By Laura Shaw Frank
The Jewish world has lost a great luminary with the passing of Belda Kaufman Lindenbaum, visionary Orthodox feminist activist and indefatigable supporter of Orthodox women’s education. A founding board member of JOFA, past president of the board of Drisha, founding board member of Yeshivat Maharat, and founder of Midreshet Lindenbaum, Belda was larger than life.
Nothing was impossible if Belda was involved. She was undauntable. Whether it was organizing a conference or a dinner, obtaining a large financial gift from a reluctant donor, or going to speak with an important rabbi about a controversial subject, Belda was the one you wanted on your side. Scholar, teacher, philanthropist, fundraiser, mentor, and leader, she lived her life with dignity, integrity, and vigor, always striving to chart a new and brighter future for Orthodox girls and women.
Belda Lindenbaum approaching the Torah at the dedication of JOFA’s Torah Lending Project.
Belda’s work on the JOFA board was legendary. Level-headed and plain-spoken, Belda always said it straight. She always pushed us forward, giving us the courage to continue our fight to expand roles for women in Orthodox Judaism and to create a richer and more vibrant Orthodoxy for the future. She never let us devolve into fear of opposition or retribution. She would calmly articulate the justice of our cause; her steely resolve and wise counsel would give all of us strength. She lived her values and served as an example to all of us, fighting for her name to be included in her children’s ketubot and serving as sandeket at the brit milah of her grandson. She spoke truth to power, all five elegant feet of her. Oh, she was fierce!
And she loved as fiercely as she fought. Belda was my mentor and friend for more than twenty-five years. I first met her when I was a college student in the late 1980s. In those days, it was still unusual for an Orthodox woman to know how to read Torah. Belda and her sister, Carol, recruited me, an unknown Columbia student, to layn for their Upper East Side women’s tefillah group. I don’t really remember the layning, but what I do remember is the Shabbat lunches at Belda’s home afterward. I remember feeling enveloped with warmth and inspired by the heady conversation taking place around me. The spark of Orthodox feminism was kindled in my heart during those Shabbat lunches at Belda’s gracious dining room table. Since that time, Belda never stopped cheering me on. She encouraged me and celebrated my achievements at every opportunity. In the hours after her death, as dozens of women posted, emailed, and spoke about her, it was awe-inspiring to see how many other women she had supported and championed. Over and over, women said, “She believed in me; she pushed me to become all that I could be.” No small part of the legacy she leaves on this earth is her nurturing and mentorship of generations of Orthodox women leaders.
Belda was our superhero. She gave of herself in every way she could. She devoted her life to building a brighter and more inclusive future for the Orthodox Judaism she loved so dearly. Through her philanthropy and the tireless work of her hands, she built institutions and organizations that permanently transformed the landscape of Orthodox women’s education and leadership. She nurtured the leaders of the present and the future with her wisdom and love. The Jewish world is immeasurably enriched due to her time on this earth. We will never stop missing her; our only comfort is knowing that her legacy will truly last forever.
May Belda’s beloved husband, children, grandchildren, sister, and brother be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. Yehi zikhra barukh—may her memory be a blessing.
Laura Shaw Frank, a member of the JOFA Executive Board, teaches history at SAR High School in Riverdale, NY