When feminist icon Gloria Steinem turned 40, the editors at Ms. Magazine hosted an omelet party at a neighborhood restaurant. While there, Steinem recalled, a reporter remarked to her, “Oh, you don’t look 40.”
In an off-the-cuff fashion, Steinem replied, “This is what 40 looks like! We’ve been lying for so long, who would know?”
Forty years later, she will be in Northwest Philadelphia to reflect on her life and work.
On Sunday, Steinem will appear at the Mishkan Shalom Synagogue in Roxborough for a gala celebration titled “This is What 80 Looks Like.”
Steinem will join Rabbi Arthur Waskow, founder of the Mt. Airy-based Shalom Center, for the event, which will be held the synagogue’s sanctuary at 4101 Freeland Ave., near Shurs Lane, in Roxborough.
Psychologist Dan Gottlieb, the award-winning host of WHYY-FM’s “Voices in the Family,” will bring his conversational style to interview the two as they are honored upon the occasion of their 80th birthdays.
Gottlieb will also moderate as Steinem and Waskow share personal stories and recollections of their personal pursuits of social justice, equality and peace.
The sold-out program benefits the Shalom Center, described by organizers as bringing “Jewish and other spiritual thought and practice to bear on peace, justice, and environmental issues.”
A leader of the women’s movement for almost 50 years, Gloria Steinem was named a 2013 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her lifetime of accomplishments as a writer, lecturer, editor, feminist activist and the voice of women’s empowerment.
Among her varied work as writer and political commentator, she co-founded Ms. Magazine in 1972, and remained one of its editors for 15 years. She continues to serve as a consulting editor for Ms., and has written several best-selling books.
In 2007, Newsweek named Rabbi Waskow as one of the 50 most influential American rabbis. He founded the Shalom Center in 1983 as a division of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, which is currently located in Wyncote.
Waskow will be introduced by Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism who was selected by Newsweek as the nation’s most influential rabbi.
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, the well-known author, feminist and co-founder of Ms. Magazine, will introduce Steinem.
The ties that bind them
The connection between Steinem and Waskow can be traced back more than 40 years.
When she was prompted by Oprah Winfrey last year to describe a transformative moment in her life, Steinem said that she and Waskow were first introduced at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968.
While distributing farm-worker’s literature, Steinem recalled observing a scene described as being fraught with “violence and rage,” according to accounts provided by the Shalom Center.
She felt disheartened and on the verge of quitting, thinking to herself, “Why am I doing this?”
Steinem was then approached by Waskow, a delegate to the convention, who told her, “It’s important, what you are doing. Everything you are doing is important!”
“And I’ve never forgotten that,” she remarked, so moved by the memory that she grasped Oprah’s hand. “I’ve never seen him since, but I have remembered, when I’m feeling the times are dark.”
The significance of the moment led Rabbi Waskow to reconnect with her.
“What I learned was, ‘You never know,” said Waskow. “You give a heart-felt hand to someone, and it’s like sowing seed and moving on. The seed takes root and sprouts and grows and, years later, there is a life-giving tree.”
Event organizers hope that this reconnection might shape future discussions and actions related to social justice.
“Both Gloria Steinem and Rabbi Waskow are incredibly active and have never given up their struggles,” said Arlene Goldbard, chair of the Shalom Center. “Across all generations, we can learn from them what it means to be an elder who’s an activist, and an activist who can draw on the experience of many years.”
Check back next week for NewsWorks coverage of Sunday’s event.