Women have played an important part in the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) since the organization was first established after World War I.
Matilde Bassani Finzi continued her activity in anti-fascist groups and, together with Giorgio Bassani, organized parlor meetings and helped distribute newspapers and newsletters. After Mussolini’s fall on July 25, 1943, Bassani Finzi was released together with all the political prisoners. Immediately upon her release she contacted the Resistance groups, who began to organize in case Germany should invade Italy, which it did on September 8, 1943. After the war she continued to work for the ideals in which she believed: freedom, democracy and equality for women.
The positive aspect of the Canadian mosaic has been a strong Jewish community (and other communities) which nurtured traditional ethnic and religious values and benefited from the talent and energy of women and men restrained from participation in the broader society. The negative aspect has included considerable antisemitism and, especially for women, the sometimes stifling narrowness and conservatism of the community which inhibited creative and exceptional people from charting their own individual paths.
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.
Jewish women have played a significant role in all aspects of the American feminist movement.
Ruth First was a prolific writer and her penetrating investigative journalism exposed many of the harsh conditions under which the majority of South Africans lived. As various restrictions prevented her from continuing her work as a journalist Ruth First became more and more involved with the underground movement that was changing its tactics from protest to sabotage.
At the age of seventeen Mire Gola was elected to the main Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir leadership in Galicia and moved to Lvov, where the leadership was located.In 1932 she was expelled from Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir because of her radical stand on relations with the Soviet Union.At this time she began to be active in the Communist Party.
Bas Sheva Abramowitz (“Bessie” was created by an Ellis Island immigration officer) was born on May 15, 1889, in Linoveh, a village near Grodno in Russia. She was one of ten children born to Emanuel Abramowitz, a commission agent, and Sarah Rabinowitz. In 1905, Bessie, who spoke only Yiddish and some Russian, joined an older cousin in immigrating to America. Most 1905 immigrants fled czarist oppression and anti-Jewish violence, but Bessie reported that her aim in leaving home was to escape the services of the local marriage broker.
Clara Immerwahr was born on June 21, 1870 on the Polkendorff Farm near Breslau, where she grew up together with her three older siblings, Elli, Rose and Paul, in a wealthy, highly-cultured, open and liberal family, which wore its Jewishness lightly. Her father, Philipp Immerwahr, had studied chemistry and sought to establish a factory, but when this enterprise failed he turned to Polkendoff, where his farming skills and inventive spirit combined to make him wealthy. He married his cousin Anne, née Korn. The family regularly spent the winter months in Breslau, where Philipp’s mother owned a large store selling clothes and dress materials.
The International Ladies Garment Workers Union was founded in 1900. The eleven Jewish men who founded the union represented seven local unions from East Coast cities with heavy Jewish immigrant populations. This all-male convention was made up exclusively of cloak makers and one skirt maker, highly skilled Old World tailors who had been trying to organize in a well-established industry for a couple of decades. White goods workers, including skilled corset makers, were not invited to the first meeting. Nor were they or the largely young immigrant Jewish workers in the newly developing shirtwaist industry recruited for the union in the early years of its existence. But these women workers still tried to organize.
On April 6, 1944, Klaus Barbie (1913–1991), Chief of the Nazi Gestapo in Lyons during the German occupation of France, raided a home for Jewish children in Izieu, a remote hilltop village overlooking the valley of the Rhône (70 km. east of Lyons). This action was to become one of the most infamous symbols of Nazi brutality and, ironically, the single count (of crimes against humanity) for which Barbie, torturer and murderer of Jewish men, women and children, but most excoriated as the executioner of Résistance hero Jean Moulin, was tried and convicted some forty-three years later.
The League of Jewish Women (Jüdischer Frauenbund, or JFB) founded in 1904 by Bertha Pappenheim, attracted a large following. Absorbing some traditional Jewish women’s charities and building on programs that Jewish women’s groups had pioneered, the JFB offered a feminist analysis and approach to social welfare.
Jacqueline Levine is an outstanding example of female activist leadership in American Jewish life. In over five decades of service to the Jewish community, she has combined her powerfully deep liberal political beliefs and activities, which benefit the poor and disadvantaged, with her concern for the vast needs of specific Jewish communities.
Internationally famous for her starring role in the equestrian melodrama Mazeppa, in which she was stripped on stage to a flesh-colored body stocking, lashed to the back of the “wild horse of Tartary,” and sent flying on a narrow ramp above the theater, Adah Isaacs Menken consistently defied social mores.
In a lifetime of battle for women’s dignity and global change, Robin Morgan uses words as ammunition. As poet, novelist, journalist, lecturer and feminist theorist, she expresses the reality of contemporary women’s oppression.
Bertha Pappenheim founded the Jewish feminist movement in 1904 and led it for twenty years, remaining on its board of directors until her death in 1936. She introduced German-Jewish women to beliefs and issues raised by feminism. She spoke openly of Jewish unwed mothers, illegitimate children and prostitutes, and she encouraged Jewish women to demand political, economic and social rights as well as commensurate responsibilities.
An activist Jewish writer and film maker, Lilly Rivlin has, from her earliest adult years, been engaged in the various political and social struggles that have shaped and been shaped by the people of her generation. She is that rare figure, a passionate individualist with an activist social conscience.
For nearly half a century, Rose Schneiderman worked tirelessly to improve wages, hours, and safety standards for American working women.
Clara Lemlich's impassioned Yiddish speech set off the 1909 Uprising of the 20,000, the largest strike by women workers in the United States to that time. But Clara Lemlich’s career as a revolutionary and activist began well before that famous speech and extended for more than half a century afterward.
Disproportionate numbers of Jewish immigrant women in America were associated with socialism in the first decades of the twentieth century. Their radicalism appears to have grown out of the same sources as male radicalism—the changes experienced by the Jewish community in late nineteenth-century Europe and America, including proletarianization and the secularization of Jewish religious values. But Jewish working women’s radical consciousness and their militant collective action in America emerged in the face of extraordinary obstacles.
One of the worst industrial disasters in the history of New York City, causing 146 deaths and an unknown number of injuries, took place on Saturday, March 25, 1911, at the Triangle Shirtwaist Company.