Marcia G. Yerman headshot

Connect With Me

Twitter Facebook LinkedIn
Instagram

Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence – A New Exhibit Tells the True Story

Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence – A New Exhibit Tells the True Story

As we move toward 2020 and a presidential election, what better time to look back at the fight it took for women to gain the right to vote — and how sectors of the American female population were overlooked, despite their contributions to the struggle. The show is structured by chronology and themes:

  • Radical Women: 1832-1869
  • Women Activists: 1870-1892
  • The New Woman: 1893-1912
  • Compelling Tactics: 1913-1916
  • Militancy in the American Suffragist Movement 1917-1919
  • The Nineteenth Amendment and Its Legacy

Read the full story at …

September 24, 2019 | No comment | Read More »

Lilly Rivlin: Artist as Truth Seeker

Lilly Rivlin: Artist as Truth Seeker

Credit: John Turner

Every era has its moments that are written and evaluated by “historians.” Creatives capture those same events through the prism of nuance, drama, and emotion.

Lilly Rivlin, now 84, is one such artist. A contemporary of pioneering feminists, she was on the ground to document their contributions to the upheaval of the 1970s, when women were beginning to realize that the problem wasn’t them.

Rivlin’s identity as an …

March 5, 2021 | No comment | Read More »

January 6, 2021: We Are Part of the Other

January 6, 2021: We Are Part of the Other

My personal anxiety had started in November 2016, on Veterans Day. It was just a week after the Election. In reaction to Trump’s win, I had opined on how his administration would portend for American Jews. “We are part of the other,” I warned.

January 19, 2021 | No comment | Read More »

Covid-19 Takes Extreme Toll on Latinx Community

Covid-19 Takes Extreme Toll on Latinx Community

“How do we build an America that’s ready for the next pandemic? Frontline communities have always known about the lack of access to healthcare and housing. We’ve tried to raise the alarm about these challenges. The response has not been acceptable.”

May 28, 2020 | No comment | Read More »

Spotlight

Mino Lora: Governing Through a Social Justice Lens

Credit:  Nicole Millman

I was in search of an open post office when I saw her. Despite the mask, I recognized the candidate from a recent Bronx City Council debate that impressed me with her demeanor and energy. “Mino Lora?” I asked tentatively. “Yes,” she replied.

I requested an interview on the spot, and she put me in touch with her campaign team.

Lora’s background in the arts had piqued my interest. Specifically, how she had harnessed the power of theatre as a way to interact, amplify, and “humanize” the immigrant experience in the United States. I was impressed she had leveraged a graduate thesis concept (with $400 seed money earned from waitressing) to a million-dollar organization, the People’s Theatre Project. She is Executive Director.

In addition to the other statements on policy she had shared during the debate, I wanted to know more about her trajectory from artist/activist to running for the City Council 11 seat.

Our Zoom conversation began with a run-down of the convoluted election process kicked off when sitting councilman Andrew Cohen left the job for a judgeship in December 2020. The district has been without a representative since January ­– hence, the March 23 special election. In June, there will be a primary that will determine which Democratic candidate runs in November. 

There have been plenty of mumblings on the ground about Bronx machine party politics. In this contest, Ranked Choice Voting will be in play. So, a voter can pick up to 5 candidates in terms of preference ­– or just a second choice. As Lora explained, “If there is someone you wouldn’t be happy with as a representative, don’t include them.”

The political landscape has changed dramatically in New York since Trump was elected. Many voters realized that they had not only become complacent but asleep at the switch.

In 2018, people organized across the state to kick out members of the IDC and push for tangible change that would reflect their progressive values. Voters elected a wave of younger candidates in a different mold than the traditional white male contender. The results were a new set of laws.

Lora is one of many women across the country running for office who have not been afraid to push the envelope by asking, “Why not me?”

