The Encyclopedia features over 1,700 biographies, 300 thematic essays, and 1,400 photographs and illustrations on a wide range of Jewish women through the centuries -- from Gertrude Berg to Gertrude Stein; Hannah Greenebaum Solomon to Hannah Arendt; the Biblical Ruth to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
Two references to women at the beginning of the story of the exodus focus on aspects of childbirth and lactation. Women are prominent in this narrative—as givers of life. They perhaps prefigure the “birth” of Israel in the story that follows.
The Rabbis famously maintain that the Israelites were redeemed from Egypt by merit of the righteous women of that generation, who strove mightily to continue to bring forth children, regardless of the grueling servitude and despite Pharaoh’s decree that the male children be killed. God aided them in realizing their wish by miraculous means.
The Rabbis portray the women of the wilderness generation as righteous, not caught up in the sins that swept Israel. Moreover, the women sought to correct what the men had spoiled, repairing the breaches for which the men were responsible. The Rabbis cite a number of examples of sins committed by the Israelites during the period of their wanderings in the wilderness which the women attempted to prevent.
Born in 1848 in Baltimore to wealthy Bavarian immigrants, Lina Frank Hecht received a private education and moved in Baltimore’s elite Jewish circles. In 1867, she married Jacob Hecht (born 1834), who had immigrated to America in 1848, established a wholesale shoe business with his family in California, Baltimore, and Boston, and who, by the time he met Lina, was already a wealthy man. The couple moved to Boston and became leading members of the German Jewish philanthropic community. Uniquely in her time and society, Lina Hecht established her independent identity as a female philanthropist and social reformer.
Carolyn (Gold) Heilbrun was born on January 13, 1926, in East Orange, New Jersey, the only child of Archibald and Estelle (Roemer) Gold. Her father, who came to America from Russia around 1900 as a destitute, Yiddish-speaking child, became a certified public accountant and rose to riches as a partner in a brokerage firm. He lost his wealth in the Depression, and in 1932 the family moved to Manhattan on borrowed money. Although Carolyn’s father gradually rebuilt his fortune, her mother remained deeply traumatized by the family’s sudden loss of security and social status. Born in America to religious Austrian-Jewish parents as the first of seven children, Estelle Roemer cut her ties to the Jewish world as a young woman. According to Heilbrun, she “identified all that limited her life as Judaism.” Archibald Gold, whom she married in 1919 when both were twenty-three years old, had also distanced himself from his Jewish past.
Adele Bluthenthal Heiman spent her life in Arkansas, helping create and lead the state’s close-knit Jewish community. In her various leadership positions, she made strides in helping not only Jewish women, but the Jewish community as a whole.
Theresa Helburn was born on January 12, 1887, in New York City, the younger of two children of Hannah (Peyser) and Julius Helburn. Her father was a leather merchant; her mother, who became Helburn’s role model, established her own experimental elementary school. An assimilated Jew, Helburn attended Horace Mann, the fashionable Windsor School in Boston, and Bryn Mawr College. She graduated in 1908 with many senior prizes, having organized, directed, and acted in all the school plays. She continued her education at Radcliffe College, in George Pierce Baker’s celebrated playwriting workshop, English 47, and at the Sorbonne. She joined the Poetry Society of America, created a course in Shakespearean acting at Miss Merrill’s Finishing School, Mamaroneck, New York, and wrote drama criticism for The Nation.
The date and place of Anna Held’s birth are shrouded in mystery, confusion or vanity. They range from March 18, 1865, in Warsaw, Poland, to 1878 in Paris, France, a thirteen-year difference. That she was born in Warsaw on March 18, 1873, may be most accurate. Held was the youngest and only survivor of eleven children. Her parents were Maurice (or Shimmle), a glovemaker, and Yvonne (or Helene) Pierre. Some sources suggest that both her parents were Jewish, while one source states that her mother was Catholic.
Gladys Heldman, born in New York City on May 13, 1922, to scholarly Jewish parents, was an unlikely person to become a leader in women’s tennis. Yet women tennis players today owe their equal status in the sport to her important efforts.
Helene was the sister and wife of Monabazus Bazaeus, king of Adiabene at the beginning of the first century c.e., who converted to Judaism with other members of her family. Adiabene, a Persian province on the northern extremities of the Tigris River, was at the time a vassal kingdom of the Parthian Empire.
