March 7, 2021
Since AJC’s weekly podcast, People of the Pod, first aired three years ago, dozens of trailblazing Jewish women – including Hollywood star Debra Messing, Jewish historian Deborah Lipstadt and Journalist Soraya Nadia McDonald – have joined us to talk about their inspiring work.
On this International Women’s Day, rewind and listen to what ten of these women have to say about the Jewish community’s obligation to social and racial justice, artistic endeavors to preserve the memory of the Holocaust, politics in and around Israel, and other important issues. Listen closely. Some of these women correctly predicted the future.
Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, the first Asian-American to be ordained as a rabbi and the first female senior rabbi at Manhattan’s Central Synagogue, shared her candid thoughts on the Jewish community’s obligation toward Jews of color and to social justice. “If we are not actively working to dismantle some of the systems that are in place and working to actively lift up people of color and businesses and employees, we are not doing enough,” she said.
Emmy Award-winning actress Debra Messing launched her own podcast about social justice during the pandemic called “The Dissenters.” She shared why the surge of antisemitism and racial strife in our country made her conversation with a 93-year-old Holocaust survivor particularly poignant. “Why don’t people protest against antisemitism?” she said. “People flood the streets for racism. When you look at Charlottesville the Nazis were screaming about two groups – Black people and Jews. We really are the most natural allies in the world.”
Celebrity author and Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt recalls how her peers initially questioned the relevance of her book Antisemitism Here and Now. A year after it was published, a gunman killed 11 worshipers inside a Pittsburgh synagogue, the deadliest antisemitic attack in the U.S. “I would have liked to be a little less relevant,” she said. “We need to take the issue seriously, not just when there are dead bodies laying on the ground.”
Einat Wilf is a former member of Israel's Knesset, an author, and—on this podcast—a prognosticator. Wilf said former President Trump’s peace plan, by reflecting modern Arab attitudes about Israel’s entrepreneurial strength and the Iranian threat, offered an instrument for peace between Israel and Arab nations, not with the Palestinians. “They’re no longer willing to be hijacked by the Palestinians against their interests,” she said. Indeed, four nations have since established relations with Israel: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan.
Award-winning journalist Soraya Nadia McDonald, culture critic for The Undefeated, ESPN’s platform for exploring the intersection of sports, race, and culture, discussed confronting antisemitism and other prejudice as a Black Jewish woman. “There is this beautiful broad diaspora of Judaism that isn’t reflected in the media,” she said. “Frankly, it’s sort of always exhausting to have to always assert your right to be in a space.”
On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Broadway and television actress Mandy Gonzalez read excerpts from the Holocaust diaries of two young women who documented their day-to-day wartime experience. Gonzalez, who plays Angelica Schuyler in Broadway’s Hamilton, revealed her personal connection to the women and how the project related to her upcoming middle grade novel titled Fearless. “I really want kids to be able to see themselves in the stories I create – stories I would have loved to see as a child,” she said.
Remember when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz agreed to jointly govern Israel? Preeminent political and diplomatic correspondent Tal Schneider, who since this episode has joined The Times of Israel, was skeptical—and for good reason. “We can’t know for sure that future elections are far away,” she said. As Israel faces a fourth election on March 23, listen to Schneider’s prescient explanation of why some Israelis felt betrayed by the ill-fated agreement.
Perhaps the most powerful woman in Israel since the late Prime Minister Golda Meir, Tzipi Livni explained that she never uses the word existential to describe threats to the Jewish state. After serving in eight cabinet positions, including Minister of Justice and Foreign Minister, she is not naïve, but optimistic. “The Middle East is not going to turn into a nice quiet neighborhood, and we are not going to live happily ever after the next day,” she said. “I tend not to look to the future through the lens of threat but trying to find opportunities.”
Author and activist Francine Klagsbrun, the first woman to carry a Torah to the Western Wall, also helped pave the way for women to be ordained as rabbis in the Conservative movement. She’s also the world’s foremost expert on Golda Meir. Klagsbrun discussed her biography of Meir titled Lioness, which is slated to become an American television series starring Shira Haas as Israel’s first and only female prime minister. “She won the hearts of American Jews,” Klagsbrun said, “because she could speak to American Jews and understand them in ways that other Israeli leaders were not able to.”
Sarah Hurwitz, former head speechwriter for First Lady Michelle Obama, revealed how the end of a relationship led her to reconnect with Judaism, a journey she chronicled in Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life – in Judaism (After Finally Choosing to Look There). Jewish advocacy, she said, requires learning deeply about Jewish ethics, theology, and history, then spreading the wisdom. “Once you’ve fallen in love with the tradition, then I think it’s important to go out and share with others,” she said. “‘Don’t proselytize’ doesn’t mean ‘don’t share.’”