What Makes an Advocate?
Ronnie Katz Gerber
At Hadassah’s L’Dor V’Dor group in the South Bay we are learning just that. Knowing how deeply personal and important this choice can be, I asked a few of my Hadassah friends that I met at convention in NYC last summer. L’Dor V’Dor was about one year old then and we needed mentors. So, I started my outreach. They were so forthcoming and excited about their involvement and the changes they’ve helped bring about in our society that the conversations were easy and full of inspiration. Interestingly, the general answers were broad and differed. It turns out that the answer to what makes an advocate seems to depend on who you’re talking to or, even better, why you’re talking to one. These three women take different paths but have much in common, especially when they realize that’s what they’ve become. No one set out to make a change, but rather to view where change could be. After interviewing three quiet, soft spoken women who were asked by Hadassah to investigate issues that were current and important to them, I discovered they were each surprised and pleased that they each wound up with a seat at the political table. I met with Elise Feldscher, Stacey Dorenfeld, and Nikki Stokols.
Nikki Stokols came from an activist family so it wasn’t hard for her to imagine herself going to protest marches and signing petitions or rallying for causes. As she grew, her interests honed and became more focused on Women’s Rights. But her seminal moment came in high school when, in order to go to a political rally and stay informed by the group, she had to take an oath and swear her affiliation and interest. When in college she asked about the oath. Did it follow her? Do they have it in her transcript? In her personal information? It took her a moment to realize that there was no such thing. No oath. No paper trails. Oh well. She would go and join her voice to causes nonetheless.
As time and issues take their own power, Nikki began to be drawn to the struggle with rights to abortion, fertility and infertility, gender or sex discrimination as well as the issues of illegal sex and labor trafficking. She speaks to congressmen and women, state and local representatives, and writes suggested paths that help form bills, speaks to changes in law and why and who’s being affected. She has her finger in the changing tide and helps the waves move by being an influencer. For her and many others who see money, opportunity, and access denied, this new Supreme Court finding on the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, also applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, is a landmark. It guarantees equality without gender bias to job placement and security among other things that have held back many identified females as marginalized populations. And she helped bring it forward by working in local and state government all while holding down a ‘real job’, becoming a single parent, and volunteering for Hadassah.
Elise Feldscher came to it almost as an observer. There was a Spring Concert produced by Jewish women. She went and her eyes were opened. There were banners and posters and conversations and places to sign up. Join the movement things. So many. And then it struck a chord. There were places to voice concerns and solutions to equal pay, maternity leave, day care. Market place issues for working women with families. This resonated. There was something here for women without voices. Here there were women with voices to carry their needs and make them public. Loud and public. To assert pressure on the ears of many by few. To mention just a few changes Elise has helped bring about-and the list reads like a menu of what is fair and right: The Never Again Act; Bill against Juvenile Gun Violence Ca AB-1315; Sex Trafficking legislation Ca Bill #225 and Ca Bill #1227, as well as senior citizen meals and welfare policies. She is currently working against antisemitism on college campuses and to bring a change to the unbalanced taxing and pricing of feminine items. She asks, “Why should a woman’s razor be so much more expensive than a man’s? Is a blue tool box less expensive to make than a pink one? Why are men’s items not taxed as women’s items are?” Elise is lending her powerful voice to these issues. She lobbies in Sacramento and for JPac, as well as here at home in SoCal.
Talk about your dynamos. Stacey fits that description in every way. Although not a person who believes she is comfortable in public or being singled out for any reason, she has made her voice and determinism heard. Before I met her at the 2019 National Hadassah Convention in NYC last summer, I had no idea who she was or what she did. But riding in taxis and picking up the phone in the hotel or washing my hands in the rest room there was always a yellow sign with a big phone number. I’m paraphrasing: If you think you’re being unfairly used by an employer, or you believe you’ve been kidnapped or sexually abused, or if you know of someone who is, Call This Number. Well, that’s Stacey’s doing. Stacey stays relevant and goes to Sacramento and DC in her customary red Hadassah outfit and shakes hands with Ted Lieu, Sen. Jackson, and Sen. Stern to mention just a fast handful. Because of Stacey, who was sent by Hadassah to ‘just talk’ to the folks about some issues she has interest in, we now have Bill #225 and Bill #1227 approved, passed and enacted nationwide. Stacey tells me she had no voice, just a thought or two to discuss. She had information and ideas, suggestions that maybe they could spare a moment to hear. She is tall, narrow, and well-presented so you might physically take a moment to look, let alone to hear. As soon as her first little spiel was heard by then Sen. Pavey, they asked her to address the assembly– and she did. Stacey the Advocate was born at that moment and she hasn’t stopped working for change and reform since. It may be that there are virtual handshakes these days, but she and Hadassah are out there changing the world. One hand shake at a time.