Audrey Abade, 2016 Twersky Award Finalist
Audrey Abade is the Jewish History Department Chair at Magen David Yeshivah High School. Her research has focused on Sephardic Jewry, particularly the role of women within Syrian and Egyptian Jewish communities. Her study of Egyptian Jewish women and their immigration to the United States was published in, “A Jewish Feminine Mystique?: Jewish Women in Postwar America.” Her lesson focuses on Syrian Jewish Americans during World War II and looks at the process of identity formation through the lens of young first and second generation women.
Victory Bulletin- Syrian Jewish Women During World War II
Explore the role of Syrian Jewish women in Brooklyn during World War II and consider the ways in which their voices, and other marginalized voices, enrich the historical narrative and empower those whose voices are still not heard.
- As immigrant communities develop communal identities they confront competing forces- a desire to Americanize and a desire to maintain a separate communal identity
- Women, and other marginalized groups, are often left out of historical/communal narratives
- Expanding the narrative to include marginalized voices enriches communal histories and empowers those whose voices are not often heard
- The unique response of the Syrian Jewish Community of Brooklyn to World War II was a product of their desire to be patriotic American citizens and their insistence on maintaining a separate communal identity
- In the Victory Bulletin, a monthly newsletter published by the Girls Junior League, a club for young Syrian Jewish women aged sixteen to twenty-five, the editors were consciously pushing boundaries while maintaining their loyalty to their community and their country
- Why did the Girl’s Junior League publish the Victory Bulletin? What was their goal?
- Were they successful? Why or why not?
- What is unique about the Syrian Jewish response to World War II? What drove their response?
- How did the Girls Junior League contribute to the creation of a communal identity for the Syrian Jewish community of Brooklyn?
- Why does the Girls Junior League dedicate so much attention to the fight against the creation of Parochial School and the fight to build a community center? How do these debates relate to War Effort?
Introduction to the Victory Bulletin
In October, 1943 the Victory Bulletin reported that the Syrian Jewish community of Brooklyn, New York purchased a two-motored Mitchell bomber for the United States Army Air Forces. They raised $300,000 for this acquisition through the sale of war bonds and stamps. This gesture points to a community with a strong support for the war effort and for their new home country (they began to settle and grow in American starting in 1907). The bomber was named “The Spirit of Magen David.” Magen David is a Hebrew term for the Shield of David and clearly contains some religious connotations. Magen David is also the name of one of the first synagogues built by this community and it later became the name of the community’s first Yeshiva. They contributed this bomber as both loyal Americans and as a distinct community with its own identity and symbols. The article ends with, “The Syrian-American community is not only backing the attack. It is attacking with a Mitchell medium bomber!” The community had a strong commitment to two different identities and seems to be threading the fine line that they created between them.
World War II, a traumatic event for all Americans, left its mark on the Syrian Jewish community of Bensonhurst in Brooklyn. As the men shipped off to war, the women began to organize at home in order to make their contribution to the war effort. The Girls Junior League (GJL), a social club created in 1940 for young women aged sixteen to twenty-five, soon became an organized group of second-generation American women committed to the war effort and to patriotic service. As part of this effort they put together a monthly newsletter, the Victory Bulletin, in order to print letters from soldiers, to write about current civilian defense projects and opportunities for involvement, to encourage participation in the war effort, to promote American values and the American President, and, to a lesser extent, to write about community gossip and events. The project symbolizes the dual identities of this community; these women were responding to the war as both Syrian-Jewish women and as American women.
The fact that these women were organizing, campaigning and publishing is astonishing because they believed that they belonged to a community that adhered to the notion that a “young girl’s place is in the home.” This was a novel endeavor for this group of women and the community they presented it to. Aware of the obstacles, these women worked extremely hard to succeed in the face of criticism. In a March, 1943 editorial of the Victory Bulletin, the women summed up the criticisms and extolled their accomplishments:
The cynics laughed and the community in general was just uninterested when the Girls Junior League was formed two years ago. But now, in March, 1943, no one can possibly deny that in a comparatively short period, the club into which our girls have organized has become a leading community organization- and in home-front, war work, the leading community organization.
The G.J.L., conscious of world events ever since its first days, has helped organize victory rallies, bond drives, Red Cross first aid classes, blood donor drives and campaigns for relief funds and clothing for our brave allies in Britain, Russia and China. Through this newspaper, which it established nine months ago, the girl’s club has kept interest high in these war activities and has encouraged and spurred on to greater effort the home-front fighters of our community.
These women felt a need to assert their value and importance to an audience that was often uninterested and even antagonistic. In order to gain respect they set out to do meaningful work within the community. They sought opportunities to present their community as a model American community, while ensuring that they remained a separate community with their own priorities.
The Victory Bulletin focused primarily on community men who were serving on the front lines. The proportion of men sent to war from the Syrian Jewish community was a high of almost 1000 men out of a community of 6000. The first edition of the bulletin declares; “originally planned as a monthly bulletin to be sent only to the community’s boys on the fighting front, it has been expanded to the status of a community newspaper. The Victory Bulletin will be mailed monthly to every soldier from our community, no matter where he is stationed, as well as to every family here.”
The Victory Bulletin placed the Girls Junior League at the forefront of their community’s attempt to steer the course between Americanization and distinction. In the articles they wrote, the services they rendered, and the functions they organized they demonstrated how one could be American and yet maintain a unique communal identity. Like the bomber their community donated to the American air force, these women belonged to America and yet were proud to maintain the “spirit” of their community.
- Survey (Google Forms, paper survey, or other preferred method) students to determine their prior knowledge concerning the Syrian Jewish Community (students are members of this community) and the role of women
Sample Survey Questions:
- How would you describe the role of women in the Syrian Jewish community?
- How has the role of women in the Syrian Jewish community changed in the last 50-100 years? What factors have contributed to those factors?
- What role do you think Syrian women played in WWII?
- Use the survey responses and classroom discussion to create an identity chart for Syrian Jewish Women during World War II
Document Study: Victory Bulletin
- Introduce students to the Victory Bulletin and describe the Girls Junior League and the role they played in the war effort and within the community
- Students look through the Victory Bulletin excerpts (article titles, pictures, ads, highlighted sections, serial articles) to identify key themes, ideas
- Through classroom discussion, themes or recurring sections are identified
- Broader Jewish Issues
- Letters to and from Community Soldiers
- Through classroom discussion, themes or recurring sections are identified
Group Work and Presentations
- Review Observe-Reflect-Question Primary Source Analysis tool (see “Teacher Resources” section)
- Model for students
- Divide students into groups and assign each group a theme and driving questions
- Each group will analyze sections of the newsletter that they identify as related to their theme, in addition to a packet of articles selected by the teacher
- Using a shared Google Doc (teacher provides real-time feedback) each group analyzes their sources using the Observe-Reflect-Question method and then responds to their driving Question
- Each group prepares to present their findings to their peers through an oral presentation and a creative activity; the presentation should highlight comparisons to the community today
- Using the jigsaw method, students are divided so that every student must present their groups work individually to a new group of peers
- As students listen to their peers presentations they fill out a worksheet (feedback, comparison)
- Students return to their groups to reassess and to create a tribute to the women of the Victory Bulletin
Closing Discussion and Survey
- Classroom discussion on the Essential Questions
- Survey students (Google form) to determine current perceptions and to determine if the narrative was expanded
Victory Bulletin, Excerpts
How to cite this page
Jewish Women's Archive. "Audrey Abade, 2016 Twersky Award Finalist." (Viewed on February 22, 2018) <https://jwa.org/twersky/abade-audrey>.