Activism: Labor Rights
Ray Alexander has devoted her life to the struggle for human rights and equality in South Africa. Embedded in a Marxist tradition rooted in her Latvian origins, she sought justice for workers and liberty for the oppressed.
The first Jewish anarchist organization was formally set up as a result of the Haymarket bombing in 1886 and the subsequent trial of the accused anarchists. The inception and growth of the Jewish anarchist movement in the United States were inseparable from the mass immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe starting in 1881.
This bibliography concentrates on books, chapters in anthologies, and periodical articles on the collective history of American Jewish women and archival resources on individuals and women’s organizations.
The decisions of Judge Barak-Ussoskin, who is known for her extraordinary patience and excellent judicial spirit, are outstanding for their innovative character, thoroughness, well-argued and scholarly reasoning based on national as well as international and theoretical experience, and for the stress they lay on human rights in the sphere of labor and employment. Her rulings undoubtedly have a critical influence on the development of labor law and labor relations in Israel.
Born in Latvia before immigrating to Baltimore as a child, Dorothy Jacobs Bellanca was one of America’s most remarkable women’s labor leaders. An outstanding union organizer and a captivating speaker, Bellanca understood the problems of the working class—people of all genders, ages, and backgrounds—and sought to improve conditions for workers.
Ruth Ben Israel, an expert in labor law, social equality, social security and the status of women, received the Israel Prize for legal research in 2001, becoming the third member of her family to win this distinguished award, alongside her brother, Professor Yuval Ne’eman (b. 1925, Israel Prize 1969) and her cousin, Professor Hayyim Harari (b. 1940, Israel Prize 1989).
In the preface to her book entitled Derakhai Siparti (I Declared My Way, derived from Psalms 119:26: “I have declared my way and you have answered me”), Rahel Yanait Ben-Zvi recalls her life’s work in the spheres of agriculture, the Labor Movement, the Haganah and the Jewish community in Palestine prior to the establishment of the State of Israel. "Old Yishuv" refers to the Jewish community prior to 1882; "New Yishuv" to that following 1882.Yishuv.
As chairwoman of the Bundist women’s organization YAF (Yidisher Arbeter Froy), Dina Blond was one of the most prominent representatives of the Jewish labor party in interwar Poland. From her youth on, her life was closely intertwined with the Bund, to which she remained loyal until her death in New York in 1985. At the same time, she was also one of the best-known Yiddish translators of her day.
A champion of progressive causes, Alice Goldmark Brandeis was outspoken on behalf of woman suffrage, industrial reform, organized labor, the legal rights of children, and the fledgling American Zionist movement.
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 seems to have had somewhat less success in mobilizing women in independent Poland between the two world wars than it had during the Tsarist era.
The positive aspect of the Canadian mosaic has been a strong Jewish community (and other communities) which nurtured traditional ethnic and religious values and benefited from the talent and energy of women and men restrained from participation in the broader society. The negative aspect has included considerable antisemitism and, especially for women, the sometimes stifling narrowness and conservatism of the community which inhibited creative and exceptional people from charting their own individual paths.
In the first half of the twentieth century, Fannia M. Cohn was one of the leading Jewish women trade union activists in the United States. Drawing on her Russian Jewish cultural traditions, she pioneered in the development of educational programs within the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU). Ultimately, however, male opposition undermined her efforts and diminished her long-term significance. Her life offers evidence of the possibilities and limitations of women’s activism in the American labor movement.
Jewish immigrants to the New World brought with them their ritual and celebratory Jewish dances, but these traditional forms of Jewish dance waned in the United States. Working-class and poor Jewish immigrants parents sought out culture and education in the arts for their children, often as a vehicle for assimilation. Jewish women were particularly attracted to the field of modern dance.
Devar ha’Po’elet, the magazine of the women worker’s movement, was founded in 1934 by Rahel Katznelson-Shazar, a prominent activist of the Council of Women Workers. The magazine was intended as an educational tool, through which the movement aimed to communicate the essential characteristics of the new Hebrew woman.
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.
The Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Women’s Clubs (ELF), a progressive women’s group, grew out of the Emma Lazarus Division, founded in 1944 by the Women’s Division of the Jewish People’s Fraternal Order of the International Workers Order (IWO). Formed to provide relief to wartime victims, but especially to combat antisemitism and racism and to nurture positive Jewish identification through a broad program of Jewish education and women’s rights, the Emma Lazarus Division attracted a membership of leftist, largely Yiddish-speaking women, many of the immigrant generation. Among its founders was Clara Lemlich Shavelson, the young woman who had called for the general strike of garment workers that sparked the 1909 Uprising Of The 20,000. Shavelson and other organizers believed that, because of the Holocaust, thousands of women had become “newly aware of themselves as Jewish women,” but they urgently needed “history, self-knowledge as Jews, and cultural products” that could sustain the fight against fascism. In its early years, the division offered fellowships for fiction and history on Jewish themes. It also supported a home for French war orphans and a day nursery in Israel, and championed a broad range of women’s issues.
For Sandra Feldman, president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers from 1986 to 1998, and president of the national American Federation of Teachers from 1997 to 2004, these were fighting words.
Jewish women have played a significant role in all aspects of the American feminist movement.
Considered by many as the “mother” of the second wave of modern feminism, activist and writer Betty Friedan was one of the most influential feminist leaders of the second half of the twentieth century, a co-founder of the National Organization for Women (NOW) and its first president. She served on the boards of leading women’s organizations, fought for legislation to ensure women’s equality and wrote books analyzing women’s role in society and the women’s movement.
Esther (1880–1943) was the pseudonym of the Jewish educator, writer, and socialist-turned-communist, Malkah Lifchitz. Her married names were Frumkin and later Wichmann. An independent thinker and a unique woman in the Jewish labor movement, Esther devoted her life to leftist political activity in Russia and later the Soviet Union.
Active throughout her life in labor movements and consumer rights, Helene Gans devoted herself to improving the lives of working Americans.
With a few strokes of her pen, Ruth Glazer (later Gay) painted a vivid portrait of the culture of second-generation Jews in New York. As a free-lance writer and editor for over fifty years, she has explored the Jewish experience of both America and Germany.
A passionate idealist, Mire Gola organized anti-German resistance in World War II as a Communist in occupied Poland. She inspired others with her eloquent poetry and her fortitude through imprisonment and torture.
Emma Goldman was a potent voice of anarchism in North America and Europe in the early twentieth century, and her controversial beliefs made her many powerful enemies. Yet even after enduring many contentious interactions with law enforcement, Goldman continued to speak, write, and teach on freedom and individual rights, inspiring her followers to question authority at every turn.
Josephine Goldmark’s work as a reformer in the Progressive Era did much to redesign the American social contract. Between 1903 and 1930, she shaped laws regulating child labor, the legal length of the working day, and minimum wage. At the National Consumers’ League (NCL) headquarters in New York City, she worked with executive director of the NCL Florence Kelley as chair of the publications committee. In that capacity, she compiled data demonstrating the need for legislation, wrote compelling articles using those data, and helped organize legislative campaigns.