Back in the day when I first began to attend the Association for Jewish Studies (AJS) annual meetings, the official receptions were—well, official. In 1994, my friend (and later co-author) Miriam Peskowitz and I thought it would be good for camaraderie and conversation to host an unofficial reception (aka: a party). We started small, inviting just a few strays. We bought wine, supplied snacks, and outgrew our hotel room. Three years later, when our collection Judaism Since Gender was published, we persuaded Routledge (we’re still grateful) to spring for a suite. These parties, two decades later, are a special event at AJS, with an unusual spin on fund-raising: The Cashmere Auction.
Why not gather gently used cashmere sweaters and scarves from thrift stores, family collections, consignment shops, and donations, stuff them in a giant duffle bag, haul it to the AJS, and auction off these finds at the party (feminist scholar as auctioneer!)? Inspired by Andrea Lieber, we first raised money to help make childcare accessible and affordable at the meetings. When that cause was taken up by private donors and generous support by the Posen Foundation, we took up other causes. One year, for example, donations went to help support NYU graduate students who were on strike for better wages. Now we offer The Cashmere Prize, $1000 subvention grants to support innovative scholarship on gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, a prize open to scholars at all stages of their careers working in any subfield of Jewish Studies. The prize is through the AJS Gender Justice Caucus, formerly known at the AJS Women’s Caucus. (And, readers, if you have cashmere to spare, you know what to do with it. I always take donations!)
The Party and the Auction have become an AJS tradition simply known as, “The Party” or “The Cashmere Party”!
In celebration of Lilith Magazine’s 40th Anniversary, they published a list of 40 Jewish Feminist Objects. The Cashmere Sweater was one of those objects.
This virtual space created in the midst of the pandemic honors this legacy and plays it forward. This will be the site of ongoing auctions and fundraising. The collecting of cashmere continued even under lockdown and beyond.