Actress Lena Dunham is paying tribute to her immigrant great-grandmother by urging fans to stand up on International Women's Day (08Mar17).
The Girls star has opened up about Lena Simonoff, who she is named after, in an open letter posted on LinkedIn.com, revealing she traveled from Russia to the U.S. in 1900 in search of a better life, but faced a lot of challenges when she arrived.
"She knew no English and hoped only to pursue life as a Jew in a place that promised to accept her growing family," the actress writes. "After making it for months at sea and then through Ellis Island (immigrant inspection station in New York), Lena and Louis settled in a one room apartment in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, (New York). There, she gave birth to eight children - one born dead - all of whom would go on to enjoy healthy careers, rich family lives and even someday give birth to children whose children would never, ever consider themselves anything but Americans."
Lena often asked her grandfather if she had any of his mother's traits and he would offer the women had similar smiles, but the Girls star now believes Simonoff's strength was a far more important characteristic.
"She survived a stroke," she continues. "She helped her children purchase property. She never, ever spoke of Russia. I understand now that behind whatever sweetness described there must have been a steely, impossible-to-comprehend strength - what else drives a young woman away from everything and everyone she knows, carries her to a new land, allows her to bear the weight of life and death..."
And while Lena is known for her activism now, she admits she wasn't always focused on important issues.
"The teenage me... did not exactly honor my namesake," she adds. "But today I try to. Not just in the small ways, like trying to channel Grandma Lena on that boat and not whine about motion sickness in the back of a Lyft (car ride). But in big ways too, like bearing life's trials and tribulations - physical and emotional - with as much elegance as I can muster. By taking action against silent injustice. By trying my darnedest to feed those I love - if not with my own hands then with love, patience, and compassion..."
"I encourage you to use International Women's Day to consider acts of courage great and small by immigrant women, and to commit to fighting with and for them," she continues. "Start with one concrete action... And sometimes the most powerful thing is organizing an act of creative protest. But maybe it just means asking about your great-grandmother."