President's Message

Jessica Kronstadt
WLALA President 2020-2021

March 2021

In the United States, March is celebrated as Women’s History Month.  Women’s History Month is a time to honor all women and to reflect on women’s diverse and intersectional voices, achievements and struggles. Women’s History Month began in Santa Rosa, California as a local celebration. In 1978, during the week of March 8 – which corresponded with the March 8 recognition of International Women’s Day – the Education Task Force of the Sonoma County Commission on the Status of Women planned and executed a “Women’s History Week” celebration.  That movement spread across the country as other communities initiated their own Women’s History Week celebrations.  In 1980, a consortium of women’s groups and historians successfully lobbied for national recognition.  In February 1980, President Jimmy Carter issued the first Presidential Proclamation declaring the that Week of March 8 be recognized as National Women’s History Week.[1]  In his remarks designating March 2 through March 8 as Women’s History Week, President Carter said:

From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this Nation. Too often, the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength, and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.

In 1987, Congress passed Public Law 100-9, which designated March as “Women’s History Month.”  I dedicated my Presidency to the memories of my maternal grandmother, Eva Schenk and my paternal grandfather, Arnold Kronstadt.  In honor of Women’s History Month, I celebrate my Grandma Eva – whose “achievements, leadership, courage, strength, and love” inspired and continue to inspire the generations that followed her. 

Eva’s life was certainly one to celebrate.  In a world of ordinary mortals, she was a Wonder Woman.  Christopher Reeve said:  “A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” And that’s what she did.  My grandma was anything but ordinary.  Her life was truly remarkable – the definition of survivorship.  She fled Germany as a little girl when Hitler came to power.  She spent several years in hiding, away from all of her family except her brother.  She escaped the Nazis and lived in Luxembourg, Palestine and in England before coming to the United States…on the day of Babe Ruth’s funeral.

When my grandma spoke to our friends who asked her about her life and when she talked about surviving the Holocaust – something she did not do very often – she often said that she had “no youth,” that Hitler stole it from her.  After living in hiding in Luxembourg, Eva eventually made it to Palestine.  She would talk about her surprise at how bigoted Jews in Palestine were. According to her, the Russian Jews, who regarded themselves as pioneers, looked down on German Jews as mere refugees.

Eva always wanted to be a doctor. But, her parents did not have enough money to send her and her brother, Ludwig (“Ludi”), to college. So, Ludi went to the American University in Beirut, then to the United States on a Rockefeller Scholarship after which he became a very accomplished medical researcher.  Eva had to learn a trade and she learned clothing design. She was very good at it as she had a terrific mathematical mind.  She could make anything. She made all of my mom’s and aunt’s clothes.  She made her own coats, my mom’s wedding dress, and a gown she once wore to a museum opening.  I wore that dress to a high school prom – only after Eva altered it to make sure it fit me perfectly.  Nothing less would have been acceptable.

In the 1950s, Eva met and married Gerhard Bendix, and had twins – Alice B. Gottlieb, M.D., Ph.D. and Justice Helen I. Bendix.  More on them later.  Shortly after my mom and aunt were born, Gerhard died.  So, Eva raised twin girls in New York City by herself.  Music was very important to Eva.  It was her only luxury.  Even when her family had to flee Germany, she took her cello.  At the border of Germany and Luxembourg, a German soldier wanted to take away her cello so that it would not leave Germany.  He did not believe she could play it.  Eva, ever so brave, sat down and played a cello piece for the soldier.  He let her take the cello. That cello journeyed around the world from Palestine, to England and then to New York City.  My aunt now has that cello and carries on Eva’s love for it.

When my mom and aunt were seven, Eva decided it was time for each of them to learn an instrument. My mom has always wondered what my grandma gave up in order to pay for their lessons.  Eva wanted a trio, so the music director decided my aunt should be the pianist and my mom should be the violinist.[2]  Early on, they played recitals as the Bendix Trio. When my mom and aunt were ten, the Bendix Trio played on the radio:  it played the first movement of a Mozart trio.  When my mom and aunt were in the Seventh Grade, they played in Carnegie Hall with the All-City Orchestra. According to my mom, “that orchestra was a testament to public education and diversity.”

