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Rebekah: Bible

Rebekah is the second matriarch in Genesis and shares two problems with Sarah, the first matriarch: barrenness, and being passed off as her husband’s sister. But her story is more extensive; she is a dynamic character in a long narrative describing how she becomes Isaac’s wife. Her agency continues when she bears twins and secures the birthright for her favored son.

Elizabeth Brandeis Raushenbush

Following in the footsteps of her famous father, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, Elizabeth Brandeis Raushenbush became an expert on labor legislation in the United States and one of its strongest defenders.

Rachel: Bible

The younger daughter of Laban and wife of Jacob, Rachel is the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, who become two of the twelve tribes of Israel (Gen 35:24; 46:15–18). Rachel, who died young, becomes an image of tragic womanhood. After the biblical period, “Mother Rachel” continued to be celebrated as a powerful intercessor for the people of Israel.

Rachel: Midrash and Aggadah

Rachel is depicted in the Torah as Jacob’s beautiful and beloved wife. The midrash portrays Rachel as a prophetess, and her statements and the names she gave her sons contain allusions to the future. Rachel’s merit continued to aid Israel even many years after her demise.

Justine Wise Polier

As the first woman judge appointed in New York, Justine Wise Polier focused on helping the most vulnerable population: children. From the bench, Polier helped reform both foster care and the school system, ensuring that minority children had access to services. She also worked an informal second shift, volunteering for important causes ranging from prison reform to trying to evacuate Jewish children from Europe during the Holocaust.

Philanthropy in the United States

In the United States, Jewish women’s philanthropy generally occurred through three main types of organizations: autonomous women’s organizations, women’s organizations that included some men, and women’s auxiliaries of male-dominated groups. In recent decades, changes in Jewish philanthropy and in gender roles have influenced contemporary styles of Jewish women’s philanthropy.

Orphanages in the United States

In the mid-nineteenth century, Jewish philanthropists founded many orphanages in cities with significant Jewish populations, aiming to provide elementary education, vocational training, and religious instruction for dependent children they feared would be raised in non-Jewish asylums. Women were often at the forefront of these institutions as founders, managers, and staff members.

Adele Gutman Nathan

Adele Gutman Nathan was a prolific writer, theater director, and creator of historical pageants and commemorative events. She wrote fourteen children’s books, in addition to newspaper and magazines articles. Nathan directed theater in Baltimore and New York and staged events from the 1933 and 1939 World’s Fairs to the hundredth anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Kadya Molodowsky

Kadya Molodowsky was a major figure in the Yiddish literary scene in Warsaw (from the 1920s through 1935) and in New York (from 1935 until her death in 1975). She published extensively in many genres, including poetry, fiction, drama, and essays, and founded and edited two journals. Recurrent themes in her work include the lives of Jewish women and girls Jewish tradition in the face of modernity, Israel, and the Holocaust.

Jephthah's Daughter: Midrash and Aggadah

Jephthah’s daughter is portrayed in midrash as a wise and practical woman, well-versed in halakhah and the Torah. The rabbis place the blame for her murder on her father and the High Priest Phinehas.

Jochebed: Midrash and Aggadah

The midrash portrays Jochebed as a wise woman who was righteous and God-fearing. By merit of her good deeds, she gave birth to the three leaders of the Exodus generation: Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

Keturah: Midrash and Aggadah

Keturah was one of Abraham’s wives. The Rabbis describe her as a woman of virtue, for which she was worthy of being joined to Abraham.

Frances Horwich

Frances Horwich was loved by parents and children alike for her educational television show, Ding Dong School, which taught millions of children how to finger paint, grow plants, and do craft projects with household objects such as pipe cleaners and paper plates. She ended up writing 27 Ding Dong School books and two books for parents, as well as winning several awards over her career.

