The Long View

Marcia Freedman in 1974 during her term in the Knesset
Photo by Yaacov/Global Press Office, Israel


Marcia Freedman, a feminist organizer, lived in Israel-Palestine and fought for women’s rights as a member of the Knesset. After she moved back to the U.S. in her early forties, she expanded her commitment to include Mideast peace and adequate care for elders. She was a dedicated activist all her life, and when she died last year at eighty-three, she left behind a remarkable record of accomplishments.


I had the honor of knowing Marcia intimately and being involved in several projects with her. At the core of her work was her understanding that complex social issues take a very long time to be resolved, and the process is always messy. She was keenly aware that discrimination against women has been present through history, but she believed it could be modified and even eliminated over time by people working together. Her job, as she saw it, was to be committed to this process, even though she wouldn’t live to see the results. In the meanwhile, there were smaller victories to celebrate, such as the Me Too movement and the growing number of women legislators. 

This long view gave her enormous staying power as an activist. In the years of our friendship, I did not see her burn out or quit a project when troubles erupted. Her belief in what she was doing enabled her to endure the conflicts that inevitably arise when people work together. Even at the hardest of times, she was always up for a good laugh, a glass of wine, a night out. 

People saw her strength—she was an inspiring speaker and a tireless worker—and greatly respected her integrity and courage. They also sensed her kindness. She appreciated the contributions of other activists, encouraged them when they became overwhelmed, and mentored them. She cared deeply about the women she met along the way—were they being treated fairly, and did they have decent medical care and enough money to support themselves? If something was wrong, she immediately tried to fix it. An emblematic story: She once witnessed a thief snatch a woman’s purse. He jumped into a taxi, and she ran after it screaming, pounding on the door, insisting the man give it back. She was a small woman, under five feet, but she was fearless—and she ended up retrieving the purse.

When I decided to start Persimmon Tree in 2006, I ran the idea by her, and she was enthusiastic and understood how important it was to have a place for women over sixty to publish their creative work. She joined the editorial board, established the ArtsMart, and handled the mundane tasks of promotion. After five years, I needed to step aside as the editor, and she was central in recruiting Sue Leonard to replace me. She could have retired, as the other members of my team did, but she stayed on and continued contributing her time and energy to the magazine until the end of her life. Knowing her, I was not surprised. 


Marcia Freedman (1938-2021) devoted her life to activism on behalf of women’s rights. The first American-born woman—and activist lesbian—to earn a seat in Israel’s Knesset, and a leader of Israel’s feminist movement, Freedman helped establish Israel’s first shelter for battered women and was also prominent in the fight to reform that country’s restrictive abortion law. She also became a force for progress in the United States both before and after her years abroad. Settling in California, she was the founding president of the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace and a leader in struggles for peace, women’s rights, gay rights, and assisting older women. She was a member of Persimmon Tree’s founding editorial board, and her political memoir, Exile in the Promised Land was published in 1990.
Nan Gefen founded Persimmon Tree in 2007 and is its Publisher/Editor Emerita. She has published three nonfiction books, most recently It Never Ends: Mothering Middle-aged Daughters. Her novel, Clear Lake, won the gold medal in general fiction in the IndieFab contest.


  1. My wife, Marcia Perlstein, met Marcia Freedman in 2001. We were visiting Israel with a LBGT delegation from San Francisco. She offered us a tour of the Chambers of the Knesset where we discussed our mission. She became a conduit for the us to connect to other LGBT youth in Jerusalem. She provided much hope and encouragement for our mission.

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