The first woman in her synagogue to chant Haftorah, Hadassah Blocker taught hundreds of women to participate in the Torah service. As the director of a camp for Jewish girls in Pembroke, Massachusetts, Blocker had a strong connection to the Jewish community. Like many women of her generation, she grew up believing that women couldn’t participate in synagogue services. With the encouragement of her father, an Orthodox rabbi, and Rabbi Chiel, leader of her synagogue, Hadassah began learning to chant Torah and Haftorah as an adult. She became the first woman to chant Haftorah at Temple Emanuel of Newton in the 1960s. While there was initial resistance from both men and women to her leading parts of the service, Blocker quickly became a cornerstone of synagogue life, leading services and training women of all ages for their bat mitzvahs. Many of those women, spurred by her example, went on to not only lead services themselves but to pursue their Jewish educations at Hebrew College.
Hadassah talks about her childhood growing up in Roxbury and Dorchester, Massachusetts. Her father was an Orthodox rabbi and the Beth El Hebrew School principal in Dorchester, where Hadassah attended. Her mother was a homemaker and an excellent cook. Hadassah describes her family’s financial struggles, keeping kosher, and her adult bat mitzvah. Blocker explains that she learned Hebrew from a cassette tape that her father recorded after seeing her reading from the Chumash without trope. She tells the story of becoming the first woman to read Haftorah at Temple Emanuel in Newton, Massachusetts and inspiring others to learn the Torah. Hadassah reflects on balancing work and her marriage, challenging the Conservative Jewish traditions, and remaining obstacles to her goal of women’s full and equal participation in Judaism. Finally, she describes her motivation to continue teaching, the intangible rewards of her work, and the risks she took in pursuing these efforts.
How to cite this page
Oral History of Hadassah Blocker. Interviewed by Elise Brenner . 16 December 2004. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on November 28, 2023) <https://jwa.org/oralhistories/blocker-hadassah-0>.
Oral History of Hadassah Blocker by the Jewish Women's Archive is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://jwa.org/contact/OralHistory.