Fuentes? This is a name for a nice Jewish girl? (I hear that question
circling your mind.)
The answer most assuredly is YES! This is the name of a nice Jewish girl; and
what a Jewish girl she is!!!
Sonia Pressman Fuentes is the only daughter of Hinda and Zysia Pressman. She was
born in Berlin, Germany, and the story of her family’s European travails, their
move to America and her growth into the remarkable woman she became is covered
in a most entertaining, inspiring and heartwarming manner.
Sonia tells her story in a way that places the reader right alongside her on the
various paths of her life. When Sonia describes moments of pride and joy, I felt
myself kvelling with her. On those occasions when tears were in order, my eyes
brimmed over with empathy. So much of what Sonia describes touched me and
brought back memories of my own life experiences. Life inside the Pressman
household was in many ways similar to that of my own. I have the feeling that
many of you will also find yourselves nodding and smiling at the shared moments
in all our lives.
Sonia’s life is no cliché by any means. This is a woman who refused to let
prejudice and negativity stand in her way. She looked at the paths open to women
of her generation and decided the choices were inadequate. Her solution was to
create and construct new paths for herself, thus developing opportunities for
all women. What I found so interesting was that although Sonia set new standards
in what women could accomplish both personally and professionally, she also
yearned for the very basic and traditional aspects of life most of us hold dear.
Her father did not have much use for education while her mother possessed a
thirst for knowledge. Both parents lavished attention on their children, with
special emphasis on Sonia since she was fourteen years younger than her brother
Hermann. Although they considered some of their daughter's ideas and decisions
to be incomprehensible, they nonetheless provided parental support for whatever
she chose to do. An example of this occurs when Sonia decides to attend law
school in Florida. No one in the family supports the idea, including her brother
Hermann. After listening respectfully to the advice offered to her by the
family, she packs her bags and leaves for the University of Miami Law School,
which sets her up in a shared garden apartment.
After living for a short time with her new roommate, who has serious
psychological problems, Sonia takes to sleeping on the living room floor. She
writes her parents and casually mentions how difficult it is trying to buy
groceries without having a car. The letter arrives at her parents' home erev
Rosh Hashanah and the next thing you know, her father is packing his bags to
leave on the next train for Florida. When his wife asks why he is leaving so
suddenly on the night before the High Holy Days, he exclaims, "Didn't you hear
that letter? The girl needs a car. I'm going down to buy her one."
When Mr. Pressman arrives in Florida and discovers his daughter’s living
conditions, he calls his wife on the phone and announces they are selling their
house and moving to Florida to ensure that Sonia has a proper home in which to
live. If that isn’t unconditional parental love and support, I don’t know what
We follow Sonia through law school, her first jobs and myriad other adventures
life has in store for her. We celebrate with her when she finally meets the man
she ultimately marries, Roberto Fuentes (there’s the name connection), and when
at the age of 43 she gives birth to her beautiful daughter Zia. We take pride in
Sonia as she breaks down doors and barriers that have been preventing women from
taking their rightful place among men in the professional and business
communities. And we are somehow not surprised when she becomes a co-founder of
NOW, the National Organization for Women.
The story of Sonia Pressman Fuentes is remarkable on many levels, but for me,
the most impressive aspect of this courageous woman’s life is how she was able
to take charge of it and find ways of accomplishing the goals that were
important to her. The fact that along the way she became influential at the EEOC
(Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and NOW are but additional examples of
how extraordinary this woman is. On top of all her professional endeavors was
her devotion to her daughter. She understood and appreciated what a gift her
child was and how important it was for her to be involved in guiding that life.
"Eat first--you don't know what they'll give you" were the words Sonia's mom
said to her before Sonia went off to a function where food was to be served.
Although her mother didn't mean it that way, Sonia instead took it as an
admonition to make sure she became self-sufficient and not dependent on what
other people might give her.
I urge everyone to read this book and to share in the memories of Sonia Pressman
Fuentes. You might be surprised at how much of yourself you will find in those