Editor-in-chief and CEO of Moment Magazine Nadine Epstein joins Zibby to discuss her new book, RBG’s Brave & Brilliant Women, and the special relationship she had with the late Supreme Court justice. The two talk about how Nadine and Justice Ginsburg crafted a list of over 150 inspiring women which was whittled down to the 33 present in the book, why it was important to Justice Ginsburg that the book be targeted to all readers, and how Justice Ginsburg shaped Nadine’s personal life. Nadine also shares the story of why she ultimately bought Moment Magazine and tells Zibby about the various projects she’s working on.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Nadine. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss RBG’s Brave & Brilliant Women: 33 Jewish Women to Inspire Everyone.

Nadine Epstein: Hello. Great to see you.

Zibby: I was looking for myself, but I didn’t see her in here. I don’t know, you’re going to have to make an addendum. Just kidding. I loved this book. I love these profiles. Some of these women I really was not that familiar with before, I should say. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that, but I will just take one for the team by saying so. I loved learning about them and all this history. What inspired you? Why do this book? How did this come about?

Nadine: First of all, you shouldn’t be embarrassed by not knowing some of the women because I didn’t know all the women either, just as Justice Ginsburg didn’t know all the women either. I’ll tell you the story. It’s a really eclectic group of women. Basically, I got to know Justice Ginsburg over maybe the last ten years of her life. I’m the editor-in-chief of Moment Magazine. I discovered she was a devoted reader of Moment. I interviewed her. I interviewed her a few more times. I helped her with a few philanthropic projects, which is something I don’t normally do for anyone. She asked me, and I couldn’t say no. In 2019, we honored her, September 18th, 2019, exactly, as it turns out, a year before she died. We honored her in New York. We gave her this incredible collar which we had designed for her called the Tzedek collar, which was the justice collar. It was a beautiful lace collar that we commissioned. It said “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” on it. Justice, justice. She loved it so much. She announced she was going to wear it her first day of the term, which was a few weeks later. She asked me to bring it to her. She didn’t want to carry all the stuff back to DC, so she asked me to bring it to her in her chambers. I’d been to her chambers many times. By the way, they were absolutely amazing. It was like being in an art museum with a supreme court judge as the curator. She just had exquisite taste. It was beautiful.

I’m sitting there on her white couch. She starts talking about the Jewish women who inspired her life. They were Henrietta Szold and Emma Lazarus and Lillian Wald and really amazing women. Then I told her about how when I was in fourth and fifth grade, I was a really nerdy kid. I read every single biography in my little public-school library, all 350 of them. Ten of them were about women. They were the standards: Molly Pitcher, Clara Barton, Amelia Earhart, Louisa May Alcott, Madame Curie. They were all amazing women, but there just weren’t enough of them. We had this conversation. Then in the middle of this conversation, I got really excited. I publish books. I publish a magazine. I’m a writer. I said, “You know, we should write a book.” I have to say that. I say this a lot. I get excited. Justice Ginsburg just sat there right in front of me. She said, “Yes.” There we were. We were on the journey to write a book. We had to figure out what it was.

Zibby: Wow. That’s cool. I say that to people a lot too. People don’t usually say, yes, let’s do it. Let’s go. That’s a great answer; especially, that’s a big get.

Nadine: It was just one of those things that happened. It wasn’t something that I had a plan for this or anything. It was just in the conversation. I had no idea at the time, but she said yes because it was a really important topic to her. This was a really important part of her life journey. She really cared about the stories of women. She wanted these women to be part of her legacy. She started throwing out names of women; first of all, women in the Haggadah. I was like, “Women in the Haggadah?” She was like, “We have to have Miriam. We have to have Miriam’s mom. We have to have the midwives. We have to have Pharaoh’s daughter.” I said, “Pharaoh’s daughter? Is she even Jewish?” “It doesn’t matter if she’s Jewish. She’s one of the women who ensured the survival of the Jewish people. She needs to be in the book.” As it turns out, I later learned from Midrash that she is. She was considered Jewish. She married a Jew from the Levi tribe. She left Egypt with the Israelites, so she was as Jewish as anyone. There were so many women that she started mentioning. Then we came up with a long list of women. Then she had to go back to work because she was a supreme court justice. She was very busy. I already have five jobs, running Moment and all my other projects. I had to go back to work. I went home and did a lot of research and came up with about a hundred and fifty names of women, including the ones she had mentioned. Then she kept sending me more names and more names and more names.

