Author Thankful That She Didn't Fit In

Milwaukee Sentinel, Interview by Dorothy Austin
March 8, 1983

              Growing up as a Jewish girl in Whitefish Bay in the 1950s, Meredith Tax did not fit in.

            “Boys were supposed to be athletic, girls were supposed to be pretty, not very smart, but very sweet. It was a time of conformity, assimilation and upward mobility,” she recalled.
 
            What she heard was, “Don’t be too smart, men don’t like a woman who is too smart. What a shame, you should have been a man.”
 
            She did not agree with those values. All she could think about was getting away and becoming her own person. And she did.
 
            She was graduated from Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and studied at the University of London. She became a writer and an activist in the women’s movement in Boston and in New York, where she eventually settled. She married and had a daughter, Corey, now 8. Later she divorced, and after seven years, married Marshall Berman, a writer and professor at City College of New York.
 
            Now 40, she is working on the sequel to her novel, Rivington Street, published last year, which told the story of four strong Jewish women. Occasionally she travels and lectures on the place of Jewish women to remind them of their activist heritage.
 
            That, and a visit with her mother, Martha Tax, who still lives here, brought her home to keynote a seminar, “A Jewish Women’s Event,” at the Jewish Community Center earlier this week. She told her own story and described her views on the place of women in Jewish life and culture in an interview before the seminar.
 
            Through her work, she said, she wanted to tell the world there were other kinds of Jewish women besides the stereotypes—“Jewish princess,” “domineering Jewish mother,” “suburbanite who was rich or wished to be rich.”
 
            Jewish culture has two important traditions, Tax said. They are the religious tradition and the secular tradition of political involvement.
 
            As she sees it, women take second place in both traditions. But women have a better chance to participate in the secular tradition, Tax maintained.
 
            “The tradition of caring about society is important,” Tax said. “It is not enough to make things better in Israel. It is important to make things better here, also. Women have an important role to play in that.”
 
            She maintained that middle or upper-middle-class volunteer work was not enough.
 
            “When women do not make themselves heard, half the creativity and intelligence and vision of the country is missing,” she said. “And we need it all. Our country is in a mess, and we need all the intelligence we can get together.”
 
            Unfortunately, the structure of Jewish organizations is such that women are not recognized as having anything important to say on world issues, she continued.
 
            For example, when the New York Times called Jewish leaders recently to get opinions on the Lebanon situation, they did not call Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization. They called B’nai B’rith, she pointed out.
 
            “No matter how many millions of dollars Hadassah raises, people turn to the men who run the major Jewish groups for their views on issues,” Tax said.
 
            Women have the responsibility to develop their own id eas on national and world issues, she said.
 
            “When women develop ideas based on their own life experiences, they discover that these ideas are different from those of men because the life experience is different,” she said.
 
            “When (former) President Carter fired Bella Abzug it was not because she wanted to say things about women’s issues, it was because she wanted to say things about world issues.
 
            “She and other women should have the right to make statements on policy issues. We need the input of everybody.”
 
            And, she said, women have the responsibility for full participation in the community.
 
            “When Reagan appoints people, it doesn’t make much difference whether they are men or women because they think like he does. They are willing to make bigger cuts in social programs, to have a bigger defense budget. But, then, there are always women who go with whoever is in power.
           
            “Women who care, who are not just out for their own careers, but who want better conditions for the whole country, can have a voice in everything. They will not agree to save money on day care and affirmative action so we can build bigger bombs,” she said.
 
            Her comments were specifically directed at Jewish women, but she believed they applied to other women as well.
 
            “Our (Jewish) community can live and keep its children here if it is not homogeneous. If it doesn’t have room for variety and struggle and different people of divergent ideas and ways of living that make things interesting, it will not be a fully alive community. Its children will drift away as I did,” she said.
 
            What she wants now is what she has always wanted.            
 
            “To change the world,” she said.
 
            “I grew up in an atmosphere that said everything is the way it is, nothing can be done about it, you can’t change the world.
 

            “I happen to believe that you can,” she said.
 

Copyright © Meredith Tax 2010. All Rights Reserved.