Nearly 20 years ago I was living on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, a haven for observant Conservative Jews. I had my choice of multiple minyanim to attend; even the crowded weekend city streets had an air of the Sabbath, and kosher food abounded.
There were so many Conservative and egalitarian options that I rarely ventured into the neighborhood’s Orthodox community, and I certainly never attended an Orthodox synagogue.
On August 18, 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting any citizen to be denied the right to vote based on sex was ratified. Today, 91 years later, we take a look back at the Jewish women who dedicated their lives to women's suffrage in America and around the world. This is by no means a comprehensive list; so many Jewish women fought for suffrage, this is merely a sample of the stories we know.
Last week, victories by several women in primaries led the media machine to suggest that 2010 is the "Year of the Women." NPR's Ken Rudin describes the phrase as "a hackneyed phrase that gets regurgitated at convenient times, and by now it often results in a rolling of the eyes" and reminds us that 1984 and 1992 were also dubbed "Year of the Women." In 1984, all 9 of the women candidates lost to male candidates.
One hundred years ago, the German socialist Clara Zetkin originated International Women's Day to coordinate women's demands around the world. Zetkin, who proposed this new holiday at the 1910 second International Conference of Working Women, was inspired by the power and organization of women labor activists -- many of whom were Jewish -- who had provoked sweeping changes in the garment industry in the 1909 Uprising of the 20,000. In March 1911, the first International Women's Day brought out more than 1 million women and men to demonstrate for women's rights to work, vote, and serve in public office.
At this advent of the secular New Year, it is appropriate for Jews to reflect on their duty to Tikkun Olam to “repair the world.” It is apparent that among our greatest tasks is to repair our broken health care system in the U.S. today.
I was not surprised by the recent headline in the Forward stating “Jewish women lag behind men in promotion and pay.” Nu? What else is new? The article reports that women make up about 75% of Jewish organizations, but only hold 14.3% of the top positions, and they only earn 61 cents for every dollar earned by a man. It is unfortunate but reasonable to expect a gendered pay gap to exist in the Jewish, non-profit community since one exists consistently throughout the nation. However, I was shocked to learn that women working in Jewish non-profits experience a pay gap wider than the national average! According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women in full-time positions earn an average of 77 cents to every dollar earned by a man, nationwide -- 16 cents more than the average for women in Jewish organizations.
We are in big trouble. When I started reading about the healthcare reform battle, I was angry. Now that the Senate panel has rejected the public option, and Obama has declined to stand up for reproductive rights, I am getting scared. The more I read, the more I started to realize that there is a larger problem underlying this debate. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way people think about women's bodies and the healthcare they require. While reproductive healthcare is absolutely critical to the general health of every woman, every family and every community, it is considered separately, almost as if it were elective, in the greater discussion of healthcare reform.