At the age of 19, Lora immigrated from the Dominican Republic on a scholarship to Manhattanville College to study English Literature and Theatre. (She also has an M.A.  in Peace Studies and Conflict.) “I carry many identities,” Lora told me. “It’s a juggling and balancing act.” She acknowledges that there is a nurturing quality to who she is. For her, it’s all about “people first.” Perhaps that’s why she is comfortable looking at issues in a non-hierarchical way. “I work in collaboration to find solutions. Answers come through engagement. I’m into identifying the questions and taking a holistic view of things.”

District 11 covers ten neighborhoods with different needs and varied concerns. Recent stats show that 47 percent of the residents are Latinx, and 23 percent are Black. Lora is aware of that. “At the end of the day,” she emphasized, “we all want to live with joy and safety and good schools.” (Her two children go to public schools.)

Lora had a succinct answer for those who might question her qualifications or readiness to handle the job. “I know how to engage with multiple stakeholders – governments, local and federal.” The People’s Theatre Project page that lists corporate, foundation, and state supporters is impressive. “I’ve had a surplus every year,” she said. “You have to be creative in finding revenue. I know how to manage a budget; I know how to balance the numbers.”

After talking about her background, we moved on to specific questions. Since time was flying by, Lora sent additional comments via e-mail, as per my request.

 

Environment: Lora targets 2030 as the year to reach net-zero emissions. She supports retrofitting buildings and community solar. Connecting to the Green New Deal’s aspirations, Lora sees municipal jobs training as a way to help build the economy.

COVID: Lora prevailed against COVIDEmphasizing the importance of vaccination outreach and roll-out, Lora stressed, “We need to be more innovative.” She suggested the option of deploying vans for COVID testing, partnering with local organizations to get traction, and developing pop-up health centers.

Empty Storefronts:  We discussed the vacant stores that remain unrented for months and sometimes years. Landlords don’t put community impact at the top of their list. Lora supports Senate Bill S44B, a commercial vacancy tax. She believes it “would incentivize landlords and developers to lower rents (rather than benefit from keeping it vacant). Lora envisions using unoccupied spaces as pop-ups for cultural entities, art galleries, and bookshops. She gave the example of Word Up, a community bookshop and arts venue that had begun as a 30-day initiative.

Culture Workers: Lora underscored the importance of contributions that creatives add to New York City’s economy. She spoke about the “trillions of dollars” that those in the arts generate for the economy. “We need to center artists,” she said. Lora would advocate for more cultural spaces, revitalizing the arts and culture sector, while promoting diversity.

Engaging Younger Voters: Lora supports automatically registering young people in school and making civics education an essential part of the curriculum. “Low voter turnout among young people has been a problem for many years. But I’ve spent my entire professional life working with young people, and I know it’s possible to get them engaged and excited about their community.”

Municipal voting rights: Lora related that she had become a citizen six years ago. Despite having been actively engaged for two decades at the community, local, and state-level – she never had the right to vote for her councilperson or mayor. “No taxation without representation is one of the founding principles of this country. Everyone who works and pays taxes should have a role in picking the government officials who decide how to spend that tax money. It’s the way to ensure that our interests are considered in those decisions.” Lora pointed out that numerous New Yorkers live with a green cards for thirty to forty years. DACA recipients don’t yet have a federal path to citizenship. “This doesn’t make these New Yorkers less invested in their home,” she said. “I believe everyone with a work permit and green card should have the right to vote in City government elections.”

Policing: Lora prefaced her response with the assertion, “As a human and a mother, I believe people deserve to be treated with respect.” She posited, “Too often there are politicians who use crime to try to scare people.” She explained her terminology by spelling out, “When I talk about defunding the police, I’m talking about having the police focus on violent crime, so we are safer. We ask the police to do too many things, and not surprisingly, they can’t do all of them well. We don’t need police officers to investigate traffic accidents. Dedicated traffic officers would take them seriously. For people with mental health problems, we need trained health care workers. For street homeless, who often also have mental health issues, we need social workers and supportive housing. For schools, we need safety officers who report to and work with educators and focus on restorative justice.” It is in this context that she supports a “reallocation of funds.” Lora added, “We also have to understand that there is less crime in healthy, vibrant neighborhoods, so safety is not just an issue of police, but of building a society that works for all of us. It is not reasonable or effective to ask police officers to handle every problem in our society.”

