Women have played an important part in the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) since the organization was first established after World War I.
Matilde Bassani Finzi continued her activity in anti-fascist groups and, together with Giorgio Bassani, organized parlor meetings and helped distribute newspapers and newsletters. After Mussolini’s fall on July 25, 1943, Bassani Finzi was released together with all the political prisoners. Immediately upon her release she contacted the Resistance groups, who began to organize in case Germany should invade Italy, which it did on September 8, 1943. After the war she continued to work for the ideals in which she believed: freedom, democracy and equality for women.
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.
Ambivalent about Judaism, passionately Marxist, charismatic, 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.
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 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.
Bas Sheva Abramowitz (“Bessie” was created by an Ellis Island immigration officer) was born on May 15, 1889, in Linoveh, a village near Grodno in Russia. She was one of ten children born to Emanuel Abramowitz, a commission agent, and Sarah Rabinowitz. In 1905, Bessie, who spoke only Yiddish and some Russian, joined an older cousin in immigrating to America. Most 1905 immigrants fled czarist oppression and anti-Jewish violence, but Bessie reported that her aim in leaving home was to escape the services of the local marriage broker.
The first woman to be awarded a doctorate in physical chemistry at a German university, Clara Immerwahr’s her achievements were long overlooked by male-dominated university circles. Immerwahr committed suicide in protest of her husband’s involvement in the implementation of gas attacks during World War I. Recognized only posthumously, her name has become linked with moral responsibility in science.
The International Ladies Garment Workers Union was founded in 1900. The eleven Jewish men who founded the union represented seven local unions from East Coast cities with heavy Jewish immigrant populations. This all-male convention was made up exclusively of cloak makers and one skirt maker, highly skilled Old World tailors who had been trying to organize in a well-established industry for a couple of decades. White goods workers, including skilled corset makers, were not invited to the first meeting. Nor were they or the largely young immigrant Jewish workers in the newly developing shirtwaist industry recruited for the union in the early years of its existence. But these women workers still tried to organize.
On April 6, 1944, Klaus Barbie (1913–1991), Chief of the Nazi Gestapo in Lyons during the German occupation of France, raided a home for Jewish children in Izieu, a remote hilltop village overlooking the valley of the Rhône (70 km. east of Lyons). This action was to become one of the most infamous symbols of Nazi brutality and, ironically, the single count (of crimes against humanity) for which Barbie, torturer and murderer of Jewish men, women and children, but most excoriated as the executioner of Résistance hero Jean Moulin, was tried and convicted some forty-three years later.
Founded in 1904, The League of Jewish Women pursued secular German feminist goals while maintaining a strong sense of Jewish identity. The League supported vulnerable women through practical social reforms while fighting for political power within the German Jewish community. It saw employment opportunities as essential to women’s economic, psychological, and emotional independence.
Jacqueline Levine is an outstanding example of female activist leadership in American Jewish life. In over five decades of service to the Jewish community, she has combined her powerfully deep liberal political beliefs and activities, which benefit the poor and disadvantaged, with her concern for the vast needs of specific Jewish communities.
Internationally famous for her starring role in the equestrian melodrama Mazeppa, in which she was stripped on stage to a flesh-colored body stocking, lashed to the back of the “wild horse of Tartary,” and sent flying on a narrow ramp above the theater, Adah Isaacs Menken consistently defied social mores.
In a lifetime of battle for women’s dignity and global change, Robin Morgan uses words as ammunition. As poet, novelist, journalist, lecturer and feminist theorist, she expresses the reality of contemporary women’s oppression.
Bertha Pappenheim was the founder of the Jewish feminist movement in Germany. In 1904, she founded the League of Jewish Women. Pappenheim believed that male-led Jewish social service societies underestimated the value of women’s work and insisted on a woman’s movement that was equal to and entirely independent of men’s organizations.
Lilly Rivlin is a documentary filmmaker whose films are centered around feminism, the Arab-Israeli peace process, Jewishness, and her family relationships. Rivlin’s films The Tribe (1984), Miriam’s Daughters Now (1986), and Gimme a Kiss (2000), all of which explore Jewishness and family, are among her best.
For nearly half a century, Rose Schneiderman worked tirelessly to improve wages, hours, and safety standards for American working women.
Clara Lemlich's impassioned Yiddish speech set off the 1909 Uprising of the 20,000, the largest strike by women workers in the United States to that time. But Clara Lemlich’s career as a revolutionary and activist began well before that famous speech and extended for more than half a century afterward.
Disproportionate numbers of Jewish immigrant women in America were associated with socialism in the first decades of the twentieth century. Their radicalism appears to have grown out of the same sources as male radicalism—the changes experienced by the Jewish community in late nineteenth-century Europe and America, including proletarianization and the secularization of Jewish religious values. But Jewish working women’s radical consciousness and their militant collective action in America emerged in the face of extraordinary obstacles.
One of the worst industrial disasters in the history of New York City, causing 146 deaths and an unknown number of injuries, took place on Saturday, March 25, 1911, at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.