Written on the Body #33, March 8, 2021: International Women’s Day

A short comment on International Women’s Day: a time to celebrate our minds, spirits, emotions, and bodies; rejoice in our achievements (those that have earned fame, and the small achievements and successes of everyday life, love, and work); mourn those women who have suffered at the hands of men’s violence and patriarchal values (again, those whose names we know and those who are anonymous); to honour our foremothers and our children (daughters and sons); to praise our creative work in art, science, healing, politics, and more; and also to recognize the men who have gone/are in the process of going beyond patriarchal values to respect and support us, and the men in our circle of family and friends whom we love. (I think this last phrase needs to be said, though some people might not want to be so inclusive).

In particular, I want to honour my two foremothers who immigrated to North America from Eastern Europe, to create better lives for themselves and their families: My maternal great-grandmother, Mary Becker Axelrod, who (according to my mother) made the journey alone from Lithuania at age 14 to join her parents and brothers, first in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and then on the Lower East Side of New York City, and my paternal grandmother, Sarah R. Jaffe, who travelled from Russia (probably from Pinsky, near Minsk) with her 2-year-old daughter — my Aunt Betty — to escape a bad marriage or other situation, and then met my grandfather, Sam Jaffe (not the actor!) in New York. I knew both these women, in their later years — they each lived until 90 or so — and I am grateful to have inherited some of their courage and spirit. I wish I had asked them more about the stories of their lives. And also a shout-out to the late Ruth Bader Ginsberg, with whom I share a birthday, March 15. May all the memories of all the women who have graced our lives be a blessing.

“For women, then, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”Audre Lorde

Mary Becker Axelrod, above; Sarah R. Jaffe, below

About Ellen

I am a member of The Writers Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, and CANSCAIP. I have received grants from the Ontario Arts Council for both writing and teaching. I currently work with Learning Through the Arts and Living through the Arts, programmes run by the Royal Conservatory of Music that enable artists to work in schools and community organizations. I have also taught in many other school and community programs, and have been a judge for various writing contests for both young people and adults.
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