Activism: Civil Rights
Born in the Bronx on July 24, 1920, Bella (Savitzky) Abzug predated women’s right to vote by one month. A tireless and indomitable fighter for justice and peace, equal rights, human dignity, environmental integrity and sustainable development, Bella Abzug advanced human goals and political alliances worldwide.
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.
Passionate, principled, provocative, and above all path breaking, Shulamit Aloni has left a greater imprint on Israeli political life and public discourse than any woman to come of age after Israel’s independence.
Women have played an important part in the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) since the organization was first established after World War I.
“There are as many kinds of chemistry at work between writers and their subjects as there are between potential lovers,” writes Rosellen Brown, an observation indicative of the passion and insight she brings to the page as a poet, essayist, and fiction writer.
Ambivalent about Judaism, passionately Marxist, charismatic, andcourageous, 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.
Despite widespread awareness of significant contributions to the movement by Jewish women, the documentary record and public perception reflect the roles and experiences of men. Scholarship in American Jewish history, civil rights history, and women’s studies does not directly address the contributions of Jewish women. Nor does it ask what Jewish cultural influences primed young Jewish women to respond (in numbers disproportionate to their representation in the population) when the civil rights movement put out the call.
Although the Jewish academic community has typically cast her as either the daughter of the historian Simon Dubnow or the wife of the Bundist leader Henryk Erlich, Sophia Dubnow-Erlich was in fact a poet, political activist, critic, translator, and memoirist in her own right. Her literary corpus tells the remarkable story of one Eastern European Jewish woman’s entry into two very disparate spheres of activity. Over a lifetime spanning 101 years (forty-four years spent in the United States), Dubnow-Erlich engaged in Jewish socialist party politics, on the one hand, and Russian Silver Age poetry, on the other.
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.
Mary Fels, an ardent and philanthropic Zionist, promoted Jewish settlement in Palestine and Israel throughout her life.
The first wave of feminism in Israel washed over the country as early as the pre-statehood 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 period.
Jewish women have played a significant role in all aspects of the American feminist movement.
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 founding member of the Israel Association for Civil Rights (ACRI) since 1974, Professor Ruth Gavison specializes in legal theory, philosophy of human rights and the integration of justice, morals, society and ethics. She is an important figure in Israeli discourse on human rights, democracy and Israeli society in general.
Among the few women rabbis ordained during the 1970s Laura Geller has been most prominent in shaping the impact of female religious leadership upon Judaism.
Carol Gilligan has broken new ground in psychology, challenging mainstream psychologists with her theory that accepted benchmarks of moral and personal developments were drawn to a male bias and do not apply to women. Gilligan proposed that women have different moral criteria and follow a different path in maturation. A psychologist who taught at Harvard and Cambridge, Gilligan brought a feminist perspective to challenge Freud and new life to the statement “The personal is political.”
In 1991 Nadine Gordimer became the first South African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Nadine Gordimer’s work provides a very sensitive and acute analysis of South African society. By depicting the impact of apartheid on the lives of her character, she presents a sweeping canvas of a society where all have been affected by institutionalized racial discrimination and oppression.
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.
Mary Belle Grossman was, in 1918, was one of the first two women admitted to membership in the American Bar Association. After the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment in 1920, she became one of Cleveland’s most successful political activists.
Ruth Gruber was born on September 30, 1911, in Brooklyn, the fourth of five children of David and Gussie (Rockower) Gruber, Russian Jewish immigrants who owned a wholesale and retail liquor store and later went into real estate. She graduated from New York University at age eighteen and in 1930 won a fellowship to the University of Wisconsin, where she received her M.A. in German and English literature. In 1931, Gruber received a fellowship from the Institute of International Education for study in Cologne, Germany. Her parents pleaded with her not to go: Hitler was coming to power. Nevertheless, she went to Cologne and took courses in German philosophy, modern English literature, and art history. She also attended Nazi rallies, her American passport in her purse, a tiny American flag on her lapel. She listened, appalled, as Hitler ranted hysterically against Americans and even more hysterically against Jews.
Born on December 8, 1866, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ida Espen Guggenheimer was the oldest child of Jacob and Fannie (Bachman) Espen. She had one brother, Frank, and two sisters, Hannah and Sophie. Her father and his brother were importers of lace. She was educated at the Friends School in Philadelphia and attended school in Dresden, Germany, when her family traveled in Europe.
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.
The history of Jewish women in the American labor movement tends to focus on those whose careers unfolded in the needle trades. Such was not the case with Lillian Herstein, who was a teacher and a nationally known labor leader. Ethel Lillian Herstein, the youngest of six children, was born on April 12, 1886, in Chicago. Her parents, Wolf and Cipe Belle, emigrated from Vilkovishk, Lithuania, shortly after the U.S. Civil War, not only for economic reasons but because of Wolf’s admiration for Abraham Lincoln and his ideals.