Transportation: Lora cited the MTA’s state management and why the city needed more control over the buses. “We need to expand services in District 11. We need to upgrade our fleet and prioritize post-COVID safety.” She is opposed to the time limit constraints on Metrocard discounts for both Seniors and Students.

At the close of the interview, Lora’s final comments summed up the clear common ground: “We can all agree on quality-of-life issues.”

Lora’s tagline is: “Represent. Reimagine.  Rebuild.” Her objective is to differentiate herself through a critical theme: Achieving the goal of equity for all through a social justice lens.

Share |


Mar 18, 2021 | No comment | Read More »

Lilly Rivlin: Artist as Truth Seeker

Credit: John Turner

Every era has its moments that are written and evaluated by “historians.” Creatives capture those same events through the prism of nuance, drama, and emotion.

Lilly Rivlin, now 84, is one such artist. A contemporary of pioneering feminists, she was on the ground to document their contributions to the upheaval of the 1970s, when women were beginning to realize that the problem wasn’t them.

Rivlin’s identity as an Israeli-American has also uniquely positioned her to be an active participant in seeking out a path of reconciliation in the Israel/Palestine conundrum. Her particular sensitivities paved the way for the forthright corrective statement in her 2005 interview with Amy Goodman, when she noted, “I’m Palestinian-born. That makes a difference to establish that; I was born before the state of Israel.”

Her family, the Rivlins, came to Jerusalem in 1809. Recorded genealogy originated in Prague. By the 17th century, the Rivlin name was established in Lithuania. It is now deeply rooted throughout Jerusalem, where Rivlin grew up surrounded by extended family. The clan became so large they needed their own synagogue. There is a street named after Joseph Rivlin (1838-1897), who established the first Jewish neighborhoods outside the old city walls. One of the areas he founded was Mea Shearim. The current president of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, is a first cousin.

Rivlin’s family moved to the United States when she was 8. Yet, as she stated in the 1983 film The Tribe, “I am drawn like a moth to the heat of the tribe.”

In that documentary, she records a family reunion in Israel for 2,500 relatives, only one-fifth of her extended 10,000-member clan. Rivlin doesn’t shy away from including a scene with one of her kin based in England, who changed his last name and appears less than ebullient about his lineage. “I feel constrained in Jerusalem,” he informs her. He comments on the “Rivlins making a fuss about themselves.” When I asked Rivlin about him, she told me that he ended up back in Israel. With a touch of humor, she said, “Rivlins leave, but always come back.”

Such auspicious connections to Israel’s history don’t stop Rivlin from posing questions that reflect her perceptions of inequity. During a break in the festivities, Rivlin visits the Mount of Olives, home to Jewish graves for over three millennia. She inquires wryly, “Where are the women?” 

Women.

Whether recording feminist history in America or featuring Israeli and Palestinian women in dialogue, Rivlin sees them as the key to shifting the equation and taking the lead. 

Rivlin introduces women on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in Can You Hear Me? (2006)Each side demands an end to the violence while looking to engage in other forms of struggle. The audience is introduced to Israeli groups like Machson (Check Point Watch) and Women in Black ­– who are involved in ending the Occupation. They are not afraid to ask, “Who lived in that house before 1948?”

They are also women brought together by mutual loss and grief. Nadwa Sarandah and Robi Damelin are the founders of the Parents Circle Family Forum. They emphasize that “all mothers are the same. Orthodox activist Leah Shakdiel (now an ordained Rabbi), who has been a constant in the religious peace movement, doesn’t shy away from using the term “apartheid road.”

In her films profiling American feminists, repeatedly, Rivlin is drawn to elevating female change-makers and bringing them out from under the radar. The advocacy work of these subjects is interrelated. It’s all about organizing and making change.

