Black-and-white photo of a young Ginsburg
Ruth Bader Ginsburg in 1977

RBG and the right to choose

Your feature on Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s gender-equity litigation (“A ‘Notorious’ Champion of Women,” Winter 2022/2023), written by Philippa Strum ’59, P’98, was fascinating.

One statement that jumped out at me: “Ginsburg didn’t take any reproductive freedom cases to the Supreme Court during her years at the ACLU. The Ford Foundation was the Women’s Rights Project’s primary funder, and it refused to donate to any entity that brought such cases, so the ACLU created a separate division to litigate them.”

This was the first I’d heard of the Ford Foundation’s refusal to fund reproductive freedom cases. I would like to know more about this policy. Wow.

Nancy Federman Kaplan ’68
West Bloomfield, Michigan

Philippa Strum responds: “I haven’t been able to find out why the Ford Foundation wouldn’t fund abortion rights cases, although I’ve asked repeatedly.”

Only half the story?

In “A Rising Tide of Domestic Extremism” (Inquiry, Winter 2022/2023), Jytte Klausen, the Lawrence A. Wien Professor of International Cooperation, calls out right-wing extremists for their penchant for violence and intimidation, and their contempt for the norms of civilized discourse in a democracy.

What can be reasonably inferred from her interview — and from the short intro preceding it, which cites only the Proud Boys and the Incels as among the domestic terrorists she and her students have begun to study — is that she transmits to her students only facts that support her views and conceals from them facts that contradict her views. If this is the case, she is imposing an intellectual orthodoxy on persons who lack the knowledge and experience to challenge it.

My four years at Brandeis were the most intellectually stimulating of my life. I encountered a genuine diversity of opinion — the only kind of diversity that matters in colleges and universities. This was not just grudgingly tolerated. Under Presidents Sachar and Abram, it was actively encouraged.

Students should leave universities as liberally educated citizens, capable of making rational decisions of their own, informed by the diverse opinions of others, on issues of public concern.

After reading Professor Klausen’s interview and other documents — such as the university’s Anti-Racism Plans, committing it to eradicating its own “institutionalized racism” — I cannot help but conclude that the Brandeis I know and love is no more, its foundational commitment to the pursuit of “truth, even unto its innermost parts,” a discarded extravagance of an increasingly distant past.

Jay Bergman ’70
Professor of history, Central Connecticut State University
New Britain, Connecticut

Jytte Klausen responds: “The nature of my work is mischaracterized here. I study violent extremists of many persuasions, because I’m interested in their commonalities. For instance, as the story accurately points out, I have long studied terrorist networks linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. But more concerning to me is the description of my students as brainwashed automatons. My students are genuine collaborators. They evaluate and contribute ideas. They develop wide-ranging research methods and sources. They do not deserve to be the target of a tiresome ‘intellectual orthodoxy’ meme, often used to justify fact-free narratives about rising tides of political correctness.”

Keep the doors open

I was troubled to see several strongly stated letters to the editor in the Winter 2022/2023 issue speaking against an acceptance of interfaith marriages (“Keeping the Faith,” Summer 2022), as if the only way to continue being Jewish is by refusing intermarriage, tightening the tribal boundaries, and retaining two Seders or other ritual markers of Jewish identity. This is fear-based thinking.

In my view, it’s not about closing the gates. It’s wiser to open them, enlarging the spiritual experience, sharing, and communicating — widening the definition of Judaism, a sign of growth in a complex world.

Nina Rubinstein Alonso ’70
Cambridge, Massachusetts

* * * * * *

I was dismayed to read the letters to the editor reacting negatively to your recent article on intermarriage, a well-researched and balanced piece. I worked for 21 years at Combined Jewish Philanthropies, helping to ensure intermarried families felt welcomed and engaged in Jewish life. CJP and the Reform movement recognize that a welcoming approach keeps our children and grandchildren learning and celebrating Jewish life with us. What do we gain by pushing them away?

Judith Krell ’63
Salem, Massachusetts

Career-shaping guidance

During my senior year at Brandeis, I learned if you wrote a thesis, you might be able to graduate with honors. This sounded like a good challenge to me.

For my thesis, I proposed studying whether children’s programs in public libraries could be used to eradicate racism, sexism, and class discrimination. However, none of my sociology professors were interested in the topic, and they declined becoming my adviser. Although I had never taken a course with Gordie Fellman (“He Transformed So Many Lives,” The Brandeis Brief, Winter 2022/2023), I decided to ask him if he’d be willing to do it.

Gordie’s eyes lit up when I described my idea, and he readily agreed to be my adviser. Since we both lived in Cambridge, we would regularly meet to discuss my thesis over delicious ice cream at Uncle Bunny’s Incredible Edibles, where I worked.

After Brandeis, I became a children’s librarian. I now provide webinars and workshops for other children’s librarians. I’ve had several books published by the American Library Association, and I developed an award-winning early-literacy program. I recently received the Distinguished Service Award from the Association for Library Service to Children.

Gordie and I kept in loose touch throughout the years. When we last met, I thanked him again for becoming my thesis adviser. His thoughtful questions and guidance helped lay the foundation for my career. I will always be grateful for him.

And, yes, I did graduate with honors.

Betsy Diamant-Cohen ’80

A life of learning

With more than a little surprise, when I turned to the Winter issue’s Alumni News section I found myself gazing upon a picture of my teenage self, sitting in front of the Castle with Class of ’62 friends, including my college sweetheart, Ruth Katz ’62.

My years at Brandeis provided enduring friendships, taught me the importance of a value-driven life, and gave me the impetus for a previously unanticipated career in psychiatry. I still recall with gratitude my classes and discussions with Professors Abe Maslow; Walter Toman; Dick Jones; Morris Schwartz; Rick Morant; Norbett Mintz, GSAS PhD’57, P’83; and David Ricks.

Having just registered to join BOLLI, the Brandeis adult learning community, I anticipate the university will again be the setting for a new set of enriching experiences.

Jim Harburger ’62
Auburndale, Massachusetts