1920 – 1973
Hannah Stein wrote “The ultimate need is the need for a meaning of existence. We can only be understood, and thus respected by others, if we are clear as to the purpose of our own existence,” quoted in Six Citizens in Search of a Cause by John R. Coleman (1974). She found her own purpose, and renown, as an advocate for the economically disadvantaged in the United States and Israel. During her fourteen-year tenure as the executive director of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), Stein worked to establish job-training programs for poor women as well as day care for their children.
Born in Berlin, Germany, on May 30, 1920, Stein was nearing adolescence when Hitler began his rise to power. Her father, an attorney, had both the means and the foresight to send her to London to study in 1933. She stayed there until the end of World War II, earning a degree in journalism at St. Andrews College. During this time, she aligned herself with the Zionist movement and was elected president of the Zionist Youth of Great Britain in 1943. Immediately after the war, she worked as a journalist, reporting on war refugees in western Europe and Palestine. Soon after the war, her parents separated. Her father sought refuge in Palestine, while Stein accompanied her mother to the United States. There, she worked as a fund-raiser for the Zionist Organization of America from 1946 to 1958. She then began her professional association with the NCJW.
Working in cooperation with other advocacy organizations, including the National Council of Negro Women and the United Church Women, Stein helped to establish the Women in Community Service (WICS) coalition, mobilizing volunteer-service programs in aid of disadvantaged women. In her role as executive director, she instituted the NCJW’s first public fund-raising campaign, soliciting donations for both the WICS and an NCJW educational research center in Jerusalem. She was also involved in NCJW investigations of American day-care and juvenile-justice facilities.
Hannah Stein died of cancer on September 11, 1973, in New York City. The impact of her life’s work survives her. Friends and comrades remember her as a “creative, dynamic, women’s libber.” As a self-proclaimed feminist and a Jewish professional who looked beyond her own people, Stein’s influence was felt by Jewish and non-Jewish individuals in needy communities throughout the western world.
AJYB 75:657; Coleman, John R. Six Citizens in Search of a Cause: Hannah Stein Memorial Lecture (1974); Groiziani, Bernice. Where There’s A Woman: Seventy-Five Years of History as Lived by the National Council of Jewish Women (1967); Obituary. NYTimes, September 13, 1973, 52:3; Powers, Helen. Interview by author, 1995; WWWIA 6.