It’s a really eclectic group of women that are in the book because we ended up really choosing the women that meant the most to her and her life. Plus, I added some women to sort of round it out. Justice Ginsburg would’ve mostly chosen writers, lawyers, and singers and musicians and then the women from the Bible. I felt like we needed to have a greater diversity. I ended up learning about her women. Some of them, I had never heard of. She ended up learning about the women that I chose, some of whom she had never heard of. It became a very eclectic group. There’s still a list of — I only got to thirty-three women. Plus, I did a whole chapter on her after she died. There’s many, many more women we never really were able to get to. Of course, when she died, also, I realized so few people know — they don’t really know about Justice Ginsburg. They know she’s notorious. They knew she’s famous. They know she was a supreme court judge. They don’t really know why she’s famous. The story of the whole book is kind of the evolution of women’s rights. If you read these stories of these women, they tell the story of the evolution of women’s rights in the Jewish world, but they tell the story of the evolution of women’s rights in the world.

Zibby: It’s amazing, the chronology of it. I love in the beginning when Ruth Bader Ginsburg says, “Once you choose your role models — it’s good to have many — I hope you set your mind to do great things and stay steady on your course. The world needs more brave and inspirational people, and you can be one of them.” It’s like, okay, go forth and conquer. Then we have all these interesting women. I loved learning about Marty Ginsburg more. I didn’t even know that much about him. Fanny Mendelssohn, the talented pianist, I didn’t even know that he had a sister who really composed a lot of the music. I didn’t know that. Did you know that?

Nadine: And who may have been more than talented than he was, who never was allowed to publish or perform while her dad was alive.

Zibby: It’s so not fair.

Nadine: That was one that really meant a lot to Justice Ginsburg. She felt that Fanny Mendelssohn’s life had just been a complete injustice. We had to address that, so Fanny Mendelssohn is in the book.

Zibby: Also, Gertrude Berg and how it ended up becoming The Goldbergs, essentially, the first sitcom about a Jewish family. Very funny.

Nadine: She’s not just a writer and an actor. She is one of the first women to build her own media empire. She owned the rights of her company. The radio show and then the TV show and then the Broadway play and all the other spin-offs, it was something that she owned the rights of. This was something that Justice Ginsberg, when she was a little girl, was listening on the radio with her family to The Goldbergs. She already knew that Gertrude Berg was a woman who didn’t — at that time, women did not go out and earn a living because they might embarrass their husbands. That was so that husbands couldn’t support them as they should. Just as a young kid, Ruth Bader Ginsburg knew that that was nonsense. She knew that. She learned that from listening to Gertrude Berg. She learned a lot from her mom too. She had an amazing mom.

Zibby: How did you learn? Let’s shift, if you don’t mind, a little more to hear, I’m so interested in all the things that you do also aside from this wonderful book. I’m delighted to have more Jewish women to use as role models, especially for my two Jewish daughters and all of that. Elie Wiesel started Moment Magazine. How did you get involved? You started it with him? It still is in existence. Now you have the print version. You have the digital version, every commentary on everything from Jewish world affairs to arts and culture to everything. It’s really impressive. By the way, I subscribed as I was researching to the print and the digital. I’ve already been perusing the articles and everything.

Nadine: Yay, good. First of all, the book, by the way, is not just for girls. It’s for boys too.

Zibby: I shouldn’t have said that. You’re right.

Nadine: No, it’s a really great point. Initially when we started it, Justice Ginsburg was thinking about girls. Then I had a number of young people read it. By the way, the book, it’s from 10 to 120. It’s not written down. It’s really an intergenerational book, a book meant to spark conversation and spark thinking for all ages. I had a twelve-year-old boy, at the time, read it. He said, “These are amazing people.” This was a first draft. “Why isn’t the book written for me?” I went to Justice Ginsburg, and we discussed it. It’s for everyone because role models are about traits. This is a book about role models. You want to have a variety of role models. It’s not because you want to worship somebody or you want to put somebody up on a pedestal. It’s because you want to identify traits in them that you might want to incorporate into yourself. Those traits that are in these women are traits that boys, girls, all genders can incorporate into themselves. That’s really an important part of emotional intelligence building. This is for everyone. It’s not something that kids just do. It’s something that we as grown-ups and as parents need to be continually learning and adding traits to ourselves to help us to begin to grow into that person we were always meant to be. We’re on that journey to becoming.

