June 24, 2018

A Jewish Feminist Bids Farewell

HBI celebrates our 20th Anniversary this year and recognizes the vision and leadership of our founding director, Professor Shulamit Reinharz, retiring today. Be a part of our future by making a donation to the HBI. Donate Now –

By Shulamit Reinharz –

On June 17, 2017, I turned 71-years-old.

The women’s movement taught me to state my age with pride.

Just after my birthday, I addressed the HBI Gilda Slifka Summer interns whose average age is about 21, a gap of two generations. When I retire today, Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, S.J.D., who represents the generation filling this gap, will become my successor as Director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute.

What do these generational differences mean? To me it means that something I created 20 years ago continues to be relevant to women and men 50 years younger than me. That is a great realization.

It was more than 20 years ago, at a session of the General Assembly of Jewish Federations that I held aloft a copy of the book, Voices for Change, which emerged from Hadassah’s inspired idea to create a National Commission on American Jewish Women. As chair of the Commission, I marshalled a team that produced Voices, an overview of the sum total of research-based knowledge then available about Jewish women. I pronounced the book “too thin.” It was clear to me that we knew very little and that we needed a research institute to carry out the work. Now, 20 years later, the young interns have come to spend their summer with us because they, too, have concluded that there is so much more to do.

The women’s movement taught me to state an accomplishment proudly.

 Recently I had lunch with two of the wonderful women who fund our programs at the HBI. These meetings reminded me of something else I learned in these 20 years – Im Eyn Kemach, Eyn Torah, which means, “Without flour, there’s no Torah learning.” In other words, we need financial resources to do our work. We have to make what we do intelligible and interesting to those people who are able to help us financially. If not, things will come to a grinding halt.

The women’s movement taught me to talk about money when you need it, and to give it away if you have it.

 A few weeks ago, we read the portion Beha’alotecha, which begins with instructions from God to Moses to Aaron concerning the Levites, relevant only to male Levites, although it does not state this in the Bible.

The women’s movement taught me to be concerned about male-only dialogues and to look for women’s voices.

One of the instructions in that Torah portion concerns the period during which a Levite could serve the Cohanim or priests – between the ages 25 and 50. This is the only passage in the Bible that mentions retirement, a concept relevant to this day. Although I was delighted to discover this progressive idea, I was concerned about the hidden, silent “Mrs. Levy.”  Did she get to stop working at age 50?  How many of our ideas, even progressive ones, ignore the presence and needs of women?

As I think back, I take pride in the various ways our work paved the way for intellectual, spiritual, artistic and practical advances. By publishing books, funding translations, editing a new journal, offering research awards, and establishing HBI Conversations in 13 cities, we have offered “Kemach” and “Torah.”  By providing residencies for HBI scholars from around the world, and particularly from Israel, we helped dramatically improve feminist professors’ chances for employment and promotion in Israeli academia. At the same time, we had a major impact on defining the field of Jewish gender studies as a serious field of inquiry.

 The HBI flourishes because of the hundreds of marvelous people who participate in our numerous programs. So many of them came forward in my final weeks to tell me the impact that the HBI had on their research and careers. But, the feeling is reciprocal. I flourished personally because of my opportunity to meet, know and be inspired by three generations of scholars still breaking new ground. There is always more to be done.

This too, I learned from the women’s movement and in particular, from the Jewish women’s movement.

Thank you to everyone I’ve come to know through the HBI. I leave it in very good hands.

Shulamit Reinharz is the founding director of HBI.



  1. So many of us are grateful to you for helping our voices find a forum, Shula. Thank you so much for all you’ve done and congratulations on two decades of brilliant achievement!

  2. Ilan Fuchs says:

    And for many more years of leadership in the wonderful adventures to come.

  3. Jane Zolot says:


    Your enthusiastic approach to every aspect of the HBI sparked a following of women and men who joyfully followed your lead.
    Having been part of this entourage since Day one I congratulate you on an amazing success.
    Jane Zolot

  4. Sarah Twichell Rosehill says:

    It was an honor to be able to work with you at the HBI for several years, and it’s been a pleasure to watch the organization continue to flourish since I moved on. I look forward to its continued accomplishments and hope that watching them unfold gives you great pleasure in the years to come!

  5. Tania Reytan says:

    Dear Shula,
    This is a message of gratitude and friendship from Sofia, Bulgaria. I learned a lot from you, and from the unforgettable HBI team at the time (2001-2002). This one year at HBI was worth more than a decade for me.
    Thank you for your energy, wisdom and pedagogy of change! Be well and never give up, Shula. There are indeed so many more things to be done. I hope, we could do some of those together, along with our friends from the European Jewish women’s movement…
    Tania Reytan

  6. Zieva Dauber Konvisser says:

    Dear Shula,
    I was honored to be a member of the National Commission on American Jewish Women and proud of Voices for Change that resulted from our research and discussion under your leadership. Thank you for giving voice and strength to Jewish Women for all of these years and for building a strong base for ongoing dialogue.
    Kol hakovod and all the best as you move forward,
    Zieva Dauber Konvisser

  7. Dalia Ofer says:

    Dear Shula
    It was a pleasure to read your text and I agree with your opinion completely. Though I was no part of the institution I followed its work and progress and enjoyed it academic fruits. I am sure that they future of HBI will be of a great success and that we all will enjoy its academic achievements.
    Dalia Ofer

  8. Danny Rosenberg says:

    Dear Shula,
    We met several years ago at a conference in NYC and had lunch together. You signed me up to the Institute’s mailing list since then and I have read with great interest the inspiring work you and the Institute have produced. Although I didn’t always agree with the perspectives presented, I was always challenged to consider new thoughts and ideas. Continued success and enjoy your post-Institute years.
    Danny Rosenberg
    Brock University

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