Jewish History

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Hanukkah Bush

The Hidden History of Hanukkah

Tess Kelly

We all know the story. The courageous Maccabees, the oil that lasted for a miraculous eight nights. We all know the branded fable, the great tale of Hanukkah that has been recited again and again in synagogues and religious schools forever. But it isn’t the whole story. 

Writing Home: A Letter from an Early American Jew

Learn about Jewish immigration and the development of the Jewish community in America through a 1790s letter, originally written in Yiddish by Rebecca Samuel to her parents in Hamburg, Germany, describing her life in Petersburg, Virginia.

The Little Bride by Anna Solomon

Book Review: The Little Bride

Rachel King

Through evocative rendering of a little-known chapter in Jewish-American history, Anna Solomon’s novel The Little Bride takes us from Eastern Europe to the American West in the story of Minna, a 19th-century “mail order bride.”

Ruth Behar

Ruth Behar On Cuban Travel, Diplomatic Relations, and Exile

Dina Weinstein

For Cuban-born author and University of Michigan anthropology professor Ruth Behar, diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba have translated into uniquely exciting opportunities to create cultural bridges.

Topics: Jewish History
Bella Abzug on the cover of "Life Magazine," June 9, 1972

Why Don’t I Know More About Bella Abzug?

Tara Metal

Among the many treats in Gloria Steinem’s new memoir My Life on the Road are the bevy of stories starring women who appear on jwa.org: Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Gerda Lerner, Betty Friedan, and even Emma Goldman earned mentions. But as I read Steinem’s book, one name made more appearances than the rest: Bella Abzug.

Gloria Steinem, 2010, with "My Life On The Road" Cover, 2015

Book Review: My Life on the Road

Tara Metal

It feels so unimaginative to write that Gloria Steinem is my hero. But, Gloria Steinem is my hero. She’s the woman I most admire, and the only consistent guest at my fantasy dinner party. Reading her new memoir, My Life on the Road, is probably the closest I’ll ever get to actually having dinner with Gloria. 

Lucy Kramer Cohen and Navajo Women circa 1937-38

This Columbus Day, Celebrate Lucy Kramer Cohen

Larisa Klebe

Lucy Kramer Cohen (1907-2007) was an advocate for Native Americans, and spent much of her career, along with her husband Felix, fighting for their rights. Felix was hired by President Franklin Roosevelt to draft what became the Indian Reorganization Act. Lucy was knowledgeable about Native American cultures and about economics, and she and Felix discussed how to reform the legal and economic opportunities for Native Americans. 

Julie Wise Oreck, cropped

New Orleans “Normal”: An Interview With Julie Wise Oreck

Rachel King

In Katrina’s Jewish Voices, JWA’s collection of video interviews with New Orleans women in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Julie Wise Oreck discussed the extraordinary collaboration of the Jewish community to rebuild the city.

French Quarter, New Orleans

The More Things Change

Lisa Batya Feld

Susan Hess first came to New Orleans as a young bride in 1965, three days before Hurricane Betsy, and she remembered the one good thing about that storm was that it cemented her identity as a New Orleans insider in a way that would have taken decades otherwise.

Topics: Jewish History
Giving Hands

The Arrogance of Giving: Lessons from Katrina’s Jewish Voices

Lisa Batya Feld

For the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, JWA created an exhibit to highlight the stories of evacuees and survivors of the storm, based on interviews we had recorded shortly after Katrina. I listened to stories of heartbreaking losses, narrow escapes, and rare moments of unexpected humor. 

Topics: Jewish History
Alice and Marv Olick in Dillingen, Germany 1953-1954

Big Plans in Small Spaces

Julia Rubin

When my grandmother graduated High School in the late 1940s, the American dream for women was to get married and raise children. Wartime propaganda told individuals to reject the communist behavior of their Russian counterparts and contribute to society by creating nuclear families. While women were expected to fill roles once occupied by men who went to war, these were seen as temporary positions, not long-term careers. Women often worked as secretaries or store clerks, jobs that paid little and offered few opportunities for advancement. “You just kind of lived life and it happened. You didn’t make big plans,” Alice says. Alice did, despite those expectations, make big plans. In her high school yearbook, she wrote about her aspirations to become a journalist.

Topics: Jewish History
Menorah, Congregation Beth Israel, New Orleans, April 11, 2006

Katrina's Jewish Voices, Ten Years Later

Judith Rosenbaum

When most of us think of Hurricane Katrina, the Jewish community of New Orleans is not the first thing to come to mind. We’re more likely to think of the devastation of the Ninth Ward, of the homes marked with the number of bodies found inside, of the desperate conditions in the Superdome.

Topics: Jewish History
"Wedgwood Room, Pines Hotel, South Fallsburg, NY" by Marisa Scheinfeld

An Interview with Photographer Marisa Scheinfeld: Part II

Tara Metal

This year, photographer and Catskills native Marisa Scheinfeld mounted her first museum exhibit, “Echoes of the Borscht Belt.” We spoke to Marisa about her haunting photographs, what drew her to the ruins of the famed Jewish play land, and why the Catskills are so important to Jewish American culture. Don’t miss Part I of JWA’s interview with Marisa!

