An Interview with Judith Wouk – Judith talks about On the Beach and her upcoming 70th birthday
By Marijke Vander Klok
Judith Wouk’s first engagement with peace activism occurred in 1959 when she was fourteen years old. Outside a movie theatre showing On the Beach, she stood with a group of people and handed out pamphlets explaining the dangers of nuclear power.
Although On the Beach is a work of fiction, the film’s depiction of radioactive waste infecting the atmosphere and rendering the earth unlivable for humans is a real concern. It was not something people thought about then… or now, for that matter. But the fact is, nuclear power is still a technology that is being tested and pushed to new limits, to the consistent detriment of our environment.
“I still remember standing there and talking to people about nuclear power,” Judith told me over the phone from her home in Ottawa. That first participation in peace activism and demonstration marked the beginning of a lifelong passion for Judith. In fact, the same issue of nuclear power caught her attention again when she moved from the United States to Halifax, Canada in 1970.
Working for a small biweekly newspaper where, as Judith says, she could pretty much do whatever she felt like, she contacted Muriel Duckworth for an interview. Muriel was a prominent person on the scene of nonviolence and social activism, not to mention a founding member of Nova Scotia’s Voice of Women for Peace chapter. She had aided with one of VOW’s most successful campaigns, in which women collected baby teeth for the investigation of strontium-90 levels, a type of radioactive waste byproduct of nuclear testing. The high strontium-90 levels found in these thousands of baby teeth was certainly alarming, but it aided the scientific community and organizations like VOW to pressure the Canadian government to agree with treaties banning further nuclear testing. Judith described this campaign as one of VOW’s really fabulous goals; a real “hook” into the organization.
And back in Halifax, interviewing the enigmatic, bright-white-haired Muriel Duckworth, Judith found herself hooked! Muriel recruited her into the Voice of Women for Peace right then and there, and introduced her to other like-minded organizations that were promoting peace and disarmament, as well as social and environmental justice. Judith shared with me the inspiration she found in meeting Muriel – a representative of a previous generation of activists that had paved the way for women like herself. What she particularly admired in the Voice of Women for Peace was the consistent, collaborative work with women “from the other side.” The work of VOW was the work of women from all over the country and from all different walks of life, getting together and bonding in a way that men can never achieve; ultimately finding a better way.
Judith continued to involve herself in peace activism with VOW and others, helping to organize and attending demonstrations, including the first Hiroshima Day demonstration. She went to law school with the idea of fighting issues within their own rules in order to effectively counter them, and she succeeded in her work for the Human Rights Commission in Ottawa. When she retired, she was working for Citizenship and Immigration Canada on refugee policy. She maintains her concern for nuclear power and testing, most recently having given a presentation to the Ontario government on the long term effects of the burial of nuclear waste.
When I asked her if she had any advice for the new future generation of activists and VOW members, Judith said simply: “Don’t give up.” Although our goals may sometimes appear huge and daunting, we have to act under the belief that universal peace is achievable. And in the pursuit, we must celebrate our successes and not get discouraged – but learn from our failures. – it is important to model the values that you believe in. Build peace into your own life. Spend your money and your time in ways that are in accordance with your values.
Still living in Ottawa and newly a board member of Voice of Women for Peace, Judith is celebrating not only her successes in peace activism, but a great life event – her seventieth birthday! This weekend on Saturday, March 21st, Judith will be hosting a party to welcome the Spring Equinox, the New Moon, the beginning of Nissan (Jewish New Year) and her seventieth year of Life. At this auspicious time, Judith has welcomed guests to honour the occasion with a donation to the Canadian Voice of Women for Peace, or to an organization that you feel reaches out and makes a difference in the world.
If you are interested in joining Judith at her birthday celebration (or even just sending her a greeting!) please RSVP to her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 613-233-0740.