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Labor

Sandra Feldman

For Sandra Feldman, president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers from 1986 to 1998, and president of the national American Federation of Teachers from 1997 to 2004, these were fighting words.

Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Women's Clubs

The Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Women’s Clubs (ELF), a progressive women’s group, grew out of the Emma Lazarus Division, founded in 1944 by the Women’s Division of the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order of the International Workers Order (IWO). Formed to provide relief to wartime victims, but especially to combat antisemitism and racism and to nurture positive Jewish identification through a broad program of Jewish education and women’s rights, the Emma Lazarus Division attracted a membership of leftist, largely Yiddish-speaking women, many of the immigrant generation. Among its founders was Clara Lemlich Shavelson, the young woman who had called for the general strike of garment workers that sparked the 1909 Uprising Of The 20,000. Shavelson and other organizers believed that, because of the Holocaust, thousands of women had become “newly aware of themselves as Jewish women,” but they urgently needed “history, self-knowledge as Jews, and cultural products” that could sustain the fight against fascism. In its early years, the division offered fellowships for fiction and history on Jewish themes. It also supported a home for French war orphans and a day nursery in Israel, and championed a broad range of women’s issues.

Eastern European Immigrants in the United States

Of all Jewish immigrants to the United States from 1886 to 1914, forty-four percent were women, far more than for other immigrants groups arriving during the heyday of mass immigration. The more than two million Jews from the Russian Empire, Romania, and Austria-Hungary who entered the United States in the years 1881 to 1924—when the American government imposed a restrictive quota system—came to stay. Only 7 percent chose to return to Europe, as opposed to about 30 percent of all immigrants. Jewish immigrants intended to raise American families. Ashkenazi (European) Jewish culture and American values as conveyed by social reformers as well as by advertising, and the economic realities of urban capitalist America, all influenced the position of women in immigrant Jewish society in America. Jewish immigrant women shared many of the attributes of immigrant women in general, but also displayed ethnic characteristics.

Devar Ha-Po'elet

Devar ha-Po’elet was founded in 1934 as the organ of the women workers’ movement. It was conceived as a monthly supplement to the daily newspaper Davar, both to increase its readership and in response to the demand of the women workers’ movement, which thus realized its goal of creating a women’s magazine—a goal it had cherished since the 1920s. The women’s magazine was both officially and financially subordinate to Davar, which provided printing and distribution services. The Mo’ezet ha-Po’alot (Council of Women Workers) was responsible for its funding, which it supplied through contributions and an allocation from the Histadrut (General Federation of Workers in Israel). An independent editorial staff, led by a woman editor, was responsible for content and design.

Dance Performance in the United States

Dance has always had a special place in the Jewish community because of its capacity to heighten communal and individual joy at weddings as prescribed in the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:416]Talmud[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary], at bar and [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:301]bat mitzvah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] celebrations, and on other happy occasions. The Bible contains many mentions of dance in celebration of important holidays and Israelite victories. Jews have always danced with the [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:424]Torah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary] scrolls in processionals on the holiday of [jwa_encyclopedia_glossary:407]Simhat Torah[/jwa_encyclopedia_glossary], and there are movement processionals on other holidays, as well as during the weekly Sabbath services. A very simple form of dance is even part of Jewish prayer, as the rhythmic rocking movement of davening (praying) literally embodies the notion of total devotion to God.

Fannia M. Cohn

In the first half of the twentieth century, Fannia M. Cohn was one of the leading Jewish women trade union activists in the United States. Drawing on her Russian Jewish cultural traditions, she pioneered in the development of educational programs within the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Ultimately, however, male opposition undermined her efforts and diminished her long-term significance. Her life offers evidence of the possibilities and limitations of women’s activism in the American labor movement.

Canada: From Outlaw to Supreme Court Justice, 1738-2005

The positive aspect of the Canadian mosaic has been a strong Jewish community (and other communities) which nurtured traditional ethnic and religious values and benefited from the talent and energy of women and men restrained from participation in the broader society. The negative aspect has included considerable antisemitism and, especially for women, the sometimes stifling narrowness and conservatism of the community which inhibited creative and exceptional people from charting their own individual paths.

Bund

Jewish women played leading roles in the formative years of the General Jewish Workers’ Bund, which was established in the Tsarist Empire in 1897, and initially participated in the movement in large numbers. However, the Bund seems to have had somewhat less success in mobilizing women in independent Poland between the two world wars than it had during the Tsarist era.

Alice Goldmark Brandeis

A champion of progressive causes, Alice Goldmark Brandeis was outspoken on behalf of woman suffrage, industrial reform, organized labor, the legal rights of children, and the fledgling American Zionist movement.

Dina Blond

As chairwoman of the Bundist women’s organization YAF (Yidisher Arbeter Froy), Dina Blond was one of the most prominent representatives of the Jewish labor party in interwar Poland. From her youth on, her life was closely intertwined with the Bund, to which she remained loyal until her death in New York in 1985. At the same time, she was also one of the best-known Yiddish translators of her day.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Labor." (Viewed on January 30, 2015) <http://jwa.org/topics/labor>.

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