Najimy’s message is loud and clear: ‘Give a damn’

Najimy’s message is loud and clear: ‘Give a damn’

Kathy Najimy, center, poses for a photo with outgoing NCJW president Paula Garett, left, and incoming president Laurie Gottlieb.
Photo courtesy of NCJW
Kathy Najimy, center, poses for a photo with outgoing NCJW president Paula Garett, left, and incoming president Laurie Gottlieb. Photo courtesy of NCJW

The world would be very different if women were in charge, according to Kathy Najimy.

The actress, feminist and human rights activist did not mince words last week as she delivered the keynote address to supporters of the National Council of Jewish Women, Pittsburgh Section, at its annual meeting at Rodef Shalom Congregation on June 8.

But neither was the comedian, best known for her roles in the films “Sister Act” and “Hocus Pocus,” entirely serious.

If women ran the world, Najimy said, the provisions of the Equal Pay Act would be honored and wage disparity between the sexes would be abolished.

Also, there would be a “24-hour all-women, all-Ellen channel, with no Pine Sol or SlimFast commercials.”

If women ran the world, “there would be health care for all who need it,” she said.

Additionally, “there would be free cocktails on the way into the gynecologist and a free buffet on the way out.”

All kidding aside, Najimy stressed the importance of activism, paying tribute to the volunteers of NCJW and praising the organization for its good work.

“Its wonderful being in a room with women and men who actually give a damn about something,” she said.

In addition to her screen work, and numerous television projects such as “Veep” and “The Big C,” Najimy herself is one who “gives a damn.”

She is a longtime vocal advocate for women’s and girls’ rights, AIDS awareness, animal rights, education and reproductive freedom. She received a Lilly Award just last month, presented by one of her role models, Gloria Steinem, for her work in the American theater.

Najimy recounted her days growing up in Southern California, “a chubby little girl” who longed for the same opportunities for adventure afforded to boys. She didn’t know that gender parity was possible, she said, until she discovered the anthology “Sisterhood is Powerful,” edited by feminist poet Robin Morgan, and the feminist magazine Ms., co-founded by Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes. It was through those sources, she said, that she first learned about “equality and choice and peace.”

“I learned there was a name for what I was,” she said, followed by a dramatic pause. “I was a Mormon.”

“No,” she continued, after the laughter had died down. “I was a feminist.”

Najimy peppered the remainder of her 20-minute address with anecdotes from her days in college, remembering working as a giant singing bunny (the furry kind, not the Hefner kind) and her first meeting of her idol Bette Midler, whose cutout face has adorned the top of Najimy’s Christmas tree in lieu of a prosaic five-pointed star.

Her mix of humor with her very serious message of the imperative to work toward social justice for all was an appropriate cap to the evening that honored 15 graduates of the organization’s leadership program.

“The leadership program is a crucial way for us to identify future leaders and chairs of events, and board members,” said Andrea Glickman, executive director of NCJW, Pittsburgh Section, in an interview. “The group spans generations. We have women in their late 20s to those in their 60s.”

Four new board members were also recognized: Lynn Farber, Lissa Guttman, Melissa Rackoff and Becca Tobe.

Paula Garett, who just completed serving three years as president of the organization, passed the gavel to Laurie Gottlieb, who was installed for a two-year term.

“Paula had such a transformative presidency,” Glickman said. “NCJW has been a historically volunteer driven and run organization, and we are now transitioning to a staff driven and volunteer enhanced model. Formerly, presidents were here working every day, but that is not really the reality of our volunteer landscape these days. Paula was a strategic president who set the tone for how our organization will run going forward.”

Bear Brandegee was installed as the group’s new board vice president.

The 2016 Annual Meeting co-chairs were Sarah Blask, Jan Engelberg, Susan Foreman Jordan and Lynette Lederman.

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at

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