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Theater in the United States

For over a hundred years, Jewish women have been involved in the American theater as writers, actors, directors, designers and producers. The vitality of the Yiddish theater, the splendor of Broadway, the rich tapestry of the regional theater, and everything in between, all owe a debt to the Jewish women who have given of their talents, their energy, their drive, and their dreams.

Helen Tamiris

Helen Tamiris was a leader in forming American modern dance. An acclaimed choreographer and director, she used dance to comment on the social issues of her day, including racism, poverty, and war.

Sylvia Blagman Syms

Sylvia Blagman Syms was a gifted jazz singer who earned praise from Billie Holliday, Frank Sinatra, and Duke Ellington. In 1949, she was discovered by Mae West, who became a significant teacher and influence on Syms’s intimate storytelling performing style. Sym’s went on to record fifteen major albums and tour the United States and World before dying of a heart attack. 

Barbra Streisand

From her Oscar winning performance in Funny Girl to her Golden Globe-winning direction in Yentl, Barbra Streisand has consistently made history in the entertainment industry. One of the most successful performers of the twentieth century, she also directs and produces movies. She also funds multiple charities through the Streisand Foundation.

Johanna Spector

Johanna Spector was an influential ethnomusicologist whose writings, recordings, and film projects documented the music of little-studied Jewish communities from around the world. After surviving the Holocaust, Spector earned her doctorate, founded the ethnomusicology department at the Jewish Theological Seminary, established the Society for the Preservation of Samaritan Culture, and served as president of the Asian Music Society. 

Beverly Sills

Beverly Sills was a trailblazing opera singer who, after a robust singing career at the New York City Opera Company (NYCO) and the Metropolitan Opera House, became the first female director of the NYCO, and the first female chair of the Lincoln Center board. Sills defied the odds in her career accomplishments while raising two children with disabilities and being actively involved with several charitable organizations.

Mathilde Schechter

Mathilde Schechter, wife of Solomon Schechter, founded the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. She was a multifaceted individual, creative both in her home and in the public arena. As an organizational person, she developed herself fully, in line with the traditional women’s roles of the times yet stretching them in new and creative ways.

Ruth Rubin

Ruth Rubin devoted a lifetime to the collection and preservation of Yiddish folklore in poetics and songs. As a popular performer-folklorist, she would describe the background of her selections and then sing them in a simple, unaccompanied style. Rubin helped preserve the past and launch the modern Yiddish revival.

Nacha Rivkin

Orthodox Jewish education for women in America began with the work of Nacha Rivkin, a founder of Shulamith School for Girls, the first girls’ yeshiva in the United States. A courageous and proficient “doer,” Rivkin broke out of the mold of the passive, religious homemaker in her commitment to action. Through her music and artwork, she expanded the range of career possibilities for Orthodox women of her time.

Betty Robbins

Betty Robbins is often heralded as the first female cantor – in fact, that honor goes to Julie Rosewald. However, Robbins was the first woman to be officially designated as cantor. The Board of Trustees at Temple Avodah in Oceanside, New York unanimously appointed Robbins as their cantor in 1955.

Nadia Reisenberg

Whether recording a Brahms sonata with clarinetist Benny Goodman, enjoying her three grandsons, or giving a master class in Jerusalem, pianist Nadia Reisenberg’s joy in relationships radiated from her. Reisenberg used her talents to connect with others, from her acclaimed performances with her sister to her years of training musicians in New York and Jerusalem.

Judith Raskin

An operatic soprano, Judith Raskin was one of the most outstanding musical artists of the twentieth century. Known for her performances and unique teaching methods, Raskin played more than 60 roles for prestigious opera companies across the United States, sang lieder and orchestral works, and taught at the Manhattan School of Music and the 92nd Street Y. 

Molly Picon

A lively comic actress, Molly Picon brought Yiddish theater to a wider American audience. She acted in the first Yiddish play ever performed on Broadway and insisted on performing in Yiddish on a 1932 tour of Palestine. Filming on location in Poland, on the eve of World War II, Picon captured a view of shtetl life soon to be erased by the Holocaust.

Roberta Peters

Singer Roberta Peters led a career spanning more than half a century as one of the Metropolitan Opera’s most popular sopranos. A frequent performer on the radio, television, and stages around the world, Peters was also involved with many public health and Jewish organizations throughout her life.

Dame Myra Hess

One of Great Britain’s most famous classical pianists, Dame Myra Hess had the idea of setting up lunchtime concerts at London’s National Gallery during the Second World War. The success of those concerts made Hess an international star, and the honor of Dame of the British Empire was conferred upon her in 1941.

Deborah 2: Midrash and Aggadah

Deborah, one of the most extraordinary women in the Bible, is presented as an extremely righteous and praiseworthy woman in rabbinic literature. Though some traditions criticize her pride, perhaps wary of how she transgressed gender norms, most of the rabbinic texts about Deborah are filled with praise.

Brachah Zefira

Brachah Zefira was a seminal figure in the world of Israeli song and among its most colorful and influential personalities in the pre-State period. She toured the world performing with her husband, pianist Nahum Nardi, and the duo played an influential role in ethnic integration in Palestine. In Zefira’s footsteps, an entire wave of Yemenite women singers arose. 

Yaffa Yarkoni

Yaffa Yarkoni was a talented and influential Israeli singer who recorded over 1,400 songs throughout her career. Known for her deep and throaty voice, her music spanned an impressive array of styles and rhythms and marked a shift in Israeli popular music.

Maria Winetzkaja

Maria Winetzkaja was a rebellious and independent woman whose international opera career spanned twenty years. As a leading mezzo-soprano and excellent dramatic actor, Winetzkaja toured the world with several opera companies, taught voice at the Juilliard School, and raised two sons. Winetzkaja was a powerful force who desired equality for women throughout her life. 

Edith Weiss-Mann

Edith Weiss-Mann’s distinguished career as a concert artist, music journalist, and teacher led to universal acknowledgment of her tremendous influence on new music in Germany during the interwar period. Along with other musicians, Weiss-Mann pioneered the revival of the harpsichord and baroque music in particular.

Wendy Wasserstein

In 1989, Wendy Wasserstein won the Pulitzer Prize for The Heidi Chronicles and was the first woman playwright to win a Tony Award. After graduating from the MFA program at the Yale School of Drama, in which she was the only woman, Wasserstein wrote countless dramas, three musicals, various comedy skits for television, and a series of essays published in the New Yorker, Esquire, and Harper’s Bazaar.

Jennie Tourel

Opera singer Jennie Tourel’s subtle and expressive performances made each song she sang into a miniature tone drama that she shaped as closely as possible to the composer’s intention.

Julie Taymor

Julie Taymor is an award-winning theater, opera, and film director best known for being the first woman to win a Tony Award for directing a Broadway Musical: The Lion King.

Florine Stettheimer

Florine Stettheimer's paintings are lively, diarylike accounts of her life and acute examinations of upper-class ways in New York between the wars. Her decorative style offered an alternative to prevailing modes of contemporary modernist painting. Through her work, she criticized the high-mindedness of modern art and the course of modern life. 

Teresa Sterne

Teresa Sterne had two great careers in music, first as a child prodigy pianist, then as one of the first women record producers in the United States. As the first woman in America to guide the destinies of a prominent record label, Sterne transformed American musical life as the director of Nonesuch Records by being open to new artists and new repertory and making innovative recordings.


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