President's Message

Jessica Kronstadt
WLALA President 2020-2021

December 2021

It is the holiday season. Yes, it exists in 2020.  Have you had your holiday lights up since Halloween?  If yes, thank you.  The holiday season is one of joy, light and celebration. For my family, that means Hanukkah.

In writing about Hanukkah, Anne Frank stated, “Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”   2020 has shown us darkness in so many forms.  It has hit more curve balls than Cody Bellinger did all season.  In Los Angeles, Covid numbers are surging.  Again.  We are on lockdown.  Again.  Even through the darkness that has surrounded us this year, there have been sparks of light and glimmers of hope that remind us, as WLALA Racial Justice and Equality Advisory Council member Leana Taing shared from Buddha, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”  Hanukkah is right around the corner and, candidly, the first night cannot arrive soon enough. 

What is Hanukkah?  Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. After outlawing Jewish religion and Jewish practices, then-King Antiochus IV decreed that Jews must worship Greek gods in the Temple.  Eventually, a Jewish priest named Mattahias, his son Judah Maccabee, and their army (“The Maccabees”) revolted.  They forced Antiochus IV out of Judea, reclaimed the Temple and rebuilt the altar.  Hooray!

Why do Jews light the menorah for eight nights?  When the Maccabees rebuilt the altar, they lit a surrounding menorah.  They had only enough oil to light the menorah for a single night, but the story goes, that the little bit of oil lasted for eight full nights.  Thus, the Miracle of Hanukkah and the reason why the celebration lasts eight nights.

This Hanukkah is the first one my family will spend without my Grandma Eva, who passed away in May at 96-years-old.  Unlike Anne Frank, my grandmother survived the Holocaust; I wrote about her in my September President’s Message and dedicate my presidency to her memory.  Especially this winter, honoring Hanukkah is a significant way to celebrate resilience, to defy and to find the light within the darkness – which is how my grandmother lived her life.  In the spirit of Hanukkah, here are the Jessica-Kronstadt-Top 8-Reasons – yes, I modeled these after SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays – to defy and find light within darkness this holiday season[1]:

  1. On November 7, Kamala Harris became the first woman, first Black woman and first South Asian American woman to become Vice President-Elect of the United States. In her acceptance speech, Vice President-Elect Harris made clear that, “While I may be the first woman in this office, I will not be the last…Because every little girl watching tonight sees that this is a country of possibilities.”  I could drop the mic…but…

  2. That same day, Dr. Jill Biden announced that when she becomes First Lady in January 2021, she will continue teaching English and writing at Northern Virginia Community College. Why does this matter? Here’s why: In continuing to teach, Dr. Biden will become the first president’s wife to continue her professional career as First Lady, after becoming the first Second Lady to do so. As Ohio University professor Katherine Jellison, who studies first ladies, stated, “It would be a real modernizing of the first ladyship… to have the president’s spouse live the kind of life that the majority of women live, which is working outside the home professionally.”

  3. A week later, Kim Ng crossed gender and racial barriers after being named first female and first East Asian-American general manager (“GM”) of Major League Baseball.  Appointed GM of the Miami Marlins on November 13, Ng made history as not only the league’s first female in the position but also the first female GM across all major men’s sports leagues in the United States.

  4. In 2021, a record number of women will serve in the 117th Congress, including at least 51 women of color.  This sets a new record for female representation.  Micaela Ezra wrote, “On Chanukah when we use one flame to light another, the glow is not halved – the light is multiplied.”  This November, the light multiplied in the following ways:
    1. Cori Bush became Missouri’s first Black congresswoman.
    2. Teresa Leger Fernandez won in New Mexico – becoming the first woman to hold her seat in District 3 since 1983.Republican Yvette Herrell flipped New Mexico’s 2nd congressional district and will be the first Republican Native American woman to serve in Congress.  New Mexico’s election resulted in a new House delegation with all women of color.
    3. Marilyn Strickland became the first Black representative from Washington state and the first Korean American woman elected to Congress in the country.
    4. Representative-elect Carolyn Bourdeaux, the only Democrat who flipped a competitive Republican-held district this year, won in the northeast Atlanta suburbs.
    5. Nancy Mace defeated incumbent Joe Cunningham in South Carolina.  Representative-elect Mace is on the opposite political spectrum of many of the women mentioned above.  She was the first woman to graduate from Corps of Cadets program at the Citadel, a history-making to whom she credits the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg for Justice Ginsburg’s opinion in United States v. Virginia, which opened the door for Ms. Mace to attend The Citadel.  As a state lawmaker, Ms. Mace earned headlines for speaking publicly about her own experience of rape when she successfully advocated for an amendment to an anti-abortion measure that included exceptions for rape and incest.

