I have lost a friend this week, and many others have lost a seemingly tireless ally in a number of struggles for rights and recognition. I know that I will not do justice to Abby Lippman’s contributions to academia or to a number of the social movements where she made her mark, so allow me to concentrate on those areas where our lives happily intersected.
I met Abby at Head & Hands, a youth organization in the NDG neighbourhood of Montréal where I worked as Coordinator of Legal Services and then as Executive Director, all in the 1990s. Abby was a member of the Board of Directors and President of that Board for a number of years. Not your usual President, but one who came with extensive knowledge and history in the women’s health movement, and one who demonstrated her commitment to the cause with every act. I remember that we had an annual fundraising mailing to our members at the beginning of December, and Abby personally signed each of those letters, often adding a personal note to the member/donor. There weren’t dozens of these letters, there were hundreds of them. Every one of them got a signature that could be smudged to demonstrate its authenticity, putting some real meaning into the strength of a small charity: that it can be close to and personal with its donors.
When I left Head & Hands, I was very happy to be able to pursue my relationship with Abby, now more as a friend than as a colleague. Oh, we talked about health issues and didn’t always agree about everything (I’m thinking of the funding from pharmaceutical companies that I felt my organization could accept without impact on the content of the programming it served to support or the issue of HPV vaccination). Even when we didn’t agree, Abby always gave me a reason to reflect on my opinions and to see them through other eyes.
We are both big fans of the arts — my taste in films was often much more pedestrian than hers — and we had occasions to go to the movies or to a student production of an opera at McGill. I have two favourite memories of Abby at the cinema. First, when we participated in the time-honoured tradition of going to see a film (or two) on Christmas Day. Abby was determined to sneak into the second film without paying, while straight-laced Ken insisted on going out and paying as we should…I paid for both of us in my slavish following of the rules.
The second movie memory was when I encouraged Abby to sign up for the cinema’s loyalty program in order to be able to accumulate points for free movies. She painstakingly did her sign-up at the automated kiosk and got her temporary number…whereupon I learned that her concern for privacy had led her to use a pseudonym and give a false address and invented postal code! How, I asked, are you going to get your card, which they send through the mail? I don’t know if she ever went back to deal with that one, but it left me giggling.
The most moving thing Abby did for me was to include me in her family, inviting me to participate in the family meals for all of the Jewish holidays. Her Seder evolved over the years, with multiple texts to choose from (traditional, feminist, humanist, and a Dr Seuss-like version called Uncle Eli’s Haggadah) and some extra items on the Seder plate — an orange for the place of women and Palestinian olives to remind us of the occupation and the injustice in that situation. The year (one of the years?) when Israeli forces invaded Gaza, all texts were set aside, and Abby read a letter she had written denouncing that action. The meal was always permeated with the political significance that it deserved, even if the metaphorical connections to current social justice issues might have been more pronounced around her table than around many others.
Abby wrote editorials, marched, picketed stores, participated in an ongoing vigil of Jewish and Palestinian women outside the Israeli consulate… Like I said at the beginning, it would be impossible for me to list every cause and every action without unjustly leaving several out. She exuded boundless energy for social justice and little tolerance for its absence. She was opinionated and loving, loud and giving, quirky and intelligent. Most of all, she was someone I was glad to be able to count as a friend.
I will miss you, Abby Lippman.
*****Article in The Gazette here.
In lieu of flowers, Abby's family requests that dontations be made to The Native Women's Shelter of Montreal.