Nineteenth and 20th-century Yiddish and Russian literature and drama is her field, but UW Professor Barbara Henry is not Jewish.
Yiddish was in the water where she grew up in New Jersey, she explains. She loved klezmer as a child and “wanted to know what the songs were about.” Career-wise, it became “a natural extension of my interest in Russia.”
Barbara just published her first book, Rewriting Russia: Jacob Gordin’s Yiddish Drama. Gordin (to crib off the jacket notes), “the first major playwright of the ‘Golden Age’ of New York’s Yiddish theater,” was “best known for translating or adapting classic literature for the stage.”
Studying at Oxford, Barbara learned of Gordin while researching her dissertation. A sometimes-controversial figure who kept his ties to Russia, he was often accused of being “too Russian” and “not Jewish enough.”
“I just wanted to know what his deal was,” Barbara says.
He was a curious guy, she pointed out, with a different story than the familiar Jewish immigrant one.
Most American Jews with roots in the Russian Empire, including Poland and the Pale of Settlement, are “convinced that their families…were persecuted and suffered,” says Barbara, but it’s not necessarily true. Jewish residence in Russia was restricted to “useful Jews” like Gordin, and there were plenty who were comfortable and safe, usually urban dwellers and mostly merchant class.
“It’s not all that movie about the mouse,” she laughs, referring to the animated children’s film American Tale.
Barbara is an avid runner and likes to do things with her 14-year-old son, like “stand out in the freezing cold and watch him play soccer.” Calling genealogy her “crazed passion,” she spends hours on Ancestry.com.
“Skullbook: Facebook for dead people,” her husband calls it.
“The crazy stories you hear from your family” are often true, she has learned, “and the ones that everyone accepts are generally not.”
She’s worked this passion into her teaching, and includes an assignment on family history in her intro to Russian culture class. Many of her students are Russian immigrants and this makes them talk to their relatives.
She has similar assignments for the Jewish community.
“Buy books about Yiddish theater,” she quips (her second book is coming soon) and, more importantly, “talk to your grandparents.”
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“I have a bad habit of giving 110 percent,” jokes Jacquie Bayley, president of Pacific Northwest Region of Hadassah. Often called “Madame Hadassah,” she’s been active in many local organizations, including the Federation and the Jewish Day School, but the women’s Zionist organization is getting her attention now.
Born and raised in Vancouver, BC, the Bellevue resident grew up at Congregation Schara Tzedek. She met and married husband Björn in Vancouver and they moved here in 1986 after eight years in the Philadelphia area.
They enrolled their kids at JDS, which became “my first Jewish community” here, she recalls.
In 1998 Hadassah tapped Jacquie for a new leadership training program. She was one of 15 who completed the original year-long program that included a trip to Israel. She chaired a gala honoring the late Althea Stroum, and then served as Seattle chapter president before taking her current position.
“I’m a big believer that when you get something, you give something back,” she says.
Last year Seattle Hadassah put on Breast Cancer Exposed, a successful fundraiser that helped educate the local community about Hadassah’s role in breast cancer treatment, prevention and research.
As a volunteer organization, Hadassah shares a problem common to all organizations: Attracting and keeping volunteers. Time is what keeps people away, Jacquie observes. There is also the “Hadassah Lady” stereotype to overcome.
“They think it’s their mother’s or their grandmother’s organization, [but] I can tell you it’s ours and our daughter’s organization,” she says.
So she is excited about a local program, “Live, Laugh, Love,” the region is putting on in March designed for “Jewish women with passion and with focus and with cause,” as well as those interested in “laughing, drinking wine, eating chocolate,” she says. (Visit www.newhadassah.com, and for full disclosure, it’s an event I’m involved in marketing.)
When time allows, Jacquie plays golf.
“I used to play tennis but my knees said no,” she says, and once a month she ushers at her shul, Congregation Beth Shalom. She also loves spending time with her kids and with friends.
“I have met some of the smartest, most creative and passionate volunteers,” she reflects, “many whom I would not have met if not for Hadassah.”