Jacqueline S. Beaver, 93, a pioneering spirit in the arena of social justice, died Nov. 5 in West Hills, Calif.
A past resident of Bala Cynwyd and Wynnewood, the former Jacqueline Stember stepped into battles big and small when it came to preserving civil liberties.
She herself knew early on what it was like to struggle. The native New Yorker grew up in an anemic economic environment. But she was able to outsmart the limitations; she attended and graduated from Brooklyn College, having been awarded a full scholarship, a major motivator given the decimation of her parents’ finances due to the Great Depression.
In 1955, Jacqueline and her late husband, David — a highly decorated serviceman who had been severly injured during World War II — packed up the family, including their son and daughter, and moved from New York to Bala Cynwyd, where Jacqueline’s activism took root.
“Coming from a financially insecure background she wanted to further equal rights and opportunity for all Americans,” says her son, Joel.
“She was a strong defender of civil liberties and a staunch opponent of any form of discrimination.”
She became known for her unstinting advocacy of Jewish causes, serving as president of the Main Line Chapter of American Jewish Congress, seguing to president of the group’s Philadelphia Women’s Division.
She spoke out against the U.S. role in Southeast Asia and played an influential role in having the national AJCongress denounce the war in Vietnam.
She also served on the organization’s National Governing Council.
She wasn’t above taking on local issues as well. When she and her family moved to Bala Cynwyd, she was upset to learn that her children had been involved in Christmas observances at Cynwyd Elementary School, which offended her unstinting defense of the policy of separation of church and state.
Speaking to the school’s principal, she was just as upset at his attempt at mollifying her, by saying that “some of your songs” would be included in the holiday celebration, according to her son.
“When she told him that was equally unacceptable, he was puzzled and asked her why. She took out a copy of the United States Constitution that she had brought with her and read him the Establishment clause from the First Amendment,” says Joel Beaver.
“He was clearly surprised by this encounter and agreed that what was taught and performed should be less Christological and more broadly cultural.”
When the kids went off to college, she filled her own empty-nest syndrome by going back to work, taking “her first paid job since her marriage,” that of political action director of the Jewish Y’s and Centers Senior Adult groups.
As a mentor, she helped guide people like Susan P. Myers, who went on to become president of the Pennsylvania Region of AJCongress as well as chair of its National Governing Council.
“Jackie was part of a generation of women who taught a whole new generation of us how to do social action,” recalls Myers.
Jaqueline and her compadres “were so good at living their principles.”
And that included wherever she lived. Residing in Bala Cynwyd, says Joel Beaver, she stood out from other suburban Jewish mothers in a neighborhood where there were not too many Jews at the time. “A number of Jewish mothers were not happy with her rocking the boat.
“She got a lot of flak from them; they were afraid of what the gentiles would think” if she openly expressed her at-the-time contrarian views on whatever issue.
“She was very progressive; a feminist,” says her son.
And politically energized. Moving to Wynnewood from Bala Cynwyd, she became active with the Lower Merion Democratic Committee and became a Democratic committeewoman.
As was typical of her nature, she braved the headwinds of the Republican stronghold over Lower Merion politics and helped get a Democrat elected commissioner.
“Jackie was an opinionated, liberal Jewish woman who was extremely patient with people who didn’t share her opinion,” says Burt Siegel, the former director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, where Beaver was also involved. “She cared for things that were AJCongress and JCRC. She was a true mensch.”
After she moved to California, she became president of the Laguna Hills Division of the National Council of Jewish Women and president of the Orange County Society for Humanistic Judaism.
“She was a woman who had a great sense of humor” and a sense of justice, adds Joel Beaver.
“She did what she thought was right.”
In addition to her son, she is survived by a daughter, Dr. Bonnie A. Beaver; and two granddaughters.