Freedman and the Fight Against Domestic Violence in Israel by Nati Gabbay, August 3, 2020

Marcia Freedman, First American Woman in Knesset, Dies at 83 by Katharine Q. Seelye, New York Times, October 2, 2021

Marcia Freedman’s Life Showed That Change is Possible by Orly Nathan, Fresh Ideas from HBI: The BBI Blog, Haddassah-Brandeis Institute, October 19, 2021.

Marcia Freedman Papers, Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections, Brandeis University, June 20, 2017.

Marcia Freedman’s Reflection: Looking Back at Brit Tzedek Ten Years Later, Brit Tzedek Legacy Website

Marcia Freedman Papers, Robert D. Farber University Archives and Special Collections, Brandeis University, June 20, 2017

Marcia, My Friend by Nan Gefen, Published Emerita and Marcia Snares Me by Sue Leonard, Editor, Persimmon Tree, Fall 2021.

Pro-Israel Peace Activist Speaks in Piedmont by Judith Scherr, The Berkeley Daily Planet, January 23, 2007

The “Real” Cost of the Israeli Settlement Project, video of Marcia Freedman talk for Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, University of San Diego, November 14, 2007.  

US-born ex-MK Marcia Freedman, a pioneer of Israeli women’s rights, dies at 83 by Michael Bachner, Times of Israel, September 23, 2021

 

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