Brandeis Re:Joyces for Joyce Antler '63, a historian, activist, mentor and friend

Photo/Heratch Ekmekjian

Joyce Antler and Lisa Lynch

This past weekend Brandeis celebrated the work, words and vision of Joyce Antler ‘63, the Samuel B. Lane Professor of American Jewish History and Culture and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies and a nationally renowned women’s historian who will retire at the end of this academic year.
Re:Joyce: Women Changing the World, held on campus Oct. 17-18, honored Antler and reflected on her lifelong commitment to empowering women. Many of those attending the event had at one point worked with or  gained inspiration from Antler as they devoted themselves to addressing women’s issues head-on.
In addition to scholars and writers like Pulitzer-prize winning biographer Megan Marshall, the event’s speakers included activists who created pioneering women’s organizations, like Judy Norsigian of Boston-based Our Bodies, Ourselves, and those who moved professional fields forward, like Judge Nancy Gertner, who spoke about the question of a “feminist judiciary.”
“I came into feminism in the 70s and there are some days when I feel as though we haven’t made much progress, but this symposium is proof of the progress we have made, and it’s in part because Joyce and her colleagues leaned in as a community to create the change,” said interim President Lisa M. Lynch. “Joyce has been an extraordinary scholar-activist who has advanced our knowledge and really brought joy to all of us.”
In addition to a panel connecting American Studies, Jewish Studies, and Women’s Studies, the symposium included sessions on diverse aspects of Antler’s work: writing women’s lives, creating feminist institutions, empowering voices of the next generation, comedy and Jewish mothers and experiments in theater and education.

"This symposium is an acknowledgement of Joyce's influence on her field, or more accurately, fields," said Thomas Doherty, the American Studies department chair. "The conference is not just scholarly, but personal as well. We recognize Joyce's kindness, her unfailing good humor, her selfless service and her friendship as a leader and colleague. I'm sorry that she's stepping down, though Joyce never really steps down. She's the type of person who always steps up."
On the first evening, Dmitry Troyanovsky ‘98, one of Antler’s former students and new assistant professor of theater arts at Brandeis, directed a reading of her award-winning documentary drama, “Year One of the Empire: A Play of American War, Politics and Protest, ” co-authored with Elinor Fuchs.  Her daughter, Lauren, a comedian, concluded the conference with a funny and heartfelt account of her mother.
“When I began at Brandeis as a student, I had no role models,” Antler said. “The feminist movement hadn’t begun, there were no women faculty and for me it was quite a struggle to develop myself as a historian and come into a field my generation had to found.”
Today, Antler has embraced the responsibility of being a role model for students. She also remains focused on advancing the field of Jewish women’s history, an academic interest that Antler said was partly inspired by her students’ demand for more courses on the subject.
“At the time that I was chair of Women’s Studies in the 1980s,” Antler says. “I felt that there were students who wanted to know about how gender connected with Jewishness. There was a gap in the scholarship. People were working on women’s history, but not teaching or researching Jewish women’s history.”
Since then, discovering the stories of Jewish women has turned into one of Antler’s life missions. Antler has written five books on the subject, and is currently working on a book on Jewish women and radical feminism, which discusses Jewish women’s disproportionate representation in the movement.
“As a historian doing women’s history,” Antler added, “my job is to find the missing stories.”
Antler will earn the title professor emerita upon retirement, though she plans on continuing her historical and feminist research and being involved with Brandeis. She would like to publish some of the documentary plays written by her history-as-theater classes, and has developed a project working with Brandeis Special Collections and the Haifa Feminist Center to create an online exhibit about Jewish, Israeli and Arab feminism.
“My connection to Brandeis goes back over 50 years, and I don’t plan on cutting my ties to the university.” 
That said, she expects that she will miss regularly teaching students the most. “Maybe I’ll adopt some,” she joked.

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