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Civil Rights

Mary Fels

Mary Fels, an ardent and philanthropic Zionist, promoted Jewish settlement in Palestine and Israel throughout her life.

Sandra Feldman

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.

Emma Lazarus Federation of Jewish Women's Clubs

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.

Sophia Dubnow-Erlich

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.

Civil Rights Movement in the United States

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.

Rose Chernin

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.

Rosellen Brown

“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.

American Jewish Congress

Women have played an important part in the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) since the organization was first established after World War I.

Shulamit Aloni

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.

Ray Alexander (Simons)

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.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Civil Rights." (Viewed on December 17, 2017) <https://jwa.org/topics/civil-rights>.

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