by Rabbi David J. Cooper
[Upon receiving an email from Hannah Kranzberg about S. Firestone’s passing.]
I just read this. Thank you Hannah for sending this out.
This hits me pretty hard actually. I was in a socialist feminist study group in the early 70’s called the Kollontai Collective.
Shulamith Firestone’s Dialectic of Sex was studied by us in depth and it didn’t only synthesize a number of things that people had not yet put together, it also was how I learned to understand Firestone’s sources. So her writing for me also was very much my introduction to Freud (and his discontents), to Simone de Beauvoir, and it was through her approach that I first engaged in the debate concerning how a class analysis could (and could not) be related to sexuality. She basically was my avenue into the Frankfurt School more than Marcuse was.
To cut to the chase, Shulamith Firestone was putting a Marxist class analysis and a feminist analysis together to examine the same phenomena. And you could see each phenomenon more clearly than if you only used just one analysis lens. But by using them together, Firestone was forced to affect, or even shatter aspects of Marxism, feminism, psychology, aesthetics, cultural analysis. The list goes on.
So while she used the holy sources, she did not treat them as gospel to be left unchallenged. She was a real tikkun in regard to reified vulgar Marxist analysis which was in the vogue in a small group with whom I was an interlocutor. By extension, my relationship to Torah is colored by my experience of how she negotiated her holy texts. She shattered assumptions and she shattered idols, and let me tell you, it was thrilling. Whether I agreed with every aspect of Firestone’s conclusions, is of little consequence. It was the sukkah that she created through her engagement with these materials, and I lived in that sukkah for the two years the Kollontai Collective did its research and writing and presenting.
I identify that time and that experience with the earliest maturing of my own work of integrating a Socialist Feminist analysis along with the experience of living as a conscious Jew who values wonder, deep feeling, the spirituality of awe. And I don’t recall Firestone ever writing about how she integrated her Jewishness (whatever that was to her) with her Socialist Feminism. But I translated the model she provided for me such that it gave me a wide open path to integrate my political analysis and my Jewishness. And like her, my integration did not leave either of my sources unaltered.
So in a very real way, Shulamith Firestone was very much a contributing factor that eventually led me to be here doing what I am doing now, serving as politically-progressive spiritually-oriented congregational rabbi in a feminist and fairly queer synagogue.
Later on, a decade later (it seems more), I’m in the early Jewish Renewal movement (it seemed late at the time), and I meet Tirzah Firestone, and for a second, I couldn’t remember Shulamith’s first name except that it was Jewishly biblical, so for a moment I thought, “Is Firestone now a rabbi?” Soon I realized that it was Shulamith’s sister. (Ah, but that question: Ha’gam Shaul ba-n’viim? “Is Saul too among the prophets?” 1Samuel 19:24)
So I got to have one sister be an influence in one very important part of my life, and the other be a colleague in a completely different milieu.
I can’t say that I was aware until now that Shulamith’s life was so tough in these intervening years. I feel pain for that for Shulamith, and for Tirzah as well. I got to be influenced by Shulamith at a time when she was hitting her stride, when she was touching an important new idea totally present within the moment where we were in. She spoke at a time when I needed to hear just that voice.
Anyway, I’m sorry in moments like this that Ricky Sherover isn’t around to mull all this over. Some of the best of us are gone and we miss them.