Article 25

Archive for June, 2012|Monthly archive page

Keep People from Falling

In Uncategorized on 06/19/2012 at 3:15 pm


Harriet L. Kaufman. Photo by Ben L. Kaufman.

Harriet Kaufman – public citizen

By Gregory Flannery


Most people who know Harriet Kaufman’s work have no trouble understanding why she recently received an award honoring her long record of public service. But one person doesn’t quite comprehend – namely, Kaufman herself.

“I have no idea,” she says. “I don’t feel I do that much, except being part of the community.”

Kaufman, president of the board of directors of Article 25 Inc., received the Public Citizen of the Year Award from the Cincinnati branch of the National Association of Social Workers.

Her friend, Louise Spiegel, wife of U.S. District Judge S. Arthur Spiegel, introduced Kaufman at the ceremony that honored her. To Spiegel, the award is no surprise.

“Harriet’s role has been as an advocate for people who are not well represented and whose voice needs to be heard,” Spiegel said. “She’s a very quiet but attentive human being. When she sees something that isn’t right, she figures out her way of giving it attention. She does it in a very subtle way. Her antenna is very sharp.”

In order to help Kaufman understand the reason she was honored, here is a partial list of her public service:

  • With Sister Ann Rene McConn and others, she helped form Cincinnati Housing Partners. She was a board member for the first 10 years as the organization built and sold fuel-efficient three-bedroom homes for single-parent families.
  • In the 1990s she mediated criminal cases for the city of Cincinnati for eight years.
  • In the late 1990s she created the Fair Housing Mediation Service with Housing Opportunities Made Equal in order to provide clients alleging bias in housing an alternative to litigation.
  • In mid-2000, with allies in the Woman’s City Club, she formed a committee to support the implementation of the collaborative agreement to end racial profiling by the Cincinnati Police Department.

When Kaufman agreed to serve on the board of Article 25 Inc. – founded to publish a street newspaper with a focus on human rights – she said she was interested because “human rights is my family’s work.”

She is the daughter of Jonas G. Schwartz (1903-1966), a Minnesota attorney whose career is commemorated by a scholarship awarded each year by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

“My father was involved in civil rights before there was a civil-rights movement,” Kaufman says. “He was a union organizer. He talked (former U.S. Vice President) Hubert Humphrey into running for political office instead of union office. He wrote Minnesota’s fair employment practices legislation. He sued the federal government to integrate the National Guard, and he succeeded before the Supreme Court. To me, this is mom and apple pie. Compared to what my Dad did, what I do is miniscule and low-impact.”

In the mid-1970s and 1980s, Kaufman taught about Judaism to adult groups in Christian churches locally and nationally.  Her classes were the subject of a CBS News special, If the Root be Holy.

One difference between the two faiths that she often noted is that Judaism values asking questions. She recalls being approached after one of her presentations by a woman who thanked her, saying that she had considered her children’s questions a challenge to her authority as a parent.

“For Jews, asking questions is a way to find an answer,” Kaufman says. “Christianity really values an answer. It’s a very different tradition.”

Kaufman’s husband, Ben L. Kaufman, is a retired journalist who now writes “On Second Thought,” a column of media criticism, for CityBeat. His career included a stint covering the U.S. Sixth District Court of Appeals, located in Cincinnati, and writing about religion for The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Storytelling has an ancient tradition in Judaism.

“There are so many stories my father used to tell, so filled with humor and pain,” Kaufman says.

It was fitting, therefore, that at the ceremony at which she received her award, Kaufman told a story she adapted from Nathan Ausubel’s Treasury of Jewish Folktales.

“Every time I tell this tale, it is a little different because it is a story, and stories change,” she says. “But the essence of it remains constant.”

The story goes like this:

Once there was a man who had a large family. He worked hard to support and care for them. One long winter, he lost his job. Because he could no longer support them, he went from home to home, begging his neighbors for food or money. But it was a long, hard winter for everyone, and they had nothing to share, so he left his small village in search of money to send to his family. He trekked from village to village with little to show for his efforts. Again and again he wrote home saying, “Dear Wife, I have nothing to send but my love.”

One day, as another door was slammed in his face, he turned to go back to the road, and he slipped on a patch of ice. He fell and broke his leg. When people found a stranger with a broken leg, they rushed him to the hospital. They tended him and helped him heal. When he recovered, they gave him a warm winter coat and a small bag of coins.

The man wrote home, “Dear Wife, A miracle happened; I broke my leg.”

“The moral of the story is people would rather help someone who has fallen than keep them from falling,” Kaufman says.

With that, Kaufman held aloft a copy of Article 25 and urged people in the audience to buy subscriptions.