Politics and Government: Socialism
Jewish women participated in the artistic life of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union for over a hundred years. Jewish women artists worked in all styles, from the routine academic to the extreme avant-garde. There were also well-known art patrons, gallery owners, art historians, and art critics.
Rebelling against her privileged upbringing, Angelica Balabanoff embraced socialism and rose to become one of the most celebrated activists and politicians in the early decades of the twentieth century, becoming especially involved in the Italian socialist movement.
Devorah Baron is one of the few Hebrew women prose writers in the first half of the twentieth century to gain critical acclaim in her lifetime. She wrote primarily about Jewish women’s lives, focusing on the challenges women faced in a society that did not value them equally. Her work was in dialogue with European writers, including Chekhov and Flaubert, and with Hebrew modernist writer S. Y. Agnon.
As chairwoman of the Bundist women’s organization Yidisher Arbeter Froy, Dina Blond was one of the most prominent representatives of the Jewish labor party in interwar Poland. At the same time, she was also one of the best-known Yiddish translators of her day.
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 had somewhat less success in mobilizing women in independent Poland between the two world wars than it had during the Tsarist era.
Ambivalent about Judaism, passionately Marxist, charismatic, and courageous, Rose Chernin devoted a great deal of her life to securing the rights of disenfranchised citizens: the unemployed of the Depression, farm workers without a union, Black home buyers thwarted by redlining, and other foreign-born leftists, like herself, who faced deportation in the 1950s.
Sociologist Rose Laub Coser redefined major concepts in role theory—the idea that our actions are largely dictated by our roles in society—and applied them to expectations of women’s roles in the family and the workplace.
Maya Deren pursued an ambitious career as a writer, publishing poetry, essays, and newspaper articles. She was also one of the most important avant-garde filmmakers of her time for her use of experimental editing techniques and her fascination with ecstatic religious dances. In 1946 she used a Guggenheim Fellowship to photograph Haitian dance.
After finishing her education, Sophia Dubnow-Erlich became an active member of both the Social Democratic Labor Party and the Jewish Labor Party and wrote for Bund journals before fleeing Vilna for Warsaw in 1918. After emigrating to America in 1942, she remained politically active and continued her prolific writing career.
Forty-four percent of the approximately two million Jewish immigrants who arrived in the United States between 1886 and 1914 were women. Although these women were more politically active and autonomous than other immigrant women, dire economic circumstances constricted their lives. The hopes these immigrant women harbored for themselves were often transferred to the younger generation.
Ruth First was a prolific writer and her penetrating investigative journalism exposed many of the harsh conditions under which the majority of South Africans lived. As various restrictions prevented her from continuing her work as a journalist Ruth First became more and more involved with the underground movement that was changing its tactics from protest to sabotage.
A stubborn nonconformist from an early age, Käte Frankenthal was a physician and politician active in Germany’s Social Democratic Party. While running her own successful private practice, she was active in sex reform legislation and played a prominent role in the Federation of Women Physicians.
Gisèle Freund was a European intellectual and writer, a sociologist, a historian of photography, a socialist, a Jew, and one of the world’s greatest photographers.From her photographs of a rally in Berlin to her insightful portraits of Evita Perón, Freund captured the early twentieth century. In 1991, she was the first photographer honored with a retrospective at the Musée National d’art Moderne.
Esther Frumkin was the pseudonym of the Jewish educator, writer, and socialist-turned-communist Malkah Lifchitz. Active in the Russian and later Soviet leftist political scene in the early twentieth century, Frumkin was an independent thinker and a unique woman in the Jewish labor movement. However, she drew criticism from both Jewish and Communist leaders and died in a Soviet detention camp in 1943.
Berta Wainstein de Gerchunoff was an Argentine socialist, feminist, and later Zionist leader. As President of the Argentine branch of WIZO, she led an exponential growth of women’s Zionist commitments all over Latin America.
A multi-faceted Yiddish writer, Shira Gorshman embodied the vision and struggles of Jewish socialism throughout her long and productive life. Her work encompassed the shtetl of Lithuania, pioneering Palestine, the Soviet experiment, the Holocaust, and finally the return to modern Israel. In all these journeys her characters, many of whom are women, are revealed in their full humanity and individuality.
Politically active from a young age, Haika Grosman played a key role in the underground resistance to Nazi occupation and the Holocaust and put her safety on the line in the name of the movement.
Bracha Habas was an educator and one of the first professional women journalists in Erez Israel. She was a member of Davar’s editorial board and the co-founder of its children’s newspaper, Davar le-Yeladim. Enumerating on Habas’s 48 publications, Rahel Adir described her as “the recorder of Yishuv history.”
A brilliant pediatrician used to working in difficult circumstances, Anna Braude Heller struggled to keep children’s hospitals open through both World War I and World War II, even as the Nazis occupied Poland and placed Jews in ghettos. Although she evaded deportation in 1943, she was killed shortly afterwards when German soldiers raided the Warsaw Ghetto.
Jewish women were crucial both to changes in post-emancipation Italian Jewish life and to the overall condition of women in modern Italy. This article reflects on the changes in the role of Jewish women in modern Italy within the Jewish press and institutions, their activism in shaping a secular civil society, and their experiences through the Fascist regime, the trauma of the 1938 Racial laws, emigration, resistance, deportation, survival, and reconstruction.
Dore Jacobs developed her own pedagogy, which viewed physical education as a holistic project, out of which came her own unique method of gymnastics. In 1923 she founded her School for Physical Education and Rhythmic Development; she was also a founding member of the German socialist organization called the Bund-Gemeinschaft für Sozialistisches Leben.