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A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Amy Kuo Hammerman: A tenacious advocate for women works to repair the world

Bill Motchan
Amy Kuo Hammerman

As an idealistic teenager, Amy Kuo Hammerman thought about a career as a lobbyist after seeing the movie “The American President.” Annette Bening played a glamorous lobbyist, Sydney Ellen Wade, who was also the love interest of Michael Douglas, the fictional President Andrew Shepherd.

“I thought, ‘I could be that character someday!’” Hammerman said. “I had visions of being a professional advocate primarily for the causes that I thought were important to me. As a young person, those was primarily issues regarding women’s health and justice. Then, I met actual human beings who do that job. And I thought, ‘I’m not 100% sure that’s what I want to do professionally, but I still care about doing the advocacy.’ ”

Thus began Hammerman’s volunteer life as a tenacious advocate for women, children, families and marginalized communities. A self-described introvert, she speaks fervently and with conviction about issues she sees as important. Hammerman practiced law for a number of years so public speaking was one of her strengths.

“As an attorney, your job is to advocate zealously for your clients,” she said. “I felt more fulfilled and also effective in advocating for specific people.”

Earlier in 2023, Hammerman lobbied fiercely and testified against two bills in the Missouri legislature on behalf of the National Council of Jewish Women St. Louis. As the organization’s state policy advocate, she fought the progress of one bill that outlawed critical race theory and another that limited the rights of trans people.

Hammerman has served on the board of NCJWSTL and on a number of committees for NCJW national. She is a board member of Congregation Shaare Emeth and has volunteered in various capacities for the Jewish Community Relations Council, Saul Mirowitz Day School and the Missouri Asian-American Bar Association.

Jennifer Bernstein, NCJW St. Louis’ advocacy manager, calls Hammerman a tireless advocate.

“She will get up at 4:30 a.m. to go to Jefferson City to testify,” Bernstein said. “She’s humble, and I don’t think she will admit to how much of a difference she’s made in the lives of people that she’s fighting for. Her dedication, especially to LGBTQ youth, has been just astonishing and really heartwarming to see.”

From left, Amy Kuo Hammerman, Marlene Hammerman, Joe Pereles and Calvino Hammerman take part in the 2023 Pride Parade downtown.

Marilyn Ratkin, a volunteer and former Jewish Light Unsung Hero, said Hammerman is passionate, driven and intelligent.

“The combination of intellect and passion are unbeatable,” said Ratkin, who first met Hammerman through NCJW and Shaare Emeth, where both are members. “I admired her because of the things she did, but what I didn’t know was the things she did for other organizations and one of the things she did was being a lawyer, she was on the justice at the center committee, a group that worked on the Venable Park Coalition. She sees a wrong and wants to make it right.”

Hammerman graduated from Parkway Central High School, where she met her future husband. She majored in political science at Stanford University. She then earned a law degree from the University of California College of the Law in the Bay Area, as did husband Zach. The Hammermans were married during their first year of law school. They considered staying in California, but close ties to family brought them back to St. Louis in 2003.

The origins of Hammerman’s work with advocacy goes back to her teenage years. In 1992, she volunteered to knock on doors for the Clinton-Gore campaign. She is a self-described “policy wonk nerd” with a natural curiosity about politics. She also feels strongly about fixing a broken world.

Amy Kuo Hammerman speaks at a Rabbinical Assembly Women’s Reproductive Rights Event in 2022.

“I became Jewish as a young adult, and the notion of tikkun olam and having a responsibility as a human being to repair harm is something that really resonated with me as a young person, and it continues to,” she said. “Regardless of whether there is success or not, I feel like doing the work is part of my responsibility as a human being. I was also involved with Amnesty International because I feel strongly about the death penalty and about political prisoners around the world and how having different beliefs than the people in power shouldn’t be a reason why you’re sent to prison.”

In her advocacy work testifying to lawmakers, Hammerman feels she is most effective not by quoting statistics but by telling stories about real people.

“If I’m talking about persecution of trans folks in our state on behalf of NCJW, I come from the viewpoint of a faith-based organization,” she said. “I come in as a Jewish person to say I’m a person of faith and these policies are wrong. I go in as a mom and talk about how one of my son’s best friends is trans and all that kid wants to do is play on the same soccer team as the rest of his friends. I can share that human experience as opposed to just numbers.

“In terms of social justice work in our state, you calibrate your notion of success a little differently than folks might in other places,” she said. “There’s that notion of that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice, and our arc bends slowly, but it does bend. And so every little bit that you’re pushing and pushing feels like something worth doing.”

Hammerman’s influence as an advocate for social change has also rubbed off on her sons. Calvino in particular has been interested in politics since he was very young. Earlier this year, he acted in a very Hammerman way by organizing a walk-out among his fellow students at Ladue Middle School to protest gun violence.

“He really did all the planning,” she said. “I saw information in my email about a proposed national school walkout day, and I texted Calvino some information, and he immediately ran with it. All he asked me to do was help get the word out and find him a bullhorn. Other than that, this was kid run. And I was amazed and proud. He’s always had a very strong sense of justice, and I think that comes from both Zach and me also having a strong sense of doing what’s right even when it’s hard.”

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About the Contributor
Bill Motchan, writer/photographer
Bill worked in corporate communications for AT&T for 28 years. He is a former columnist for St. Louis Magazine. Bill has been a contributing writer for the Jewish Light since 2015 and is a three-time winner of the Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish Journalism. He also is a staff writer for the travel magazine Show-Me Missouri. Bill grew up in University City. He now lives in Olivette with his wife and cat, Hobbes. He is an avid golfer and a fan of live music. He has attended the New Orleans Jazzfest 10 times and he has seen Jimmy Buffett in concert more t han 30 times between 1985 and 2023.