Women of Valor


Vital Heritage

Justine Wise Polier, 1903 - 1987

"By dint of our heritage, our faith, the intuitive and all but instinctive reaction of the Jew against injustice or the violation of human dignity, we are committed to the battle for human freedom—whether it is or is not good for the survival of the Jewish people."

Polier was deeply moved by the Jewish prophetic tradition of commitment to justice. She often spoke of this "vital heritage" as the most important guiding force in her life.

Polier's concern for Jewish rights meant that, like her parents, she was a committed Zionist. She also served as vice-president of the American Jewish Congress, and president of its women's division. During W.W.II Polier attempted, with help from Eleanor Roosevelt, to convince the American state department to let in 10,000 German Jewish children. Mourning her failure and the lives lost, she remembered, "how fearful Jews were here, afraid of stirring up trouble that might affect their position."

For Polier, being a Jew meant she was morally obligated to speak out against injustice, even if it endangered her own life or the life of her people. Time after time she criticized American Jews for losing themselves in materialism and abandoning their responsibility to justice for "all human beings."

  1. "By dint of our heritage, our faith..." and "vital heritage" quotes from Justine Wise Polier, "The Jewish Commitment," The Jewish Echo, 12 Sept. 1958.
  2. "how fearful Jews were here..." quote from Polier, Oral History Interview with Dr. Ernest Goldstein, 19.
  3. On Judaism as a commitment to justice for all peoples and on the dangers of materialism and assimilation, see Justine Wise Polier, "The Future of World Jewry," Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, New York City, March 16, 1957, Polier papers, box 45, folder 568; Justine Wise Polier, "Prophetic Judaism: Fossil or Living Legacy?" address at Brandeis University, 1959, Polier papers, box 46, folder 570; and Antler, "Justine Wise and the Prophetic Tradition," and Journey. Also, for "to all human beings" quote see Justine Wise Polier, "Who are our Neighbors," Congress Monthly, April 1976, Polier papers, box 48, folder 596.

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Women of Valor - Justine Wise Polier - Vital Heritage." (Viewed on April 23, 2014) <http://jwa.org/womenofvalor/polier/vital-heritage>.