- Felice Yeskel, z'l; A Remembrance:April 6, 1953 - Jan. 11, 2011
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June 1978: Felice was 24, facilitating a tensely contested matter in the whole group meeting of EBACABI, the East Bay Coalition Against the Briggs Initiative. She was in her full glory, powerful woman, drawing on the mighty talent she used throughout her life to help each faction feel heard, help everyone move toward concensus. I, a 21 year-old feminist activist, fell totally in love for the first time in my life.
During that summer of love we both considered her the wiser, older woman, much more experienced than me because her of being three years older. We worked passionately in "EBAC's" campaign to defeat the anti-gay Brigg's Initiative (the one depicted in recent movies about the gay politician Harvey Milk), we made daily love, for three glorious weeks, in a tent, in the wilderness of the High Sierras, and at the end of the summer Felice accompanied me back East where I had one more year of college to finish.
Both of us found in Movement for a New Society a formative framework for the social change lives we wanted to live. MNS was a transnational network of activists, based in a Life Center in West Philadelphia. Its participants worked in creative, non-violent ways to end racism, sexism, classism, ageism and heterosexism while building sustainable counter culture communities.
Together we ran Mountain Meadow Country Experience for its first summer. I had created the camp as one of the first programs [End Page 4] in the world for the children of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer and questioning families. There we were on my mother's mountaintop in south central Pennsylvania, cooking with little girls over an open campfire and singing "Still Ain't Satisfied." We were elated to be combining nature, a younger generation and feminism.
At the end of that summer, Felice had one of her first eye-opening "aha" moments about classism, an experience she recounted many times over the years in her presentations and workshops. When camp ended, my mother asked about the group dynamics, the mission, the highlights. Felice's mother asked how much money she had earned. (The answer was none.)
We were at a stage of our lives and in a culture such that we each eventually had other lovers and ended up in other cities for work and education. But we never broke up; we just morphed from being lovers to being old, close friends. My connection with Felice was so early and deep, for 33 years I felt that she could reach into my soul and take me to the next place I needed to go, and she claimed that I did the same thing for her mind.
We both took our feminism, informed by our experience in MNS and further academic training, out into the world. She founded the pioneering Stonewall Center at the University of Massachusettes, which became a model for campuses nationwide on supporting LGBTQ students and faculty; she created diversity training programs and eventually launched her campaign to end classism, raising consciousness about the economic divides in our midst. I founded the Jewish Renewal Life Center (part of ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal) in Philadelphia, welcoming seekers for a year of immersion in Jewish living, learning and activism.
We spent hours talking about how to live a life, how to love better, how to change the world. We griped and complained and problem-solved and inspired and shared story after story about our various projects: New Jewish Agenda, Women's Pentagon Action, Not in my Name, Seneca Women's Peace Encampment, B'not Eysh, Achyot Or.
When I started having babies, Felice became a friend to each child. She dearly loved Rosi Greenberg, whom she knew when Rosi was only a twinkle in my eye. Felice loved hearing Rosi's stories of her work in the West Bank, during her college years at Brown, supporting Palestinian Human Rights and Felice loved the stunning art Rosi made for her. Felice was thrilled to mentor young activist Zoe Greenberg, now a student...