The THINKerry

Celebrating the OG Feminists

International Women's Day 2024, a proud time to celebrate being a Jewish woman.


By Kerry Edelstein
October 22, 2020

A century ago, one of my grandparents enrolled at Cornell.

Four years later, it wasn’t my grandfather that graduated with an Ivy League degree in 1928.

It was my grandmother.

As I like to say, when it comes to my family, I am distinctly average. I come from a lineage of formidable women, women who shined a light on the possibilities in front of me – the education I could receive, the life I could live, the career opportunities I could pursue, the impact I could have. So as we celebrate International Women’s Day, I don’t just want to celebrate women. I want to celebrate a certain category of women. Of exceptional women.

I want to celebrate Jewish women.

Many already know the superlative, famous standouts. Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Sheryl Sandberg. Barbra Streisand. Anne Frank. But behind these famous names is a community of millions of superlative Jewish women.

In Jewish culture, women matter. And we’re told that. We’re encouraged and even expected to get an education, to assert ourselves alongside men, to be accountable for our futures. Certainly there are exceptions to this, for example in certain ultra-orthodox communities. But by and large, Judaism is a culture and heritage of female empowerment.

Jewish female TikTok and Instagram creators discuss persevering through physical threats and demonetization in the wake of October 7th

This past week, I attended the Anti-Defamation League #NeverIsNow annual conference, and it was outstanding to see that feminism on full display.

I go to a lot of conferences. I go to a lot of conferences that celebrate women’s leadership in particular. None of them are like this. Every panel, every session, every room, overflowing with exceptional women and our Jewish male allies gushing with praise to celebrate exceptional Jewish women.

I sat down at lunch the first day next to a woman in a bright pink blazer, a complete stranger who happened to be next to an empty seat in a very crowded room. My colleague and I quickly learned that she too, was a Cornell graduate. And on the Board of Trustees. And CEO of a non-profit. I met another woman at dinner, a psychologist specializing in neurodiversity. I met her adult daughter, a medical resident in pediatric neuropathy. I attended a panel on workplace bias and legal considerations – all four panelists were women. And I don’t mean women sharing their personal journeys and opinions, I mean women sharing their elite professional expertise as attorneys and executives.

I listened to Dara Horn, author of People Love Dead Jews, make a room of 3000+ people laugh and cry during the same keynote, culminating in an extended standing ovation. She told the story of Queen Esther, who once saved Persian Jews from a pending massacre, because she chose to use her power for good.

The audience and I listened intently and then laughed along with Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, as she shared wisdom of international diplomacy and reflected on the limits of education with the quote of the day, “You can be a PhD and an SOB at the same time.” It’s exactly the kind of comical, honest assessment many wise Jewish mothers would make. Including mine.

I held my breath as female American Jewish social media creators talked about getting death threats and hate mail after October 7th, as TikTok and Instagram demonetized them for sharing the threats they received – without blocking or punishing those threats in the first place. I listened in awe as the 21-year old male panel moderator (whose channel is largely cooking content) effusively referred to these women as “strong, powerful Jewish women,” reinforcing their stories with his own experience receiving hundreds of death threats and the fear he understood they were feeling.

This is the truth of my Jewish upbringing, my Jewish experience. It’s not an especially religious one, and that’s a thing most of my non-Jewish friends and colleagues often don’t understand. As Dara bluntly and beautifully put it during her keynote, the Jewish people pre-date the modern concepts of religion, race, or ethnicity. We’re a people, a culture, an identity. The world tries to fit us into contemporary boxes like religion, but we predate the boxes.

And it occurs to me now, we predate feminism too. In many ways, we’re the OG feminists. Maybe RBG didn’t just fight to get women credit cards because it was a practical thing to do. Maybe she did it because, like myself, she was raised to believe women are worth it.

So today, I’m not just proud to be a woman, celebrating my fellow women.

I’m proud to be a Jewish woman.

Happy International Women’s Day.

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