Labor Day. In America, this holiday is more often associated with barbeques, sales, and the farewell to summer and white linen than with the contributions of workers. By design, it’s a less overtly political holiday than the workers’ holidays in Europe—the U.S. intentionally picked a day other than the International Workers’ Day of May 1st to avoid any whiff of radicalism.
Last week, I had the privilege of participating in a small, intense, and invigorating conference run by the Samuel Bronfman Foundation in partnership with the Shalom Hartman Institute. Provocatively titled “Why Be Jewish?” this year’s conference focused on the state of pluralism in the Jewish community.
One hundred and ten years ago today, something surprising happened. Jewish immigrant housewives in New York City—concerned and angry about a sharp rise in the price of kosher meat from 12 cents to 18 cents per pound—launched a kosher meat boycott that lasted nearly a month, spread to several other boroughs of New York, sparked violent riots and arrests, and attracted much media attention before ending with the successful lowering of meat prices.
Happy May Day! Originally, May Day was a pagan springtime festival, roots of which survive in the traditions of flower-festooned maypoles and the crowning of the “Queen of the May.” Since the late 19th century, it has also been a workers’ holiday. Though in the US it has been officially replaced (and I would argue, coopted) by Labor Day in September, May Day remains an occasion for social protest of many kinds.
As a historian, I spend a lot of time thinking about stories -- what stories we tell about ourselves and the world, what stories aren't told, how our narratives change depending on context, mood, timing.
There’s been a lot of press about Rabbi Sharon Brous lately, since she became the first woman to crack the top 5 on the Newsweek America’s Top 50 Rabbis list. Of course, this wasn’t the first recognition of Brous for her work building IKAR, a vital and exciting Jewish community in Los Angeles; she’s already been recognized by the Forward, Jewish Women International, the Jewish Community Foundation of LA, and others, who herald her as a leader in reimagining Jewish life for the 21st century.
The news of Adrienne Rich’s death yesterday at age 82 sent me immediately to my bookshelves and an extended swim through the currents of words she has left behind. All writers believe in the power of words—and maybe especially poets, whose words are fewer and so carefully chosen—but for me Rich’s writing particularly and persuasively argued for the ability of words, language, expression to create new realities, to change the world.
Here’s a not-so-secret little secret about me: I’m a major women’s history geek. I can go on about the stories of women’s lives for hours. Want to know about Emma Goldman?
I guess it’s inevitable, when you’re at a book talk by a 1970s radical political activist who was wanted by the FBI, went underground, got arrested, and spent 16 and a half years behind bars, that someone will ask “How do you understand what you did and why?” Susan Rosenberg made an honest attempt to answer a complex question, ending with a shrug and the explanation, “That's a different book.”
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. " Judith Rosenbaum ." (Viewed on January 25, 2015) <http://jwa.org/blog/author/judith-rosenbaum>.