On the occasion of Rivlin receiving the first Tikkun Olam award from Partners for Progressive Israel on March 7, I was able to interview her. (Full disclosure: It’s the second event of the Women’s Initiative, which I am a part of.)

Our conversation covered a full range of topics, from how she had morphed from a journalist to a filmmaker (“I always liked the visual.”) to Bibi Netanyahu (“It’s time for him to leave.”)

The conversation was vibrant, as Rivlin readily shared opinions and gave insights into those whose stories she had chosen to examine. “They were all women I respected, admired, and learned from,” she said.

Esther Broner: A Weave of Women (2013) outlines Broner’s efforts to reclaim women’s role in Judaism. She was the co-author (with Naomi Nimrod) of the first Women’s Haggadah (1975). Broner also conceived the first “female seder.” Rivlin attended yearly and saw it as not only a revelation but as a metaphor. Guests included Bella Abzug, Letty Cottin Pogrebin, and Gloria Steinem. In reaction to centuries of exclusion, Broner wrote a text with the belief and motivation that “equality had to extend to the traditions of Judaism.” It was a transformative experience that reflected Broner’s insistence on “fairness and community” and a “passion for justice.” As Broner asserted, “When we walked through the desert, we left no footprints…I don’t want to be invisible.”

In Grace Paley: Collected Shorts (2010)the author and anti-war activist (Paley traveled to Vietnam in 1969.) speaks about the importance of being authentic and “writing in your own voice.” For her, this meant opening a window to women’s stories. To Paley, politics, poetry, and story writing were intertwined. She underscored that “all issues of oppression are connected” and why it was essential to “think of militarism and war in feminist terms.”

When Rivlin turned her camera on Heather Booth in Heather Booth: Changing the World (2017), it was an homage to the power of organizing. Rivlin showed Booth’s persistence and evolution ­– from the civil rights movement and the Freedom Summer Project ­– to inside­ the Beltway adviser to Senator Elizabeth Warren.

However, it is Gimme Me a Kiss (2000), Rivlin’s uncompromising examination of her primary family’s dynamics, that delivers the ultimate gut punch. Constructed within a diaristic framework, Rivlin posits, “Who of us really knows our parents?” She looks unflinchingly at how her personal history has informed her choices. Without pause, Rivlin directly asks her father, “Why don’t you get along with any of your children?” In this film, perhaps more than any other, she functions in the role of “truth seeker.”

I asked Rivlin about what advice she would give to today’s generation of young women. Her response was succinct. “Fight for your rights. Be very conscious. Be political.” She stressed, “I hope they don’t get too complacent. Women can never be too complacent.”

When I probed her about her legacy, Rivlin mused, “I look over all the things I did and say, ‘It’s okay, Rivlin. You left a legacy.'”

Our conversation ended with a reflection on the Israeli/Palestinian situation. We spoke about the two matriarchs, Sarah and Hagar. Ironically, it was a topic Rivlin had hoped to develop for a film. 

“My life’s work has been to go back and forth between Palestinians and Israelis, to find ways that we can work together. We have more in common than what divides us.”

Rivlin paused and offered her final thoughts: “We have to keep on trying. There is no choice.”

Share |


Mar 5, 2021 | No comment | Read More »

Other Israel Film Festival: Review Series

In December, the JCC in Manhattan held the 2020 annual  Other Israel film festival. It was a slate of top movies and shorts chosen by co-founders Isaac Zablocki and Carole Zabar.

I checked in with Zablocki via email to get insights into how the pandemic and the virtual format impacted this year’s event.

Zablocki, who was born in New York and spent his formative years in Israel, told me that constructing the yearly screenings was an excellent way for him “to grapple with [his] mixed feelings toward Israel.”

Reflecting on the impact of COVID on the proceedings, Zablocki said that the final list of movies was “created within the pandemic.” He added, “I’m sure it influenced our state of mind.”

