Women of Valor


An Early Blow for Liberation

Bella Abzug, 1920 - 1998

Even as a little girl, Bella was attuned to inequality in her religious heritage. "We were a religious family. My grandfather went to the synagogue twice a day, and whenever I wasn't in school, he took me along. I learned to recite the solemn Hebrew prayers like such a wizard that he always made it a point to show me off to his friends.... It was during these visits to the synagogue that I think I had my first thoughts as a feminist rebel. I didn't like the fact that women were consigned to the back rows of the balcony."

When her father died Bella was only 12. Although the custom of saying Kaddish is traditionally reserved for sons, she stood by herself in synagogue each day for a year to say the mourning prayer. "In retrospect, I describe that as one of the early blows for the liberation of Jewish women. But in fact, no one could have stopped me from performing the duty traditionally reserved for a son, from honoring the man who had taught me to love peace, who had educated me in Jewish values. So it was lucky that no one ever tried."

  1. "We were a religious family..." quote from Bella Abzug, Bella!: Ms. Abzug Goes to Washington, Mel Ziegler, ed (New York : Saturday Review Press, 1972) 85.
  2. "When my father's weak heart..." quote from Bella Abzug, "Bella on Bella," Moment, vol. 1.7 (1976) 26-7.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Bella Abzug - An Early Blow for Liberation." (Viewed on April 17, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/abzug/early-blow-for-liberation>.