Mildred Rosenbaum wasn’t exactly sure what she had done to deserve entrance to such an interesting gathering, but she was excited to be part of the Jewish Women’s Archive meeting last month on Mercer Island.
Despite Rosenbaum’s modesty, her life story was her ticket into the select group of elders chosen to speak for the entire community in the Weaving Women’s Words project, which will record the story of Seattle through the memories of 30 Seattle matriarchs.
“I have no idea where my name came from,” said Rosenbaum, whose personal history before settling in Seattle almost 50 years ago included time helping out during Israel’s war for independence. “I think everyone here is extremely interesting,” she added.
“She was an obvious choice,” said Robin Boehler, chair of the Community Advisory Board for the project and one of the speakers at the narrators’ brunch on May 15. In general, however, the process of narrowing the list of narrators down to just 30 women of a “certain maturity,” who had spent most or all of their adult lives in Seattle, was challenging.
The narrators, who will be interviewed and also shown tribute through a piece of original artwork, are Louise Azose, Becky Benaroya, Shirley Bridge, Meta Buttnick, Molly Cone, Carolyn Danz, Tillie De Leon, Sara Efron, Esther Eggleston, Cecillia Elkin, Ruth Frankel, Arva Gray, Ventura Israel, Ann Kaplan, Sara Kaplan, Leni La Maarche, Dorothy Muscatel, Blanche Narodick, Ann Nieder, Ruth Peizer, Missode Piha, Bernice Rind, Mildred Rosenbaum, Magda Schaloum, Alice Siegal, Frieda Sondland, Bernice Stern, Althea Stroum, Reva Twersky and Dorothy Wittenberg.
The interviews, which oral historians Roz Bornstein and Pamela Brown Lavitt have already begun to collect, will be published on the organization’s Web site, www.jwa.org. The researchers have also done a thorough search for women’s voices in the Washington Jewish Historical Society’s archives at the University of Washington. Seattle is one of the first three cities to be included in this project. The other two cities are Baltimore, Md., and Omaha, Neb.
Jayne Guberman, national program director for the Jewish Women’s Archive, said the three cities were chosen because organizers of the project thought the women in these cities would share three diverse experiences of what it meant to create a Jewish community.
“I can hardly begin to express my delight after thinking about this project for three years now to be standing in this room with all of you,” Guberman said at the narrators’ lunch.
The women in the room — many of whom were old friends who didn’t get many opportunities to see each other — seemed delighted as well. At times, it was difficult for the speakers to capture their attention away reminiscing.
“This project speaks to us on a very personal level,” said Boehler, the volunteer leader of the project. “It’s exciting to get to know the fabric of the community.” She wondered how different the city’s history would have been if it had been written by women. She gave credit to Hilary Bernstein, Seattle community coordinator for the project, for helping turn a dream into reality. “Without Hilary we’d still be thinking how fun this would be if we ever got to do it,” Boehler said.
Bernstein responded, “I’m savoring this moment. When something you’ve worked toward actually happens, you should stop and savor the moment.” She noted that the Weaving Women’s Words project is just the beginning of a bigger plan. An education committee chaired by Tina Novick plans to create a lecture series and lesson plans for teachers designed to empower the next generation to tell their stories. An art committee co-chaired by Leslie Rosen and Iantha Sidell will spearhead the effort to have each of the 30 narrators immortalized in art.
Narrator Bernice Stern, a Seattle native, said, “I’m looking forward to seeing what they make of it.” Narrator Molly Cone, a native of Tacoma, called it a very exciting project. “I’m very happy to be chosen … It gives you a chance to rethink your life from a different angle,” Cone said.