A Muslim, a Methodist and a Jew didn’t all walk onto the stage at a luncheon during the National Council of Jewish Women convention in Buckhead on March 24, but they all walked away with important awards for the ways they have inspired others.
Luma Mufleh, Hillary Clinton and Phyllis Kravitch started in different places and followed different life paths, but all three fit the NCJW’s definition for recognition at the Women Who Dared Luncheon at the JW Marriott in Buckhead.
Mufleh, who said she’s just a soccer coach who drives a bus every day and is used to talking to kids, not female Jewish leaders (other than her wife), received the Hannah G. Solomon Award, named for NCJW’s founder.
A native of Jordan, Mufleh came to the United States in 1993 to attend Smith College, and by the time she was a senior, she knew she couldn’t go home to her Muslim family because of her sexuality. She was granted asylum, then made her way to small-town North Carolina to escape the Massachusetts winters.
It was after she moved to Atlanta that she found her calling. A wrong turn in Clarkston one day brought her to a group of refugee boys from Sudan and Afghanistan who were playing soccer. A YMCA soccer coach, she asked to join them.
“I feel in love with them,” she said.
She went on to found Fugees Family Inc., which began as a soccer club and has grown into a school serving 87 youths from 20 countries. Its first eighth-grade graduating class last year included members of families who had never sent anyone to high school, Mufleh said.
On the soccer field, she said, she only faces male coaches, and she has heard the heartbreaking question “Why do they hate us?” from her players.
Mufleh praised NCJW women for their years of activism, saying she felt exhausted after two months of resisting the policies of President Donald Trump. “This is not the America that welcomed me 20 years ago.”
Her audience clearly felt that statement reflected the November loss of Clinton, whom NCJW decided sometime after the election to honor with the Women Who Dared Award. Clinton accepted the award through a video message to the convention.
Robin Leeds, an NCJW board member who worked in President Bill Clinton’s administration and was with Hillary Clinton in Beijing when she said that women’s rights are human rights and vice versa, praised the former secretary of state for overcoming a “barrage of misogyny” to win the popular vote last year.
She continues to serve as an example of leadership and fortitude, Leeds said. “We are all in her debt.”
Clinton’s connection to NCJW goes back to her time as Arkansas’ first lady in the 1980s. She heard about the Home Instruction Program for Preschool Youngsters, which NCJW brought to the United States based on an Israeli model, and she adopted it for Arkansas and helped it spread nationwide.
In her acceptance video, Clinton said she knows NCJW is just getting started in its fight against domestic violence, hate crimes and bigotry.
“We don’t organize for ourselves,” she told the audience. “We organize for everyone. Just look at you.”
Unfortunately, the audience didn’t get the chance to look at the afternoon’s final honoree, 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Phyllis Kravitch, because the 96-year-old became ill the day before the luncheon.
Kravitch, a native of Savannah, was honored with NCJW’s Lifetime Achievement Award. One of her former law clerks, Deborah Danzig of Atlanta, detailed the remarkable life the judge has led.
Kravitch faced discrimination as a woman and a Jew when she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s law school in 1944, Danzig said. Harvard hadn’t considered a Jewish woman for admissions, and none of the Eastern law firms would consider hiring one.
So she returned to Savannah and worked in her father’s law firm at a time when women couldn’t serve on juries in Georgia.
Judges didn’t want her to practice law in court, but she did. At a time of segregation, she represented black clients and treated them just like anyone else.
“She was just doing what was right,” Danzig said.
Treating people right paid off when Kravitch carried the black and female vote to win a place on the Superior Court in Savannah, and President Jimmy Carter nominated her to the federal appellate court, where she has served since 1979, although she shifted to senior status in 1996.
Danzig said Kravitch achieved greatness not only through the practice of law and her judicial rulings, but also through the 102 law clerks and six assistants who have worked for her and have remained devoted as they have carried her influence through their own careers.