"Only in America" poll results
The results are in from the National Museum of American Jewish History's poll to select the 18 individuals to be featured in their "Only in America" Hall of Fame. The results are not too surprising. Of the 18, six are women, and their names are familiar to most: Henrietta Szold, Golda Meir, Barbra Streisand, Emma Lazarus, Estee Lauder, and Rose Schneiderman. If you've read this blog before, you've probably heard of Rose Schneiderman, as she's one of our favorites here at the Jewish Women's Archive, but of the six women I would guess she has the least amount of name recognition, so I'm pleased that she made it into the final 18.
Six of 18 isn't exactly equitable, but it's respectable, especially given that the original list of 218 candidates only included about 40 women, and especially for this kind of poll, which relies heavily on name recognition and therefore tends to skew toward the most famous. The museum explains that the results combine the voting results (top person in each category) with the efforts of historians and curators to create a balanced and reasonably representative group.
From our perspective here at JWA, this gallery represents both the progress we've made and the work yet to be done. When I was growing up in the 1980s, my education at a Solomon Schechter Day School in New Jersey included exactly two (non-Biblical) Jewish women: Golda Meir and Emma Lazarus -- Emma only making it onto the list because of our major project on the Statue of Liberty to coincide with its renovation in 1986. (Luckily, I was raised by a Jewish feminist historian, so I learned about many more Jewish women at the dinner table.) When Gail Reimer was founding JWA in the mid-1990s and often speaking publicly about its mission, she would ask people to name three Jewish women. Henrietta Szold, Golda Meir, and .... That was usually as far as people got. If they could name another, it was usually Barbra Streisand.
So the "Only in America" gallery will help bring the names of a few more Jewish women to greater public recognition. As Michael Rosenzweig, the Museum's president and CEO explains, the gallery "will celebrate the lives and achievements of 18 individuals who exemplify a central theme of the Museum: that a hallmark of the American experience has been an unparalleled opportunity to aspire, achieve, and possibly change the world." What it won't do is explore the flip side of that opportunity -- the obstacles to aspiration and achievement that have kept many extraordinary Jewish women and men off this poll and lost to our collective consciousness.