Using a virtual platform, viewers watched features on their own and then joined Zoom panels, which culminated in breakout rooms.

Zablocki related how he and Zabar continued to widen the scope of Other Israel and “dive deeper into themes that related to the deconstruction of history, through political figures like Golda [Meir] and Meir Kahane.” Describing their process, Zablocki stated, “We also reflected on our American Jewish relations to Israel through “Til Kingdom Come and “Kings of Capitol Hill.” Furthermore, we looked to build balance and diversity in the films. We were proud to show “Crossings,” which gave a soldier’s perspective of checkpoints, and “One More Jump,” which gave perspective on life in Gaza. All of these took us beyond our themes of Palestinians in Israel and other minority populations.”

I was able to see a majority of the films. More than a few gave me sleepless nights. There were threads connecting the different movies. In this series, they will be grouped within that context.

Several offerings presented a window into the daily challenges faced by Palestinians, and in the case of One Hundred Percent,” Druze high school students.

Jalal Saad anchors that story, as he and his team of educators dedicate themselves to showing pupils that they have other options after graduation. Operating on a seven-day-per-week schedule, Saad explains, “No one guided me or directed me.” 

Saad presents as a combination drill sergeant, mentor, and confidante. Along with his colleagues, he encourages both male and female students to consider choices beyond the Israeli army (Druze in Israel have the option to serve.) or marriage. As he underscores in one sequence, “As a Druze, you are a citizen on probation…If you don’t succeed, they will take one of their own.” With Saad using “education like a weapon,” the village of Beit Jann ranked first in matriculation exams throughout Israel.

In partnership with Film Forum, a special screening of “Mayor” showed Ramallah mayor Musa Hadad’s travails as he tries to govern his city in occupied territory. Whether planning a Christmas celebration or dealing with olive trees that settlers have burned, his top philosophy is: “Remember to make space for joy until we get freedom and independence.” During the time frame that director David Osit was shooting, Trump announced his decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Hadad’s succinct response is, “We’re doomed.”  

Situated in the Gaza strip, “One More Jump” portrays a story combining personal athletic achievement with a pervasive aura of despair. Young men from the area train in the sport of parkour amid the rubble, burnt-out buildings, and the sound of nearby bombings from Israeli forces. Neither Jehad, who remains in Gaza, and Abdallah, who has moved to Italy, can escape feelings of displacement.

Coping with the eleven-year blockade of Gaza and the red tape restrictions on travel brought on by both the Egyptian and Israeli authorities, Jehad describes the feelings of being a “foreigner in your own country.” While dealing with electricity blackouts, caring for his very ill father (getting medication is almost impossible), and trying to pass on his knowledge and skills to the next generation, Jehad remains trapped by despair. Despite fulfilling his goal of traveling to Sweden for a major competition, he is overwhelmed by the conundrum of being unable to build any future in Gaza.

 

 

Share |


Feb 18, 2021 | No comment | Read More »

Bill de Blasio Holds Town Hall in Northwest Bronx

A diverse group of constituents from the Northwest Bronx met with Mayor Bill de Blasio...

Feb 23, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Local Activism Pays Off

Individuals from all walks of life, who are concerned about the future of their children...

Dec 18, 2014 | No comment | Read More »

The Military Battles Climate Change

Ret. Adm. David Titley said,"The ocean, atmosphere and ice do not caucus, do not vote,...

Jul 27, 2014 | 1 comment | Read More »

EPA Adminstrator McCarthy Makes A “Moral Obligation To The Next Generation”

McCarthy, who doesn’t pull any punches, stated, “Climate change caused by carbon pollution is one...

Oct 11, 2013 | No comment | Read More »

IPCC Report: Man-Made Climate Change Is A Scientific Certainty

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its new report on September...

Oct 2, 2013 | No comment | Read More »

Small Businesses Support President Obama’s Climate Plan

After extreme weather incidents like Hurricane Sandy, 40 percent of small businesses do not reopen....

Jul 23, 2013 | No comment | Read More »