Primary Sources & Lesson Plans
When she gave this Yom Kippur sermon in Spokane, Washington, in 1890, Ray Frank became the first Jewish woman to preach formally from a pulpit in the United States. The late 19th century was a time of upheaval and flux throughout America, and this turmoil was often beneficial to both Jews and women. The American West of the 1890s, in particular, lacked the rigid social definitions and expectations that limited opportunities for Jews in the more-established communities of the East. In the newly forming Western towns, which were made up of many groups of newcomers, Jews had more access to positions of civic leadership. The Jewish communities themselves were small and of recent origin, making them more open to innovations.
Middle-class women throughout the nation were also extending their influence into the public arena. Portraying their new activities as simply an outgrowth of their traditional roles as domestic caregivers, they became involved in a wide range of social, philanthropic, and religious work in the public sphere. Mirroring trends in the general population, Jewish women, too, took on increasing public roles both religious and secular within the Jewish community. These many changes created an environment receptive to Franks path-breaking words in Spokane, Washington, in 1890. She encouraged her listeners to put aside their differences and pursue Klal Israel, a united Jewish community.
For more information on this sermon or Ray Frank, go to JWAs Women of Valor exhibit.
1. On what topic did Spokanes Jewish community request that Ray Frank speak? Why do you think they asked her to address this issue?
2. What observations does Frank make about the Jewish community of Spokane?
3. According to Frank, how have the Jews of that city been distracted from their true purpose? from an understanding of Gods will? from fulfilling their obligations to their children?
4. How does Frank appeal to the emotions of her listeners?
5. How does Franks gender affect both the content and delivery of her message?
6. Pretend you were in the audience. What would have been your response to this sermon?
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