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April 28th, 2017
Speech! Speech!: Leading Women’s Group Honors Victoria Cook
Thank you so much Kim [McCreight-Prentice]. Your friendship is actually an example of my daring! On the very first day of law school I was waiting at the bus stop near Rittenhouse Square and there was this stunningly beautiful Hitchcock blonde who intimidated the beejeebies out of me but I somehow got up the courage to introduce myself to you and I am so glad I did! Here we are almost 23 years later and I am proud to call you not only my friend but my client. What a unique pleasure it is to get to go from sharing an outline in first year Civil Procedure to negotiating big Hollywood deals for you as a best-selling author.
I am beyond humbled and overwhelmed by this honor. The NCJW NY has been part of what we now call the "resistance" for over 120 years, from fighting unfair labor practices during the turn of the last century to feeding the hungry and fighting for reproductive freedom and immigration and refugee rights today, the Jewish values of TZEDEK TZEDEK TIRDOF -- JUSTICE, JUSTICE THOU SHALL PURSUE -- is at the heart of the organization driving it to fight for social justice throughout all communities. When I think of the young immigrant women organizing in the streets after the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, women who escaped all kinds of horror in their countries of origins from the pogroms of Eastern Europe to the famine of Ireland, or of the women who shepherded other women "in trouble" to New York so they could have safe abortions prior to the passage of Roe vs. Wade or the amazing mass of NCJW women I was lucky to march alongside of on that fateful Shabbat in January in pink hats with big signs that read "Torah Trumps Hate and "Jews March for Justice" — I can't help but wonder why an entertainment lawyer who spends a lot of her day working on reality TV shows or relatively obscure art house movies is lucky enough to be counted among them. I certainly know that I have a big mouth, a desperate need to tell people what I think and very little shame so I guess in that way I have been able to be a voice for the underrepresented. If never shutting up or getting off of social media -- the new version of the phone I was always told to hang up as a teenager -- has something to do with being bold than I am blessed to have that skill set.
But when I think of what it means to really be daring I have to think of my mother, Dr. Gail Cook to whom I dedicate this award. The reason I am here tonight is because I come from a pretty odd, indeed some may say, weird, family with a mom for whom the word “daring” would be an understatement. To begin with, we stuck out like a sore thumb, well maybe more like the only very loud very curly Semites for miles. I grew up in a small historic riverbank community in South Jersey where we were not just the only Jews who lived there but we were the only religious Jews anyone had ever seen. We built and ate our meals in sukkas (those little huts) during the Sukkot holiday, invited the neighbors over when we threw our breadcrumbs as symbols of our sins into the river on Rosh HaShana and even had rabbis with side curls and black hats and coats move in to a neighboring house so we could have a shul in our backyard. We were not exactly the neighbors the town had expected when my parents moved there in the late 1960s.
I would commute every day to Jewish day school and eventually was a boarder in the house of a couple of elderly Holocaust survivors so I could attend a pretty rightwing Orthodox all girls Yeshiva high school but I would come back to my other community which was stuck in a 1950s time warp in many ways. Not only were we the first Jews, my parents seemed to be the first family in the neighborhood to have a racially diverse group of friends despite the eyeballs we would get from our neighbors. I didn't really fit in either Beverly NJ or Bruriah High School for Girls but I was lucky enough to have a mom who would defend me when I was suspended for leading a sit in at my high school in protest when a rabbi used a racist Yiddish slur in class. In fact, when my younger brother was in an all-boys yeshiva high school in Washington Heights, my mother drove to New York one evening and yanked him out of school mid semester when the principal called her to complain that Harry was giving out blankets to homeless people on the street at night rather than studying Gemara. My mother told that rabbi that he shouldn't call himself a rabbi if he's not going to have Torah values and turned on her high heels with very likely a cape of some kind and her multiple layers of jewelry flying behind her -- my very glamorous mom is the person who if the rule is to look in the mirror and take one piece off before you leave the house, she puts another piece on.
But it was in my home community where my mom had the most impact. My father, Dr. Albert Cook, Z"L, was an obstetrician gynecologist. He chose to be an OB/GYN after a friend's girlfriend died from a backroom botched abortion. He was never silent or ashamed that he provided this basic form of women's healthcare services so during the ascendancy of the anti-choice movement during the 1980s he and my family were targeted by anti-abortion groups including Operation Rescue. They were at his office every day but would also come in droves to our house every other Sunday to protest, holding signs calling my father a Nazi, screaming at my brother and me that our father was a baby killer and scroll swastikas on our house. My father may have worn the bullet proof vest but it was my mother who went to court in what seemed like every other month to get the TROs, marched with her head held high through the throng to take us to wherever we needed to go as kids on a Sunday afternoon, and who was the one who was regularly confronted at the mall or supermarket. It was with my mom that I went to my first March on Washington for the 25th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade and it was my mom who made sure I had my pussy hat for this year's Women's March.
Despite being this bizarre woman in the middle of this small town always causing a ruckus she was later elected to city council for eleven years and eventually became the mayor!
Her shining example of someone who never cared about what anyone thought of her as long as she was doing the right thing has inspired me throughout my life. It is in her spirit that I decided early in my career to represent as many women and people of color I could in trying to get their voices heard in the film and television industry and accordingly the culture at large. And for that I also have to thank my firm Frankfurt Kurnit Klein & Selz who have supported me since I was a young associate only one year out of law school. Thankfully, it's a firm which celebrates and encourages each person's strengths and whose motto could really be "let your freak flag fly" so I felt immediately at home. I was never very good at following the rules like wearing a lawyer costume or waiting for it to be my turn to speak at a meeting yet they nurtured me and encouraged my confidence and voice and my sometimes quirky choices in clients. They made me partner while I was pregnant, and even let me leave the firm a few years later to try my hand at being a sales agent and then welcomed me back home with open arms. It is a firm dedicated to the values of social justice and even has a resistance lunch once a month so that the whole community from staff to partners can be engaged in organized activities fighting for the rule of law which is under attack by this administration. I am grateful every day that I get to work with people who are not just colleagues and not even just friends but family not least of whom is my assistant Evelyn Tineo without whom I would have been fired by all of my clients long ago.
Finally, I want to thank my husband Jason and my son Levi. Jason, a former public defender in the South Bronx turned photographer, makes everything I do possible. Whether it's frequent traveling for work or attending yet another protest he is filled with affirmation and love. His moral clarity and ethical compass helps guide me every day and I could never have dared anything without his love and support and his challenging humongous brain. Levi, who is turning 11 on Sunday is my light and joy. He is already a fighter against injustice, a veteran marcher and protester and a self-proclaimed feminist. He makes me so proud.
This year has not been so great for us women, well not really great for humanity at large, but it had been extra disappointing to realize that instead of a wave of women at the polls in November it was a wave of misogyny. NCJW NY is a place to help focus the fight, giving Nasty Women a platform to try to change the world around us for over a century and thanks to all of you who came out to support this great organization it will get to continue to do so from CHAZAK to CHAZAK, from strength to strength.
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