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cover of "Jewish Girls Who Dreamed Big"/author Janice Baryshnik

Janice Baryshnik (née Yan) is a former Winnipegger who decided to write a book about 18 Jewish women who managed to overcome various obstacles and become huge successes in their chosen fields.




Titled “Jewish Girls Who Dreamed Big”, Baryshnik writes short chapters about each woman – from two to three pages, each one following a similar style. She begins each chapter asking a question, such as this one about Ruth Mosko Handler, the creator of the Barbie doll: “Did you know that the inspiration for the Barbie doll came from a woman who watched her daughter at play with her cut-out dolls?”
I was put in touch with Baryshnik by one of her best friends, Karyn Lazareck. Janice emailed me some excerpts from her book.
Immediately I was struck by the similarity in Baryshnik ’s writing style to that of Gerry Posner’s. Both writers like to grab the reader’s attention with a sort of “Did you know this about this person?” style. In Posner’s case, it’s always about people he knows; in Baryshnik ’s case, it’s not about women she knew personally, but women who all achieved spectacular success in their chosen fields.

I emailed Baryshnik, asking her to tell me something about herself and what led her to write this book. In her wonderfully entertaining style (which is on full display in the book) she wrote back:
A little history:
My family initially lived on Enniskillen Avenue in West Kildonan and I went to Peretz School on Inkster for elementary education. My Baba lived on Atlantic Avenue near the school so I went there for lunch every day. I have fond memories of this time. After lunch, I used to help my Baba pluck feathers from chickens which she housed in a coop in her backyard. We spoke Yiddish to each other so, with all that practice I have remained fluent. I am still lovingly teased by my friends (including Karyn Lazareck, who was in my Bat Mitzvah class) because I delivered a speech in Yiddish at my Bat Mitzvah at the Rosh Pina. My husband Sheldon, who is a neurologist also speaks Yiddish, so like our parents and grandparents, we can speak to each other in a secret code which our kids have trouble following. By the way, my daughter, who is 43, is also a neurologist while my son, who is 40, is an entrepreneur.

As a youngster, I spent my summers at our cottage on Park Avenue in Winnipeg Beach.
I grew up thinking all lakes were full of algae and cottages everywhere were supposed to be covered in fish flies. I attended and later was a counsellor at the Winnipeg Beach Day Camp. I loved the roller coaster and tilt-a-whirl rides, the boardwalk, the pinball machines, and the muddy water of the lake. While my parents Lil and Cecil Yan were alive, I returned there with my kids almost every summer. A few years ago we rented a cottage in Gimli and even my grandchildren got to experience a summer at the lake and camp at Winnipeg Beach.

My father ran a factory which manufactured coats and ski jackets for men. As a teenager, I worked there as a payroll clerk during summers. I remember all my parents’ relatives and friends coming to the factory on off hours to get a jacket wholesale. That is the way it was back then! My mother was a great balabusta.

By high school we had moved to River heights and I attended Grant Park for grades 10-12. I was in an all girls class. The objective of this was to determine if girls would perform better in math and science in this type of environment. Interesting concept for the early 1960s!

I did my undergraduate studies at the University of Manitoba with a major in English and a minor in Psychology. I made aliyah to Toronto after that and achieved a Master of Education and then a Doctorate in Applied Psychology, both from the University of Toronto. For 30 years, I was a Coordinator of Psychological Services for a large metropolitan Toronto school board.
During this time, I also served on the Board of Directors and when this term was up, the Advisory Board of JVS Toronto (Jewish Vocational Services, now Jobs Vision Success).

I am fortunate to have five grandchildren. Katie, the oldest and only granddaughter, and Jacob from my daughter Devra, and Benjamin, Joshua, and Saul from my son Jeff.

About this time last year, my granddaughter Katie started to prepare for her Bat Mitzvah and I started to think about what special and memorable gift I could give her. I happened to be in a local bookstore where there was a prominent display of books for young girls about successful women–women in sports, women in science, women in the arts, rebel women and even one called “Bygone Badass Broads”. Books about exceptional women seemed to be a popular new genre for young girls. I leafed through the tables of content and immediately recognized a glaring omission: There were very few, and in some cases, no Jewish women profiled in these books. I reasoned that a book about Jewish women would be a legacy gift, not just for my granddaughter but for all Jewish children. The book became my passion project.
I wanted to profile women who were trailblazers but who were not the expected candidates (Anne Frank, Golda Meir). I also wanted the book to reflect as many options as possible open to girls-business, the rabbinate, medicine, literature, the arts, science, etc. My goal was to educate, inspire and hopefully entertain.

After I had read a few chapter of the book, I began to notice several themes developing in “Jews Girls Who Dreamed Big”. Aside from the challenges most of the women faced over their gender – especially if their background was in science, while not all the women profiled in this book endured the horrors of the Holocaust, many of them did.
Further, since every woman profiled lived and came of age in the 20th century, even if not every one of them suffered through the Holocaust, for many others World War II proved to be a turning point in their lives. The fact was that, as a result of the demand for innovative and creative minds brought about by that war, many talented women were given the opportunity to reveal talents that had hitherto either been kept hidden or had not been allowed to fully flourish until the war.

It’s quite an eclectic group Janice Baryshnik has chosen to profile. While some of the names are very well known, including Helena Rubinstein, Esther “Eppie” Lederer (Ann Landers), Hedy Lamarr, Edith Head, and Henrietta Szold, other names may not be quite as familiar, but when you read about their achievements, you are bound to realize what significant contributions they made to the betterment of the world.
Several of the women in this book went on to receive Nobel Prizes for their achievements. Among these women, for instance, was Gertrude Elion, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1998 (along with her colleague, Dr. George Hitchings).
Here is how Janice Baryshnik describes Elion’s contributions to the development of a whole host of weapons against various diseases: “She and Dr. Hitchings together with Sir Thomas Black discovered the principles of drug treatment effective against a whole host of diseases including cancer, malaria, herpes virus, and organ transplant rejection. The Nobel Prize committee, in making their decision, announced that any one of these discoveries would have been worthy of the Nobel. Later on, Trudy’s team was even responsible for the pioneering treatment of Acquired Immune Deficiency (AIDS).”

Since each woman profiled in “Jews Girls Who Dreamed Big” receives only two to three pages of attention, one would hope that readers might want to do further reading on any one of the women whose story is told. If this book serves as a launching pad to lengthier study of any one of the 18 women whose contributions are mentioned in relatively short detail, then it will have served an even more vital purpose.
As it is, “Jews Girls Who Dreamed Big” should certainly prove inspirational – not just for young girls, but for boys as well, should they wonder about the worthiness of pursuing your dreams despite having to endure many obstacles during that pursuit.

One more note: At the present time, according to Janice, “Jews Girls Who Dreamed Big” is available only at Chapters Indigo and on Amazon.

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