Eva’s dedication, determination, hard work and love are reflected in the generations that followed her.  My mom and aunt are total badasses.  Alice is the world’s leading Psoriasis expert, a distinguished medical researcher, has published articles in countless medical journals, has been invited to speak at almost every medical conference imaginable, is a concert cellist, a devoted and caring wife and has raised two wonderful sons.  My mom – superhero to me[3] – is a Justice on the California Court of Appeals, has published articles in several law journals, authored portions of Moore’s Federal Practice, is a concert violist and violinist, has run in and successfully completed two full marathons and a half marathon, is an amazing wife and has raised three wonderful children.  Well, ok, two wonderful children…and me.  When my mom told Eva that she wanted to be a lawyer, my grandmother told her, “You cannot do that, what if you have to emigrate? You cannot practice law in another country.”  The Holocaust was always lurking in her thoughts.  All of us in the generations that followed Eva, Alice and Helen – my siblings, myself, my cousins, my daughters and my cousin’s sons – have benefited from, frankly, premium grade DNA.  No HGH necessary.

According to my mom, it was 4 degrees in Washington, D.C. when I was born. Eva had traveled to Washington to be there for the happy occasion.  My mom told us that she will never forget when Eva first held me and she said, “There is nothing like holding your first grandchild.”  Eva was in Los Angeles when her first great-grandchild – my daughter, Caroline Turner – arrived.  Eva came to the hospital and held Caroline. Eva had tears in her eyes. She said, “I never thought I would live to hold a great-grandchild.”  She lived to see and hold three great-grandchildren.

Grandma Eva epitomized elegance and class.  She did not wear a bathrobe, she wore a house coat.  And you would never see her in that coat outside of the house.  There was no such thing as a casual outing.  Dresses – all hand-sewn – were worn to the grocery store.  No matter how meager her circumstances, she never failed the meet the high standards she set for herself.  Every meal was elegantly prepared, every table properly set.  Every room was full of beautiful flowers, and classical music always played.  And, every event was full of love, kindness and compassion.

Grandma Eva was gorgeous – inside and out.  She had perfect features. Her external beauty was matched, however, by the beauty of her soul.  She was our moral compass, our True North – who constantly reminded us that even though we could do something did not mean that we should do something. 

Maya Angelou said:  “I think a hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”  That is what Eva did for my mom, Alice and all of us.  She cared deeply about all of us, and everyone dear to us.  Our joys were hers. When we had sorrow, she shouldered it with us.  We all benefited from Eva’s love.  Grandma Eva loved her family.  When she passed in May 2020, she was in her room.  Flowers were on the table, Mozart was playing on the radio and she was surrounded by three generations of family.

The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was born on March 15.  This year, Justice Ginsburg would have turned 88-years-old.  When asked about the legacy she had created, Justice Ginsburg said she would like to be remembered as “[s]omeone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability. And to help repair tears in her society, to make things a little better through the use of whatever ability she has.”

Grandma, like Justice Ginsburg, you made things better for everyone around you.  You Led Like a Girl every day.  Your song has ended, but your melody lingers on.



 

[1] My dad, Hon. John A. Kronstadt, was born on March 5.  This is especially fitting because he has always been a phenomenal supporter of women. You can read about it!  On February 24, 2021, BWL and WLALA hosted a celebration of Judge Samantha Jessner, the first African American woman to be elected as Assistant Presiding Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court.  During that program, an attendee asked what men can do in the workplace to promote, support and retain women in leadership positions.  My response:  Be like John Kronstadt.

[2] According to my mom, the music director based his decision on the fact that Alice had longer fingers than my mom had.  My mom attributes this to the fact that Alice was born first and there “had a head start. At birth, she weighed 5 pounds and [my mom] was barely 4 pounds.” Clearly, one of them was meant to be a lawyer. 

[3] I wrote an article about my mom in the August 2013 edition of the WLALA newsletter.  My mom continues to be beyond inspiring and she is forever Superwoman.

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