Indoor Pool, Grossinger’s Catskill Resort and Hotel, Liberty, NY by Marisa Scheinfeld

An Interview with Photographer Marisa Scheinfeld: Part I

Tara Metal

This year, photographer and Catskills native Marisa Scheinfeld mounted her first museum exhibit, “Echoes of the Borscht Belt.” We spoke to Marisa about her haunting photographs, what drew her to the ruins of the famed Jewish play land, and why the Catskills are so important to Jewish American culture.

Lauren Shapiro with her Aunt Jennie, cropped

“Can We Throw the Skirt Out?” A First-Generation Story

Lauren Shapiro

I am first generation American, as were most children and, for that matter, many of the teachers, in our public school. Not coincidentally, the word perseverance appeared often on our vocabulary lists. We used it in sentences, like “If you don’t have perseverance, you will not amount to much”—but I already knew that before I started kindergarten. Perseverance was my Aunt Jennie’s word of the day, every day. 

Pharaoh Notes the Importance of the Jewish People by James Tissot circa 1896-1902

Ancient Egypt, Nazi Germany, and High School Classrooms: Is There Such a Thing as an Innocent Bystander?

Eliana Melmed

There is little more frustrating than being punished for something that you did not do.  The extra homework assignments because a few classmates were talking, no sandals to work because one girl stubbed her toe, no more school-wide pancake breakfasts because one group of students did not clean up their lunch, the trampoline is off-limits because one person couldn’t follow the rules. So many instances when one person, or one small group of people, ruined it for everybody.

Topics: Jewish History
West Coast Highway

I Came to Explore the Wreck

Rachel Landau

Boxes of slide reels still cover my repurposed kitchen table. To help with storage, a nearby closet offers enough space for a whopping twelve boxes for a total of sixteen, all compiled by my paternal Grandfather. I’m no mathematician but I can easily calculate that, with sixteen boxes of eighty slides, there must be over twelve hundred squares of film.

A Censored Passage From a Book

Recording History, Warts and All

Sophie Edelhart

So, when prompted with the question, “Which piece of culture would you like history to forget?” I truly couldn’t think of anything. To willingly want to erase a historical cultural record really shows no regard for history at all. The culture we create is a reflection of our values during that period. Books, movies, TV, music, are the most compelling historical records we have of the mood of a society, and this includes the ugly parts. 

Topics: Jewish History
Seder Plate

How and Why We Remember

Yana Kozukhin

The people of a certain culture devote an entire week of each year to commemorating one of the worst parts of their history. They taste bitter things to appreciate the suffering of their ancestors. They consciously abstain from consuming bread to remind themselves what was eatenor rather, what was not eaten. They mourn the deaths of their ancient oppressors. They drink the metaphorical tears of their forefathers and foremothers. And year after year after year, they gather around tables to recount the suffering and the humiliation and the turmoil of their own people.

New Year Postcard

Propelled into the New Year

Deborah Rubin Fields

Early in the 20th century, Jewish New Year card manufacturers began embellishing their cards with airplanes. They did so for three interrelated reasons: to call attention to the thrilling, modern invention of the airplane, to draw an analogy between the New Year and this new means of travel, and to use the airplane to highlight the changing status of women.

Anna Held cropped

Great Women You've Never Heard Of: Women's History Month at JWA

Judith Rosenbaum

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: despite devoting my life to women’s history, I’m not the biggest fan of Women’s History Month. While I love the public attention that turns to women’s stories in March, I hate the assumption that the stories of half the population deserve this attention just 1/12 of the year.

Topics: Jewish History
Edmund Pettus Bridge

Go See "Selma"

Emilia Diamant

I cried six times during the movie Selma. Each time for a different reason, and with varying durations/intensities. Within the first few minutes I had tears of mourning and shock running down my face. At one point I broke into sobs of sorrow.

Rachel by Joseph von Führich, 1836

Hannah's Ghost

Eliza Bayroff

I love Hanukkah. Always have. Eight crazy nights of games, presents, impromptu dance parties to the songs of Jewish musical maestro Paul Zim, and examinations of a stack of illustrated children’s books about the holiday, among them one very special giant-sized coloring book. (When I tell you giant-sized, I mean the length and width of an average toddler.)

Dorothee Metlitzki

Historian Dorothee Metlitzki investigated how ideas about science spread through the Middle Ages, but her scholarship took a more active turn during her frequent border crossings in the chaotic Middle East of the 1940s.
Beach Sunrise

Keep Loving, Keep Fighting: Reflections after Thanksgiving

Joanna Ware

Sitting in my grandparents' house in Northridge, CA, on stolen land that was originally Barbareño and Chumash territory, I'm thinking a lot about how to foster space for gratitude without erasing the pain and violence in the paths that brought us to this place. Because rolled up in my story, in the events that led to me being in this place with my cherished family of origin, is a lot of pain and violence.

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