  5. President-Elect Joe Biden’s cabinet selections will make history, if confirmed:
    1. Janet Yellen would be the first woman to serve as Treasury secretary.
    2. Avril Haines would be the first woman to serve as Director of National Intelligence.
    3. Alejandro Mayorkas would be the first immigrant and first Latino to serve as Secretary of Homeland Security.  And, he lights the menorah!
    4. Linda Thomas-Greenfield would serve as United Nations Ambassador.  She attended Louisiana State University at the same time David Duke, who preached the same hatred, antisemitism and white supremacy he preached in Charlottesville in 2018.  If confirmed, she has promised to carry out what her mother taught her years ago: To “lead with the power of compassion and kindness to make the world a better place.”
    5.  Neera Tanden – a South Asian American – would be the first woman of color to serve as Director of the Office of Management and Budget.

    In similar darkness defying, on November 29, President-Elect Biden and Vice-President Elect Harris announced that the White House senior communications team will be comprised entirely of women.  Kate Bedingfield, Pili Tobar, Symone Sanders, Elizabeth Alexander, Karine Jean-Pierre, Jen Psaki and Ashley Etienne make up the team.  These seven women, several of whom are women of color, will occupy some of the most visible roles in the Biden-Harris administration.

  6. Dolly Parton helped fund the “Jolene Vaccine.”  Ruth E. Penkel wrote, “Never fear shadows. They simply mean that there is a light shining somewhere nearby.”  Dolly Parton is a light in a year full of shadows.  On November 17, 2020, it was confirmed that Ms. Parton had donated $1 million to Vanderbilt University Medical Center to help fund research efforts for COVID-19.  The Moderna vaccine resulted from research done at Vanderbilt, and that work would not have proceeded as quickly without Ms. Parton’s donation.  Need more proof that Dolly Parton is, well, pretty much everything?  Here it is:  She wrote a letter to Santa.  Be honest:  Did you make it through reading it without welling up?

  7. As of November 4, for the first time in history, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will be run by five women: Supervisor (and WLALA Past President) Sheila Kuehl, Supervisor Holly Mitchell, Supervisor Hilda Solis, Supervisor Kathryn Barger and Supervisor Janice Hahn. With Supervisor Mitchell’s victory, the Board of Supervisors now has five women of very different backgrounds: an African American from Crenshaw, the daughter of Mexican and Nicaraguan immigrants, the first member of the LGBTQI+ community on the board, a staunch Republican, and a left-leaning member of one of the most progressive political families in the nation.

  8. On Saturday November 28, Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller became the first woman to start in a “Power Five” football game when she kicked off in the second half in Vanderbilt’s game against Missouri.  The Power Five conferences are the five athletic conferences that are considered to be the elite in college football in the United States.  They are part of the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of NCAA Division I and include the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), Big Ten Conference, Big 12 Conference, Pac-12 Conference, and Southeastern Conference (SEC).Ms. Fuller is a goalie on Vanderbilt’s Varsity Women’s Soccer Team.  And, in case you missed it, that team just won the SEC Championship.  When she kicked off for Vanderbilt, Ms. Fuller became just the third woman to participate in an FBS football game, following in the footsteps of Katie Hnida of New Mexico and April Goss of Kent State.  She took the field against Missouri with a special sticker on the back of her helmet which read, “Play Like A Girl.”  Check it out.  Yeah, I cried, too.  History made.  And b’shert – Yiddish for “fated” – that WLALA’s theme this year is “Lead Like a Girl.”

Anita Diamant wrote, “This is the season when people of all faiths and cultures are pushing back against the planetary darkness. We string bulbs, ignite bonfires, and light candles. And we sing.”  As the people discussed above show, this is also the season when we Lead Like a Girl.  I wish you a holiday season of peace, health and light, and here’s to a 2021 that defies darkness.  

[1] On October 28, the Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series.  This is still caused for great celebration, joy, dancing and singing Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.”  Repeatedly.  This victory is outside the scope of this list.