It’s been two weeks since our New York Educator’s Workshop, and I am still amazed at the places we visited and all that was taught by Etta, Ellen, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, and all the participants and presenters in attendance. It occurred to me recently how connected I feel to the labor rights movement, which we discussed as we stood in the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. Of course there’s the Jewish connection: Jews made up a large percentage of the population of advocates and protesters in the fight for labor rights in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in America. Jewish teachings and Yiddish phrases were often incorporated into the battle cries of the rioters. For me personally, there is much more to it than that.
Like all large groups of people, American Jews are complex and irreducible despite some aspects of shared culture. Recently, the Jewish Women’s Archive made an interesting choice to focus a new curriculum on Jewish involvement in the labor and civil rights movements — without cheerleading or focusing solely on women’s involvement — thereby shining a probing light on that very complexity.
Images and scenes etched in the minds of generations of Jewish activists--immigrant workers marching, sitting in, and striking; tear gas filling the air as riot police attack, beat and arrest union protesters; and battles with gangsters to free unions of mob domination. Freedom rides across the South, rabbis and religious leaders arrested in protests, and a generation of Jews--rank and file workers, organizers, and emerging leaders--swept up and inspired by a movement to win economic, racial, and social justice.
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.
December 21st is the winter solstice and this year it was also the date of a lunar eclipse. December 21st, however, is also a big day for two important "stars": Henrietta Szold and Emma Goldman, two very important women in JWA's online Women of Valor exhibit.