Remembering Marcia Freedman, the first lesbian to step out of the Israeli legislature
Editor’s note: This memory first appeared in J., the Jewish News of Northern California.
There is a limit to what a person can accomplish during their time on earth. Marcia Freedman managed to go over the limit and continued.
A pioneering feminist, LGBTQ activist, Knesset member, author and co-founder of a esteemed Middle East peace organization, Marcia Freedman died on September 21 in Berkeley. She was 83 years old.
“She was calm and wise,” said Janis Plotkin, who recruited Freedman decades ago to sit on the board of directors of the SF Jewish Film Festival. “She was a small woman but a giant in terms of intellect, kindness, thoughtfulness and her strategic approach to problem solving.”
Freedman’s social and political activism took many forms. Much of his work focused on Israeli politics and the search for a resolution of the conflict with the Palestinians. She advocated for a two-state solution long before it became a stated political goal. As a young olah (immigrant) and member of the Knesset, the legislature of the State of Israel, she also promoted groundbreaking legislation on women’s rights, going hand in hand with her misogynistic male colleagues.
Returning to the United States in 2003, she formed Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, an organization that lobbied for a two-state solution, Palestinian rights and a shared capital of Jerusalem. Most recently, she has worked tirelessly for Ashby Village, a non-profit organization that connects seniors with programs and resources to stay active and independent.
“Her personal courage was incredible,” recalls her friend Rachel Biale, a parenting consultant at Berkeley and now co-organizer of a revived Lehrhaus Judaica. “She was incredibly warm and generous.”
Born in Newark, New Jersey, in 1938, Freedman received a master’s degree from New York University and simultaneously cut her teeth as an activist in the civil rights movement. With her then-husband Bill Freedman and daughter Jenny, she moved to Israel in 1967. Soon after, she became a spearhead in Israel’s nascent feminist movement, taking her activism into the halls of power. as a member of the Knesset. She served alongside famous Israeli feminist Shulamit Aloni.
“My mandate, as far as I am concerned, was to represent the interests of women,” she recalls in a 2007 interview with the Berkeley Daily Planet. “And I also had to carry the issue of Israeli-Palestinian peace, because there was a very small minority voice [in the Knesset] on these issues.
During Freedman’s tenure in the Knesset, which lasted until 1977, she championed women’s issues, feminist reform, and the rights of Arab citizens of Israel. She presented the first plenary session of the forum on the theme of violence against women. Thanks to Freedman, the Youth Ministry’s budget for girls in distress was increased and the first shelter for battered women opened. She also introduced legislation to reform Israel’s restrictive abortion laws, and she co-founded the Kol Ha-Isha Women’s Center in Haifa.
While living in Israel, Freedman came out, becoming the first lesbian to sit in the Knesset. She was one of the first advocates of Israel’s LGBTQ community and was named in 2015 by Israel’s National LGBT Task Force as one of the 40 most influential figures in gay rights history. in Israel.
Returning to the United States in 1981, she moved to Berkeley, continuing her relentless activism. She co-founded the Women’s Computer Literacy Project and later became Marketing Director for the American Society on Aging, through which she created the Lesbian and Gay Aging Issues Network.
Freedman was an accomplished writer, publishing her memoirs, Exile in the Promised Land, in 1990. In 2002, she co-founded Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, a non-profit organization that supported the creation of a Palestinian state. As she said in 2006, “Even those who disagree with us are interested in knowing who we are and what we have to say, especially the Jews. “
In 2010, the organization was integrated into J Street.
Freedman’s interests were very varied. In the 1990s, Plotkin and SF Jewish Film Festival founder Deborah Kaufman asked Freedman to join the organization’s board of directors. “She was thrilled to be involved,” Plotkin recalls. “She was very supportive of our desire to use the films as an opportunity to discuss on stage with the audience, she was totally supportive of that. She helped us shape the conversations on stage.
Freedman has devoted much of his energy to Ashby Village, since its founding 11 years ago. She has served on the Board of Directors and created programs, including an Arts and Culture Lecture Series and Elder Action, which mobilized members on behalf of social justice issues.
“She was amazing,” said Rochelle Lefkowitz, Ashby Village board member and close friend. “It was crisp and clear, and focused on the good things that moved people. He was a person who saw big in the public sphere.
Although Freedman’s plea for the two-state solution and justice for the Palestinians never wavered, Biale noted that “Israeli policy has always been a sad thing for her because things haven’t progressed like this. she had dreamed it ”.
But his sometimes controversial relationship with Israel was “a relationship of love,” Plotkin notes. “It was ambitious with Israel. She thought we could always do better.
Freedman loved spending time with his daughter and granddaughter. These family ties partly explain his lifelong dedication to social action.
“Her mission was to make this world a better place, and not just for her granddaughter but for all of us”, said Lekfowitz.
Marcia Freedman is survived by her daughter Jenny Freedman and granddaughter Ella Freedman-Hague. Donations in his honor should be addressed to Gun Free Kitchen Tables in Israel.