Zibby: I didn’t mean to pigeonhole the book. I’m sorry for saying .

Nadine: No, it’s okay.

Zibby: I was excited to share it with my girls. I had the same thing, by the way, with Princess Charming that just came out. They had all the copy. It was like, “The best book for girls to inspire them to be young feminists.” I was like, why is this just for girls? Anybody should want to try harder. That’s the message of the book. I totally get it.

Nadine: Absolutely. Elie Wiesel and Leonard Fein actually cofounded Moment in 1975 in Boston. I was just a kid. Never even heard of it. Many, many years later, I had been a journalist, written some books, and done all sorts of different things. I had just finished a book. I was a single mom. I decided that I should get a job and get back out in the world. I just randomly got hired at Moment Magazine, which happened to be six blocks from my house. I thought, what a great mommy job. It was for a little while. The magazine was not at one of its apex high periods. It was in the process of trying to be sold. There was a deal made for it. The deal fell through. Without knowing anything about actually running a business besides having sold lots of Girl Scout cookies and putting on carnivals when I was a kid, I knocked the door and just said, “I’ll take it over.” I had to raise the money and put it together to buy the magazine. I did. I put it in a nonprofit. It’s just incredibly amazing to me that here we are eighteen years later. The magazine is thriving in so many ways. We have this incredible virtual events program. It’s amazing quality. It’s like we are the 92nd Street Y. We are the Streicker Center. We have incredible programming one to two, three times a week at Great programming with huge audiences. We have the print magazine. We have a beautiful website, which has won Best Website several years in a row. We have newsletters that are top-notch. We have a fiction contest. We just have so many ways — the Daniel Pearl Investigative Journalism Initiative where we give grants to write about stories about prejudice. It’s such an alive project, so much creativity coming out of our little, tiny basement office in Washington, DC.

Zibby: I like the cartooning captioning contest. I want to try my hand at that. That looks like fun.

Nadine: It’s a great contest. Bob Mankoff from The New Yorker started it for us years ago. We also have a book we did with Bob with Jewish cartoons.

Zibby: I saw that. I was about to buy that. I have to go back to my cart.

Nadine: It’s a little bit easier to win than The New Yorker contest. It’s a great contest. That’s a little bit about the story of Moment. Somewhere in there, I guess around 2012, ’13, ’14 is when Justice Ginsburg came into my life here at Moment. We’re based in DC, so there’s a DC world here.

Zibby: I read the article you wrote about the two Haitian girls — I think they were from Haiti — and middle-school education and how you almost got to bring their letter to Elie Wiesel. Then he fell ill and passed away before you could. All that you learned about the movement to teach the Holocaust in public schools, I didn’t know about that. I found that fascinating.

Nadine: We have an amazing story in not this current issue, but the last issue called The State of Holocaust Education in America. It’s a really wonderful look back. Look at what’s happening today. It gives you the context. One of the things we do at Moment, we try to give you the context, the meaning, the history that goes along with this so we’re not just all floating around in this confused information sphere.

Zibby: That’s Moment. Also, you have Moment Books. Tell me about the books that you’re producing.

Nadine: We actually produced a number of books over the years. In the last few years, we did a whole book on Elie Wiesel. It’s called An Extraordinary Life and Legacy. It’s really a wonderful companion to the book Night. It really gives you his full picture of his life with a lot of his wonderful speeches in it and a visual timeline of his life and what turns out to be so many gorgeous photos of him. It’s a beautiful book, which I edited. Then Have I Got a Cartoon for You!: The Moment Magazine Book of Jewish Cartoons, which Roz Chast wrote a forward to. Bob Mankoff, he edited it. A wonderful book, Can Robots Be Jewish? And Other Pressing Questions of Modern Life, edited by our brilliant opinion editor and books editor, Amy E. Schwartz. It’s a really funny and smart book. In the magazine, we have this section, Ask the Rabbis, where we ask really relevant, meaningful questions to a whole spectrum of rabbis of all different kinds of denominations, beyond denominations. It’s a great book. We have Theodore Bikel’s The City of Light, which is a whole story that — Theodore Bikel, who is a famous singer, a folk singer, and an actor — that’s another wonderful book. We have other projects in the works. That’s one of the things that we do.

