In Judaism, “tzedakah” is the obligation to do what is right and just.
Helping others, giving to others, is not voluntary. It is required.
Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Compassion is a verb.”
I am fortunate to have been born in the United States into a Jewish, middle class, hard-working family. And for a decade, I have belonged to a Buddhist meditation group. So my desire to use my abilities and resources to good purpose is strongly grounded. This purpose is reflected in my artwork and, for many years, I have made it my mission to help women, women and trans artists, and more recently, the LGBTQ community.
Knowing women in the arts do not have parity with men—starting in the 1980’s, I began to collect art by outstanding women artists for the purpose of building a collection to donate to a museum—as a way to support other women artists, and so more art by women would be seen and appreciated.
In 2010, after a quarter century of collecting, I gave my entire collection to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. At present, the Art by Women Collection encompasses more than 500 works of art across a broad spectrum of mediums, styles and points of view. My collecting continues.
In 1991, I started the Leeway Foundation to make grants to women artists of the greater Philadelphia area. Today, Leeway is a community-led, grant making foundation that supports women and trans artists and cultural producers working in communities at the intersection of art, culture, and social change.
In 1997, the Bertha Dagan Berman Award in Women’s Health at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School was founded. The award honors my Aunt Bert, who was like a mother to me. The endowment provides for several medical students each year to spend six months in a focused, hands-on experience studying some aspect of general women’s health, and to work on a publication or article generated from the research.
Over the years, I have served on the boards of local arts organizations including the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA), the Print Center and the Poetry Review. Currently, I serve on the art and archives committees of the William Way LGBT Community Center.