Dr. Anna Braude Heller was born on January 6, 1888 in Warsaw to Aryeh Leib Broddo of Grodno and Tauba Litwin of Bialystok. She was the oldest of four daughters. Her father was a well-to-do merchant, and her mother assisted him. Heller was raised in an open, traditional household. Her father was religiously observant but very liberal in his outlook. The parents spoke Yiddish between themselves and Polish with their children. Heller was an excellent student, highly independent in her opinions, with special sensitivity to the needs of others.
Florence Grunsfeld Heller, who became a social worker, volunteer leader in Chicago, and benefactor of Brandeis University, was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on March 2, 1897, the daughter of Ivan and Hannah (Nusbaum) Grunsfeld and the granddaughter of Albert and Heldegarde (David) Grunsfeld. Her parents and grandparents were German immigrants who came to the United States in 1873, settling in the territory of New Mexico. Her father was a wholesale merchant. Her initial years of schooling in Albuquerque were followed by years at Bradford Academy in Boston, Massachusetts, and the Faulkner School for Girls in Chicago, Illinois. In Chicago, at age sixteen or seventeen, Florence Grunsfeld lived with her maternal uncle, Julius Rosenwald—the founder of Sears Roebuck and Company—and his wife. Florence Heller’s son Peter credits the Rosenwalds with instilling in her a strong devotion and sense of obligation to society.
Clarisse Doris Hellman was born on August 28, 1910, in New York City. The daughter of obstetrician Alfred M. and Clarisse (Bloom) Hellman, she was raised in a family that had a special appreciation for the sciences. After graduating from the Horace Mann School, she attended Vassar College, where she studied mathematics and astronomy with such distinction that she was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated with honors in 1930. She then went on to Radcliffe College as a Vassar College Fellow and received one of the country’s earliest advanced degrees in history of science, a master’s degree, in 1931. From Radcliffe, she returned to New York, where she received a prestigious Columbia University Fellowship and went on to complete her Ph.D. at Columbia in 1943.
Lillian Hellman was born on June 20, 1905, in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her parents, Max and Julia (Newhouse) Hellman, were both German-American Jews. Her mother’s family was wealthy and later became the models (though stripped of Jewish identity) for Hellman’s most famous creations, the Hubbards, in her two plays The Little Foxes and Another Part of the Forest. Max Hellman’s sisters Hannah and Jenny were similarly the basis for the central characters in one of Hellman’s last plays, Toys in the Attic.
Dr. Ellen Hellmann has devoted her life to South Africa and all its peoples. Her services to Africans are recognized and appreciated in South Africa and internationally; her devotion to public duty is amazing. She is an outstanding authority on race relations and is in the forefront in the battle for African advancement.
Judith Hendel was born in Warsaw in 1925. In the same year her grandfather, Ezekiel Hendel, a descendant of Ezekiel Taub (d. 1856), the founder of the Kazimierz hasidic dynasty, sold his business and property in Warsaw and emigrated to Palestine together with his sons and daughters. He was one of the founders of Kefar Hasidim. Judith’s parents remained in Warsaw and joined the family in 1930, settling in the Nesher district of Haifa, where her father, Akiva, worked as a bus driver.
Nechama Hendel was born on August 22, 1936 in Jerusalem, where her family lived in the upper-middle-class district of Rehavia. Both parents immigrated to Palestine from Poland. Her father, Michael Hendel (1899–1965), was born in Bolochow (Bolokhuv) and her mother, Chana Foyerstein (1900–1986), was born in Warsaw. Her father served for many years as chief inspector of history at the Israel Ministry of Education. Her older sister, Tamar Gadot, was born in 1934.
Born on a farm in Ennis, Texas, on February 16, 1893, Hattie Henenberg was the second child of Hungarian-born Rosa (Trebitsch) and Samuel Henenberg, parents of four daughters and two sons. The family moved to nearby Dallas in 1904 to help her ailing paternal grandfather, Lazar, owner of Dallas’s oldest pawn and jewelry shop. Henenberg took night classes from 1913 to 1916 at Dallas Law School, part of Southern Methodist University. She was assistant Texas attorney general from 1929 to 1930; special assistant U.S. attorney general in Washington in 1934, and an assistant district attorney in Dallas from 1941 to 1947. In addition, Henenberg was a delegate to the 1932 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, a member of the Order of Eastern Star, Business and Professional Women’s Club, Temple Emanu-El, and Dallas president of Zonta International. The ideals of social justice that permeated her quest for legal aid to the poor reflected the principles of Judaism. Judaism also manifested itself through her decision not to marry a non-Jew and through religious observances such as not eating pork.
