Exhibit celebrating Jewish women opens in Rutland
10/10/09 9:35AM By Nina Keck
(Host) Women have traditionally gotten short shrift in American history books. But two Rutland area women are trying to change that with a unique new exhibit highlighting the living history of Jewish women in Vermont.
VPR's Nina Keck has more.
(Keck) Rutland residents Ann Buffum and Sandra Gartner say it all started about five years ago. That's when the two first heard about an effort to collect women's oral histories from a national organization called the Jewish Women's Archive.
(Buffum) "Our interest was piqued when they began calling for stories to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Jews in North America. And I was just astounded that there really were Jews here for so long."
(Keck) Buffum says she and Gartner decided to see what kind of stories they could gather from Jewish women in Vermont.
(Buffum) "Every time we met someone and told them what we were doing they'd say well you really ought to talk to my aunt so and so or you really should meet someone from Middlebury or whatever."
(Keck) With help from organizations like the Vermont Council on the Humanities and the Vermont Folklife Center, Sandra Gartner says she and Buffum traveled all across Vermont talking with Jewish women.
(Gartner) "We have rabbis, rabbi's wives, we have potters we have activists, we have doctors, we have farmers and they're women of all ages."
(Keck) Some of the twenty women included in their exhibit, To Life: a Celebration of Vermont Jewish Women, are well known like former governor Madeline Kunin and Secretary of State Deb Markowitz. Others are more private.
But Sandra Gartner says all the women included in the exhibit had amazing stories to tell. To help bring those stories to the public, Gartner and Buffum enlisted the help of a graphic designer who created individualall panels using photographs, quotes and brief biographical sketches.
Burlington resident Judith Chalmer's panel includes a photograph of a yellow star - the kind worn by European Jews during the Nazi occupation. Judith Chalmer's grandmother had hand embroider the star she was forced to wear and her family kept it after the war.
(Buffum) "And when Judy first found it she thought - this is terrible, why did my grandmother make it so beautiful? And then she suddenly realized that was the only way her grandmother could deal with it. Even though this was to shame her, she was going to make herself as beautiful as possible. And so then Judy became very proud of her grandmother's story and has kept it close to her."
(Keck) Ann Buffum says this project has made her realize how important it is to document women's stories and make them part of the ongoing history of Vermont and the nation.
(Buffum) "And that's not just Jewish women. It's women in general. And we really hope that the public will be excited to see these women's stories and realize that they too have stories to tell."
(Keck) To Life: A Celebration of Jewish Women in Vermont opens Sunday at the Brick Box Theater in downtown Rutland. For VPR news, I'm Nina Keck in Rutland.