Women’s historian Michelle Rosenberg, author of Warriors and Wenches, Not so Virtuous Victorians and Historical Heroines, speaks to JLife on her appointment as head of UJIA’s women’s division.
Hi Michelle, tell us how you found yourself at the head of UJIA Women!
My background is varied – thanks to a great face for radio, I was a newsreader and business correspondent for LBC and News Direct; I’ve also worked for CNN, in children’s book publishing, championing women entrepreneurs and across PR and marketing. But what I really want to do is direct! I wanted to make a difference to the women in my community and this job literally appeared – right place, right time.
What does the role entail?
In principle, I’m here to create new strands for Jewish women’s engagement, education, philanthropy and fundraising. I want to create a real feeling of community within UJIA – for Jewish women across all ages, to feel they are making a genuine difference to our projects in the UK and Israel.
In day-to-day reality, I work four days a week (part-time job, full-time mum) alongside our incredible education and fundraising teams across London, Leeds, Manchester and Glasgow. No two days are the same – apart from my consuming vast quantities of chocolate buttons to keep my energy and cellulite levels consistent.
Why do you feel it’s so important to engage and inspire Jewish women?
I think pride in your Jewish heritage, culture and history is rooted deep in Jewish women’s DNA. We are all about continuity – we want our children and families to continue our traditions, to remember their grandparents and to champion their communities. UJIA Women aims to help Jewish women feel part of something larger than themselves, to make a difference, to leave a cultural and communal legacy.
Give us an idea of the projects you’re looking to pioneer over the coming year.
The UJIA Women team have outdone themselves for 2020! On International Women’s Day, we are running (or walking) a women’s trek in the Peak District, with 10km and 20km routes, as well as an optional abseil. It’s bringing people together in support of UJIA and its Al Sanabel catering social enterprise in the Negev, making nutritious, healthy school meals for around 3,000 disadvantaged school children who live below the poverty line – often it’s their only daily opportunity to have a hot meal.
We’ve also launched a digital partnership with WIZO to raise funds for our Al Sanabel project and their Warm Homes project, which provides counselling and social assistance to young women suffering emotional neglect and living in vulnerable situations. All you do is text ‘JOIN’ to 70577 to donate £10 and post a picture to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #JoinHandsWithUs. We had a fabulous henna party to launch the initiative.
And in May, we’re running our 15th Mission Possible – it’s a five-day immersive trip to Israel. This year’s theme is entrepreneurship and tech, so it’s an incredible opportunity to engage with the women at UJIA’s tech focused projects as well as some unique meet and greets, lectures and culinary experiences.
Tell about your love of literature and your passion for women’s history.
I am an unashamed, unabashed geek. I studied English at the University of Leeds (I’m now virtually fluent); spending three years in its libraries studying literature was incredible. My passion for women’s history has always been there – starting with my Grandma Yetta – hearing her stories of living in the East End, treasuring a box of faded family photographs we have in the loft of all the members of our family that perished in the Holocaust. My husband half jokes that we moved house to accommodate my book collection. If I had the choice between a Mulberry handbag or a first edition Jane Austen, I’m afraid I’d be a huge disappointment to my mother.
There is a MA in Women’s History at Royal Holloway that has my name all over it. I just have to wait for my bank account to catch up.
We hear you hold a certain fondness for bawdy humour and colourful language?
My daughters, Lola and Madison learnt from an early age how to use a full range of the English language towards each other, as well as at those exhibiting poor driving abilities. One time that included my mother, which was unfortunate. I can have a slightly risqué sense of humour but as I’m fond of my job I won’t expand further!
To find out more about UJIA Women events and initiatives, visit Ujia.org/women.