Bella’s passing, like her life,
was colossal. The April 2nd service was at Manhattan’s Riverside Chapel.
Her oldest friend and WEDO co-founder, Mim Kelber, talked of running Bella’s
campaigns, from Walton High School to the US Congress. Another dear and
lifelong friend Amy Swerdlow, retired Director of Sarah Lawrence’s Graduate
Program in Women’s History, told of Bella’s wonderful early activism in
their student years at Hunter. She thanked Bella’s
||There will never be another
Bella Abzug. Many will remember her from Congressional days, where she
fought tirelessly against the war in Vietnam And for equality everywhere,
even introducing the first-ever lesbian/gay civil
daughters, Liz and Eve,
for keeping Bella going after Martin, her husband, had died. Jane Fonda
said Bella inspired her own political involvement. Gloria Steinem remarked
that Bella “should have been, at the very least, President of the United
Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue
shared personal glimpses. Marlo said Bella had pushed her to marry
Phil: “You’ll never find another like him!” Phil kept his remarks brief,
taking his cue from having sat beside Bella at occasions where she muttered
under her breath after each pundit’s opening phrase: “Good, sit down.”
Marlo said Bella had once barked at her: “When are you having a baby?”
Marlo had exclaimed: “I got married, let Gloria have the baby.”
Feminist extraordinaire Robin
Morgan said Bella was the only being on earth who could argue with hand
squeezes. She had sat in the hospital at Bella’s side every single day
for the three weeks since Bella’s heart surgery. They had arranged a signal
whereby one squeeze was “yes” and two “no.” Robin had ventured: “You’ve
got to fight.” Bella responded with a sharp perfunctory grasp that could
only have met: “YES, BUT I AM.” Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum
observed that if God had
heretofore been a patriarchal institution, that was about to change.
Faye Wattleton, the great
reproductive rights leader, told of their “shoulder to-shoulder” efforts
together on those fronts. And she told of how Abzug gave one of her famous
hats to a Honduran peasant woman.
Former Congresswoman Geraldine
Ferraro read a warm letter from President and Hillary Clinton. For
Ferraro’s historic vice-presidential campaign Bella had passed
out cigars that said “It’s A Girl!”
What a crowd they were! Actors
Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna led a theater sendoff for Bella’s spectacular
life performance - a standing ovation, loud and long. And the audience!
Betty Friedan, Ed Koch, Liz Holtzman, Ms. Editor-in-Chief Marcia
Ann Gillespie, Ruth Messinger, author/activist Urvashi Vaid with
comic Kate Clinton, lesbian/feminist chronicler Dolores Klaich, Valerie
Harper. Then Shirley MacLaine anchored us firmly in higher planes: “As
some of you may have imagined, I will be speaking directly to Bella. “Bellashka,
was that you, on the night you died, slamming doors and banging things
around in my apartment?” she demanded. “You know, I think you weren’t so
much of a feminist as a humanist” she continued and the microphone fainted
dead away. It fell off the gooseneck onto the podium. MacLaine laughed
and cried at the same time: “I was looking for another sign!”
One cannot imagine the honor
with which I accepted Bella’s daughter Liz’s invitation to sing at this
event. She requested a song I’d written, Hats Off To Bella about a reincarnate
planet whereon former Congresswoman Barbara Jordan is Chief Justice of
the Supreme Court and Bella Abzug is President of the United States. When
I premiered that song at a NOW (National Organization For Women) New York
State event, Abzug squeezed then NOW-NYS President Marilyn Fitterman’s
hand throughout saying several times “I accept, I should be President.”
But I suggested another,
more intimate song I had created for Bella’s birthday a few years ago:
When Bella Sings Marlene, about her inimitable impression of Marlene Dietrich’s
Falling In Love Again. Yes indeed, Bella had a beautiful, Dietrich-low
voice, which she raised recently as featured guest in a Leslie Gore concert.
And she went far out of her way one blistering day to record a cameo vocal
on my Remember Rose: A Song For Choice. She played mandolin.
And indeed, singing was what
we all did for a social life, at the wonderful Hamptons place Bella shared
with her daughters, and at the welcoming East Hampton homes of lifelong
friends like Claire Reed and Judy Lerner.
Liz Abzug was very wonderful,
with her warm, savvy, Bella smile. She told of family and of campaigning
with the Great Lady. Jordy Mark sang Yiddisha Mama. Eve was the last to
speak. She started softly, telling of her shyness and how she would “rather
not have been born into such a well-known family.” She said her mother
had “seemed so loud and attention getting AND SHE WAS!” Then something
amazing happened. Eve’s voice grew strong and her presence large.
Everyone noticed it. It was
almost as if... Somewhere in the middle of this extraordinary tribute,
I sang my piece about the time Bella came direct from a National Women’s
Day Rally, to sing around the piano at Eleanor Roosevelt biographer Blanche
Wiesen Cook and her partner playwright Clare Coss’s home:
When Bella Sings Marlene,
stars stop in the sky. Planets stand in their orbits 'til the song
goes by. On the second refrain of moths to the flame, spirits join
the tune; When Bella Sings Marlene, all the roses bloom.
When Bella sings, all
the roses bloom.
Sandy Rapp is a feminist
singer whose CD We The People is available at 516-329-5193 & SandyRapp@aol.com.
Her book God’s Country: A Case Against Theocracy is available at 1-800-3-HAWORTH.
Rapp writes a regular column in Long Island’s gay paper, the Rainbow Community
(c) Sandy Rapp