Holocaust Survivors: Rescue and Resettlement in the United States

Immediately after the Holocaust, the American Jewish community assisted in the postwar rehabilitation and resettlement of survivors who arrived in the United States. Families sponsored European relatives and communal agencies organized to help survivors’ adjustment. While the contemporary media described a warm welcome by American communities and survivors’ rapid acclimation, this triumphant narrative belied the fraught reality of survivors’ early years in the United States.

Hannah: Bible

Hannah, the second and barren yet preferred wife of Elkanah, promises to return her child to YHWH if he grants her a son. Her prayers are answered, and she follows through on her pledge to YHWH. Hannah’s narrative emphasizes the importance of fertility and childbirth in Israeli artistic narratives and presents a portrayal of an independent and resourceful woman.

Hannah: Midrash and Aggadah

Hannah is depicted by the Rabbis as a righteous woman who was devout in her observance of the commandments and tested by God through her infertility. Her story is the basis for much of the rabbinic conception and rules of prayer.

Hagar: Midrash and Aggadah

Hagar is the subject of much interpretation by the rabbis, who portray her as a spiritual and even righteous woman. The rabbis often depict her relationship with Sarah as harmful and fractious, though some traditions identify her with Keturah, taken as a wife by Abraham in Gen. 25:1; in this interpretation, after their divorce she remarried Abraham after Sarah’s death.

Hagar: Bible

Hagar is Sarah’s Egyptian slave woman, whom Sarah gives to Abraham as secondary wife and who would bear a child for him. After Hagar becomes pregnant, Sarah treats her harshly. Eventually Hagar flees from her mistress into the wilderness, where God’s messenger speaks to her. Hagar has long represented the plight of the foreigner, the slave, and the sexually abused woman.

Happy 50th birthday, Barbie

Judith Rosenbaum

I have to admit that I didn't grow up with Barbies. Born to a feminist mom in the 1970s, I only had Skipper, Barbie's flat-chested cousin. But as much as Barbie's boobs kind of frightened me (and still do), Skipper just didn't have her charisma.

Nelly Wolffheim

Nelly Wolffheim spent her career developing and teaching a kindergarten curriculum based around Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic framework. She taught this curriculum, which encouraged children to express their sexual desires, to Jewish women teachers in Berlin. After escaping Germany for England in 1939, Wolffheim struggled to continue her research but began publishing her work again after the war.

Solomon’s Judgment: Bible

In this story, King Solomon is asked to consider the case of two women who gave birth to sons but, due to the death of one of their children, are fighting over the remaining child. While the story is generally cited as an example of Solomon’s wisdom, this narrative also shows the possessiveness of maternal love.

Two Prostitutes as Mothers: Midrash and Aggadah

The two prostitutes appear in the narrative about Solomon’s judgement concerning the parentage of a baby boy. The Rabbis debate the identity of the women; some argue that they truly were prostitutes and were therefore not present at the time of the judgment, while others assert that they were yevamot (widows whose husbands had died childless).

Nettie Sutro-Katzenstein

Dr. Nettie Sutro-Katzenstein founded SHEK (Schweizer Hilfswerk fur Emigrantenkinder), a non-denominational Swiss women’s organization for helping refugee children, in 1933. An effective and dynamic leader, Sutro-Katzenstein directed SHEK headquarters and recruited volunteers, gaining the support of the Swiss public. Between 1933 and 1948, SHEK cared for over 10,000 refugee children, 90% of whom were Jewish.

Hasya Sukenik-Feinsod

Hasya Sukenik Feinsod served as director of the Hebrew Kindergarten Teachers College. In 1919 Feinsod was appointed by the Education Committee to serve as superintendent of kindergartens in Jerusalem. She headed the Association of Kindergarten Teachers, and she was the first and only female representative on the Education Committee.

Eva Michaelis Stern

Eva Michaelis Stern was co-founder and director of the fundraising arm of the Youth Aliyah in Germany, and later the director of the Youth Aliyah office in London. Over the course of WWII, she helped more than 1000 children from countries all over Europe immigrate to Palestine.


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