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Bella Abzug

Friday, December 3, 2021 (Rabbi Mari Chernow)

“This woman’s place is in the House…the House of Representatives.”

This concept, familiar now, was bold and provocative in 1970. That’s why Bella Abzug chose it as her campaign slogan when she ran for U.S. Congress. Abzug was known as a fierce trailblazer who bucked conventions from a young age. She was 13 when her father died. Although she had been told that, as a female, she could not say Kaddish for him, she attended synagogue every morning before school to do precisely that. Her groundbreaking legal career included work in labor rights, tenants’ rights, and civil liberties cases. She defended Willie McGee, a Black man who was convicted and sentenced to death in Mississippi for raping a white woman. She was a leading voice in challenging the Vietnam War and the House Un-American Activities Committee.

In Congress, she was an early supporter of gay rights and anti-discrimination laws. She was a leading proponent of the “sunshine laws” that forced the government to make national security and other policies transparent. She coauthored the Comprehensive Child Development Act with Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisolm. The act passed both houses of Congress but was vetoed by President Nixon. In words that ring true fifty years later, she said, “Without adequate, low-cost daycare facilities, women are doomed to occupy low-paying, low-prestige jobs; without daycare, women must remain economic serfs.”

Bella Abzug was a courageous and outspoken leader of great moral courage. The light she brought into this world continues to shine bright.

Happy Chanukah!

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