Zibby: In your spare time, you’re going to revive Asbury Park, right? I read your piece in the Bruce Springsteen compilation.

Nadine: Actually, Asbury Park is being revived all without me. That was a piece I did a long time ago that was in an anthology, The Springsteen Reader that Penguin did. I have a lot of other projects that I’ve done.

Zibby: Tell me.

Nadine: I’m also an artist. I just did an art show that just closed here. It was called Lovely Inarticulate Woman Goes into the World. It was a gallery here in Georgetown. I’m working a lot — I’ve been really inspired by this book with Justice Ginsburg by talking to people. The real message of this book is that, really, the road to gender equity — the real message is that we’re not there. We are so far from where we need to be. We’re really not talking about a long-term strategy. Justice Ginsburg was a long-term legal strategist. What we’re doing right now is we’re running around and putting fires out. We really need to come up with a plan for how we can create the cultural change necessary to not only just bring more women into power, but to change the tone of politics, but to actually then be able to enshrine gender equity into the constitution, whether it is an ERA or an XQY or a ZYH. We have to come up with a long-term plan for that. This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. Also, the book is very much about women finding their voices, which is something that you and I have in common. Finding my voice has been a long journey. Justice Ginsburg became one of my role models and helped me, taught me a few very, very important life lessons that have really changed my life.

Zibby: What’s one of the most important?

Nadine: Probably, one of the most important ones was that — many, many years ago, I was sitting in her chambers. For some reason, I said, “You know, I like being a journalist and a writer because I can be behind the scenes. I don’t really have to go out there in front of people and talk.” She said, “Get over it.” Just like that. She said, “Get over it.” She said, “If you don’t speak your mind, no one will speak it for you.” That really, really, really just touched me. I had never really thought about it in those terms before. She was a very, by nature, reticent person who had taught herself to be out in the world. I was a writer, but I wasn’t somebody who was out there saying what I really thought. I didn’t really like to get up on stage and do that. I actually really had to work on myself. I love to sing, but I always sang in private. I went and I started singing and taking singing classes and singing. I took public speaking. I took musical theater. I took improv classes. I took a stand-up class at the DC Improv. I did a DC Improv show. I just forced myself to get out there in the world. It really transformed myself. Because of Justice Ginsburg, who could stand up and be one of — when she went to Harvard her first year of law school, she was one of seven women, I think it was, maybe nine women, in this huge class of men. One of the men in her class was Anthony Lewis, who was already a reporter, who had already won the Pulitzer Prize, already worked for The New York Times. He was there on some kind of fellowship. He was so smart. She found him so intimidating that she found it really difficult to speak in class. She went home. She did her homework. She forced herself to. If she could do that, then I can do that too. It was a really important lesson that I got from her.

Zibby: I love that. Who knew that Ruth Bader Ginsburg would inspire you to do stand-up and improv? That’s crazy. You never know where things are going to take you.

Nadine: You don’t. Then the other thing that’s really important is that — I thought I had pretty high standards. Another conversation I had with her once, I think I said something — in retrospect, I don’t know why I said this. “It would be really wonderful if we get to the place where half the members of the supreme court are women.” Then she looked at me. She said this before to other people. “Why half? We should have nine. We’ve had nine men for centuries, and no one’s made a fuss about that.” I went, wow, she’s so right. It’s so important, the tone. Bringing women into the supreme court, bringing more women or a majority of women or all women into the senate and to the house of representatives and to many leadership positions is really incredibly important. We have to change the tone of politics. We have to change this, what I want to say, very old-fashioned masculine archetype of who can be the most dominated, being very dismissive, not just of women, but of each other. There’s a kind of tone that women bring that I think is really important now. It’s not all women. I know that. There are many men who have it as well, and more and more men coming up in the world, like our sons, who have it.

