“Only in America” – vote now!

The poster reads "This woman's place is in the House...the House of Representatives! Bella Abzug for Congress."

Idealist and activist, champion of progressive causes, Bella Abzug ran for Congress in 1970 on a women’s rights/peace platform, and New York agreed that "this woman's place is in the House."

Courtesy of the Manuscripts Division of the Library of Congress.

Our friends at the National Museum of American Jewish History have recently announced a new project for which they are seeking public input. Their new museum, scheduled to open in November 2010, will include a gallery called "Only in America," that will -- in their words -- "examine the choices, challenges, and opportunities faced by a remarkable group of a token 18 American Jews on their paths to accomplishment."

In our early years, JWA did a similar kind of project with our Women of Valor posters, which feature 18 trailblazing Jewish women, each of who -- in our words -- "overcame social, cultural and religious barriers to create a more just and equitable world." We also developed online, multimedia exhibits on 16 of them.

We were glad to see several of "our" 18 women -- such as Bella Abzug, Molly Picon, Rebecca Gratz, and Lillian Wald -- included in the museum's poll. Unfortunately, the inclusion of women overall is disappointing -- only 47 out of 218. Some categories, such as "Performance" and "Politics, Law, and Activism," have a good balance, while others, such as "Arts and Entertainment" and "Religion and Thought" are fairly appalling. Only one woman in "Religion and Thought"? Seriously? Given the impact of feminism on Judaism, it's hard to imagine how one could leave out women such as theologians Judith Plaskow and Rachel Adler and Orthodox feminist activist Blu Greenberg.

Of course, the nature of this kind of project, which highlights people who are already well-known, skews towards men, who have had more opportunities to achieve and to be recognized for those achievements. Which also makes me wonder about the need for an "only in America" kind of gallery in the 21st century. Haven't we moved past this kind of American exceptionalism, or has the age of Obama brought us back to a misty-eyed celebration of the opportunities offered (to some) by this so-called "goldene medine" (golden land)? It will be interesting to see how the museum ultimately negotiates the issues of diversity and tokenism in selecting the 18 people to be featured, and how they handle the tone, which sounds like it will be celebratory. Will there be acknowledgement of how opportunities for some have come at the expense of others?

Please vote to make sure that the stories of your favorite American Jews make it into the gallery. If it's important to you that women are represented among the 18 selected, cast your votes for some of the women included on the list. The poll also invites write-in votes, so please consider nominating some of the women whose names are glaringly absent, such as artist Judy Chicago, entertainer Sophie Tucker, and theologian Judith Plaskow. (I came up with a list of 30 other women that I would have included on the list, but I'll try to restrain myself from turning this post into a Jewish women's history encyclopedia! We already have one of those).

The deadline is August 6, so cast your votes now!

Topics: Jewish Studies
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Pearl Hart was a lawyer, a lesbian, and the first juvenile advocate in the juvenile court in Chicago of which she was one of the founders.She was also a great help to a young lawyer like myself as I was starting to practice. She was active in the National Lawyers Guild, a left-wing bar assosiation and specialized in immigration law dezfending poor immigrants. I had the honor to appear on a brief with her before the USSC on an immigration case. She should appear on your honor role among famous women jurists.

Your point about Obama and the "American Dream"/"land of opportunity," mentality is interesting.

I wonder if the lack of women included in this poll is saying something about that - that perhaps the American Dream is (or has been) a male reality, if it is a reality at all.

How to cite this page

Rosenbaum, Judith. "“Only in America” – vote now!." 22 July 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on October 2, 2023) <https://jwa.org/blog/only-in-america>.

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