Gail Twersky Reimer began her career in academia but had passions that she wanted to take beyond the classroom. In 1995, Reimer founded the Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA) to, according to their website, “document Jewish women’s stories, elevate their voices, and inspire them to be agents of change.” Now a national non-profit organization, JWA provides curricula and educational information, an online encyclopedia, films, online exhibits, and other resources that document the experience of Jewish women through its digital archive.

The Jewish Women’s Archive was the first organization of its kind, and Reimer has had a career as rich as the history in it. Growing up in Queens as the daughter of Holocaust survivors from Poland, her parents spoke openly and frequently about their experiences, unlike many other survivors. “I always got the message that my parents didn’t survive just to live,” she said. “They survived so that I could do something in the world that mattered.” While her parents impressed on her the importance of keeping people’s stories alive, they were still some experiences that Reimer never had a chance to hear. “My mother died in my thirties,” she said. “There was still so much I didn’t know, and I thought I would have more years to ask her.”

After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College, Reimer received her Ph.D. in English and American literature from Rutgers University and later taught at Wellesley College. She eventually became the associate director of the Massachusetts Foundation of the Humanities. Reimer also served as editor for two books “Reading Ruth: Women Reclaim a Sacred Story” and “Beginning Anew: A Woman’s Companion to the High Holy Days.”

While working on her two books, Reimer couldn’t help but notice that lack of information available on Jewish women. “I had a click moment where I realized that we’re spending so much time trying to excavate the stories of these women, but all we had were fragments,” Reimer said. “And while we’re doing that, we’re losing the stories of women from our own time.”  At the time, Steven Spielberg had founded the Shoah Foundation to document testimonies from Holocaust survivors, but Reimer recognized a need for something more. “I cared a lot about Holocaust stories, but I didn’t want those to be the only stories we collected and passed on,” she said. Reimer wanted to establish one place where people can go to find information on Jewish women.

“Jewish women were and still are over-represented in social movements for change, yet we don’t know about them,” Reimer said. “We didn’t just want to collect stories of the past. We wanted to ensure that we were collecting stories from Jewish women of today.” Recalling her own experience of missing out on some of her mother’s life stories, JWA also developed a guide for people hoping to get stories from aging family members. “We tend to wait until it’s too late and regret not getting them,” she said.

Reimer ran into challenges while founding JWA as a first-time business owner in raising money. While her connections from her former life in academia and foundations helped the organization get its feet off the ground, she quickly realized she had a lot to learn. “I walked into this thinking I knew a lot more than I did,” she said. “I overcame this by becoming more humble. I read. I took courses. I acknowledged that I had serious knowledge gaps in running an organization.” JWA went on to flourish, branching into social media and producing documentary films like Making Trouble (2007) about Jewish female comedians and the award-winning In the Footsteps of Regina Jonas (2014) about the first ordained female rabbi.

“We weren’t trying to be all things to all people,” Reimer said about JWA thriving over the years. “We knew what we were doing. We were clear about our mission but still able to move with the times.” The organization is now the largest centralized information source on Jewish women.

Reimer is now retired and living in Brookline. She is in the process of writing a blended memoir, inspired by her parents and also enjoys spending time with her two adult daughters and three grandchildren. She still does find time to nurture her love of history by volunteering at the Boston Public Library, providing tours of the historic institution. “I love narratives and sharing narratives,” she said. “That’s a theme throughout my life.”

With a long and dynamic career behind her, what is her advice to young professionals starting out? “Think hard about your passion; about how you can direct that passion to making change in the world; don’t be afraid to think big; don’t be afraid to take risks,” she said. “If you see something that needs to get done, figure out how to get it done.”

By Alicia Landsberg