It’s not just about gender. It’s just not about having more women in politics. It’s about having more men and women, people of all genders who have the traits that women do bring to politics, those traditional traits that women have brought to politics. It’s really important for us to think in terms of traits as opposed to gender. We have to create change. That’s one of the really important messages in this book. It’s why there’s a call to action at the end. It’s not changed by just arguing with people. When was the last time you actually had an argument with somebody and you convinced them that they were wrong and you were right — actually, even if you did — that last for more than ten minutes, really? It just doesn’t happen in our highly polarized society. We have to come up with different ways to have discourse. These are some of the things that this book and my conversations with her have led me to think about and become much more involved about.

Zibby: I love that. That’s great. I know we’re almost out of time, but I just wondered what advice you have for aspiring authors.

Nadine: Of all ages?

Zibby: Of all ages. You pick. Any and all.

Nadine: First of all, just do it. You just have to do it. You just have to sit down and write something. It’s often going to be awful the first time you write it. Every once in a while, you might write something the first time that’s worthwhile. In that awfulness will be one idea or one sentence or a few ideas that you can build into something that’s worthwhile and meaningful and beautiful to you that you can share. You just have to plunge right into writing and be willing to do all the — what is editing? What is writing, really? It’s thinking, willing to think yourself through to get to something that you feel is your voice and you’re proud of. It’s a very hard process. I’m still in the process of doing this. It’s over and over and over again. You plunge into new topics over and over and over again. Somewhere in there, you find that core of what you really want to say and what’s important and that is worthwhile to say. You have to spend that time to find it. I don’t know if that’s helpful. That’s just for me.

Zibby: I think it’s helpful. Last question, I promise. What’s your number-one secret to getting all the things done that you do and managing all the stuff? What do you think enables you to do it the best? What are some of the things?

Nadine: There’s some days where I think I’m just completely insane. I think what’s happened is that I’ve just learned to trust the voice in me, my own voice. There’s a voice in me which says, this is the time to do this right now, this is the time to do this right now, and not listen, necessarily, always to what other people say because in reality in terms of time management it may not be. I’m somebody who has so many projects. Also, there are times where one particular project speaks to you. This is what I have to do. This is the next step. This is what I have to say here. The next day, another project may come up. I have a wonderful staff. This drives people crazy. I totally admire people who can just focus on one thing for months and months and months and years and years and years. I’m someone who has — my brain just works differently. It’s taken me years to accept that. I wish it was different, in a way, but creative people have their own way of being. On some level, we have to respect that. You have to respect that in yourself. Over the years, of course, I have gotten much better at time management.

Zibby: You’re obviously doing a good job.

Nadine: I don’t know. How do you do it? How do you do all the things you do?

Zibby: I don’t know. I haven’t articulated it the way you just did, but I like that, that voice in your head. It’s true. I’m like, okay, I know I shouldn’t be working on my website right now. No, I really need to because it’s got to be right today, but shouldn’t I be doing — I think it’s just hyperawareness of what I’m doing at all times. I am doing this for this time. Then I have to quickly move on. Then I’m going to do that. Then I have to make sure I get this in. Then keeping lists always.

Nadine: Oh, I’m an obsessive list-keeper. I have so many lists. I’ve always been that way. In fact, I feel like once you have so many things going and you’re juggling all these balls, they all come together. There’s a synergy. There’s themes that run through all of them. They’re all different expressions of these same themes. In a way, you’re throwing these all up into the air. You’re sort of managing to keep them all going. Occasionally, you drop them all because there are just days when you got to drop all the balls. Then the next day, somehow, the energy’s back. They’re back up there. They’re working. It’s kind of a magic you have to respect.

Zibby: I love that. Thank you. That was personally helpful and helpful in general. Thank you for talking about your amazing book, not just for girls, not just for kids, for anybody, which is a very inspiring collection of lesser-known and more widely known Jewish women rockstars, essentially. Thank you. Thank you for coming on.

Nadine: It was wonderful. Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: My pleasure.



Purchase your copy on Amazon and Bookshop!

Check out the merch on our new Bonfire shop here.

Subscribe to Zibby’s weekly newsletter here.

You can also listen to this episode on:

Apple Podcasts