Unlike most of Israel’s young directors, Ofira Henig never worked in fringe theaters but began her career in the country’s establishment. Although in this context directing was considered primarily a male occupation, her career developed rapidly and steadily. Her Beit Zvi successes led Omri Nitzan, the artistic director of Habimah, to engage her to direct Zahav (Gold) by Yossef Bar-Yossef in 1989. She served as house-director and a member of the artistic council at Habimah from 1991 to 1993, during which time she directed Yehoshua Sobol’s The Night of the Twenty (1990), Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie (1991), The Lower Depths by Maxim Gorsky (1992), Creditors by August Strindberg 1993) and Euripides’s Hippolytus (1993), as well as other plays, such as Pony and Anton by Erich Kästner (1991). When, in 1996, she was asked why she was choosing to leave so highly-rated a position, she replied “Because I felt stuck”—a response that typified her professional integrity.
Frieda Barkin Hennock was the first woman to serve on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), where she became the champion of noncommercial educational television. As a Jewish female of foreign birth, she endured a lifetime of undeserved—largely sexist—attacks for everything from excessive aggressiveness to innuendoes of immoral personal conduct. At the same time, she did not hesitate to take advantage of her sparkling feminine charm, sense of high fashion, and occasional flood of tears to manipulate a male-dominated society. As a committed Jew, Hennock also used her contacts with the Jewish community for professional advancement. She said daily prayers and was fluent in Yiddish. She was a devoted and supportive member of her extended family.
Lilli Henoch was born in 1899 to an upper middle-class family. Despite her merchant father’s death, a relocation to Berlin and the remarriage of her mother, the family was able to maintain its previous high standard of living. Even in childhood Lilli Henoch had developed a passion for sport, particularly track and field and team sports. This was comparatively rare for a woman in the 1920s, when track and field sports were considered unwomanly.
A staunch Zionist and dedicated volunteer, born in Berlin on October 9, 1921, Esther Herlitz inherited many of her admirable traits from her beloved “Yekke” parents. Her father, Georg Herlitz (1885–1968), was born in Oppeln, a small town in Upper Silesia, into a totally assimilated Jewish family and received a typical Prussian education. However, since his parents could not afford to send him to university, he registered—with the help of the local rabbi—at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, a center for the scientific study of Judaism and a rabbinical seminary. Here the liberal Jewish administration awarded him a stipend and here, also, both his studies and the Zionist movement introduced him to a new world. Returning home, he led the first Passover seder ever held in the history of the family and when he resumed studies, this time at the University of Berlin, he became an ardent Zionist activist. On completing his studies in 1919, he refused to become a rabbi and instead founded the Central Zionist Archive. When the Zionist Federation, which was interested in influencing the local Jewish community, asked him to infiltrate the city’s large 3,500-member Reform synagogue, Herlitz and his friends took on the role of wardens and replaced the rabbi with one who was a Zionist. His wife, Irma (née Herzka, 1888–1970), who came from a traditional home in Moravia and whose father was a melamed (teacher) of little children, hated what she perceived as the empty ceremonial of the Reform Jews, but Esther herself came to love it.
The Herodian dynasty produced a large number of seemingly impressive women. However, it is not always clear whether these women were really impressive or whether their literary portrayal made them so. We know that Nicolaus of Damascus, who was Herod’s court historian, was deeply interested in domestic affairs and assigned to women a diabolical role in the turn of events. Even after his writings ceased, other court historians adopted some of his rhetorical techniques. We today know almost everything about these women from Josephus, who used Nicolaus and other sources in his writings.
Esther Herrman was born on August 7, 1823, in Utrecht, the Netherlands, to Sophia (Van Ysen) and Emanuel Mendels. She had three sisters, Gamma (b. 1821), Jette (b. 1821), and Adelaide (b. 1825), and came to the United States as a child following her mother’s death in 1827. In 1843, she married Henry Herrman, a native of Baden who was born October 13, 1822. By 1847, Esther and Henry had moved from New York City to New Bedford, Massachusetts, where he started a business supplying sailing vessels. Their first children were born there: Sophia (1847) and Henrietta (1848). They moved to Boston, where Henry operated a clothing business and their son Abraham was born (1850).
Sylvia Herscher’s career in the theater encompasses several occupations and spans decades. Since the 1950s she has been general manager, producer, publisher, agent, and board member, as well as friend and guide to countless writers and composers finding their way into the business. Her own word for what she has done in the theater is “matchmaker.” The composer Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly!, La Cage aux Folles) once referred to her as the embodiment of all his leading ladies: “a woman who arranges things.” Herscher has matched writers with composers, producers with writers, and musical scores with publishers.
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Jewish Women's Archive. "Encyclopedia." (Viewed on February 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/content/H>.