Activism: Community Organizing
Helen Adler helped her husband establish the first model tenements at Cherry Street as well as the first free kindergarten in America, called the Working Man’s School, and later the Ethical Culture School at Fieldston. She took an active part in the visiting nurses’ service for the poor at the DeMilt Dispensary, the oldest clinic in the city, which Felix had initiated in 1877. With the assistance of a Dr. Koplik, she helped cut the infant death rate by having milk bottled safely at the Laboratory Department for Modified Milk for Tenement Babies, which Koplik and Adler founded in 1891.
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.
Allen was one of a group of Philadelphia Jewish women who established and ran the first independent Jewish charitable societies in the United States. She was treasurer of the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society (founded 1819) for forty years and, for a time, its director as well. In 1838, along with Rebecca Gratz, she founded the first Hebrew Sunday school in America, and in 1855, she started the Philadelphia Jewish Foster Home and Orphan Asylum, serving as its president until 1867.
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.
The first Jewish anarchist organization was formally set up as a result of the Haymarket bombing in 1886 and the subsequent trial of the accused anarchists. The inception and growth of the Jewish anarchist movement in the United States were inseparable from the mass immigration of Jews from Eastern Europe starting in 1881.
Dora Askowith, author, historian, and college educator, believed that a knowledge of Jewish women’s history would serve as a catalyst for organization, activism, and moral leadership. She taught women at Hunter College for a total of forty-five years, and wrote that she was anxious to teach college students Jewish history because they were “poorly versed in the history of their own faith.”
Scholars have conventionally considered the nineteenth century the German era in the American Jewish history. Between 1820 and 1880, more than two hundred thousand immigrants from German lands arrived in the United States. Besides German Jews, this transatlantic movement also included migrants from ethnically Czech, Hungarian, Polish, and Baltic territories that at that time remained under German political control or cultural influence.
The Association of Italian Jewish Women, or ADEI, was founded in 1927 in the city of Milan, Italy, home to the second largest Jewish community in the country.
Before the outbreak of World War I, over a dozen B’nai B’rith women’s auxiliaries were scattered from San Francisco to New Jersey. They expanded into cultural activities, philanthropy, and community service, such as financial support of orphanages and homes for the elderly. Their announced aims were to perpetuate Jewish culture, enrich their communities, and ensure the religious survival of their sons and daughters. Their unannounced goals included sociability and the first steps toward personal independence.
Lizzie Spiegel Barbe represents the “Jewish Clubwomen” of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth century. Like other “Jewish clubwomen” of this era, Barbe was motivated to establish leadership roles for women within the organized Jewish community such as had previously not existed. All of Barbe’s communal work focused on the Jewish sphere, and she is remembered for her lifelong commitment to the Chicago Jewish community.
Even as a schoolgirl, Jennie Loitman Barron ignored society’s limits and set high goals for herself. In her long career as a lawyer and a judge, and in her lifelong work for women’s rights, she set many precedents for women in Massachusetts and across the United States.
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.
Beatrice Berler returned to school at the age of forty-five and became an award-winning translator of Spanish-language novels and history. Her work as a literacy activist in the United States earned her national recognition.
Rebecca Bernstein devoted her life to her family and to the Portland community. Bernstein was proud of her Jewish heritage and worked for many Jewish causes, but her interests were not limited to or by her Jewishness.
Barbara Boxer is currently one of the most influential liberal political figures in the country, having served in the United States Senate since 1992. Her visibility especially flows out of her vocal commitment to feminist causes.
This statement by Rose Brenner, first formulated in 1921 at a board of managers meeting, embodied her philosophy during her tenure as president of the National Council Of Jewish Women (NCJW), from 1920 to 1926.
Jeanette Goodman Brill was Brooklyn’s first woman magistrate and the second woman magistrate appointed in New York City.
Jewish women played leading roles in the formative years of the General Jewish Workers’ Bund, which was established in the Tsarist Empire in 1897, and initially participated in the movement in large numbers. However, the Bund seems to have had somewhat less success in mobilizing women in independent Poland between the two world wars than it had during the Tsarist era.
In the forty years following the Russian Revolution of October 1917, communism was the most dynamic force in American left-wing politics and a primary mobilizer of radical Jewish women. At the center of this movement lay the American Communist Party, which grew out of various radical factions inspired by the October Revolution. In December 1921, most of these groups came together as the Workers Party, renamed the Communist Party USA (CP) in 1930.
Florence Dolowitz was a founder and lifelong leader of the Women’s American Ort (Organization for Rehabilitation and Training). She was born in a small town in Lithuania sometime in 1879, the exact date unknown. She was a precocious student, and, to further her education, she was sent with a brother-in-law to live with a childless uncle and aunt in the United States. When the nine-year-old arrived in the country, her destination had been shifted to another uncle. After a few years, she moved to New York City to join her two older sisters who had also emigrated and were now living on Henry Street.
Sylvia Goulston Dreyfus, born November 12, 1893, was a prominent community activist in Boston. She was president of the Hecht Neighborhood House, a community outreach center (modeled after Jane Addams’s Hull House in Chicago) that helped many Boston Jews and still exists to this day. She also was a trustee of the New England Conservatory of Music, sat on the advisory board of the Berkshire Music Festival, and was honorary chair of the Palestine Orchestra fund, an orchestra that later became the Israeli Philharmonic.
A forceful and innovative Zionist leader, Rose Dunkelman came to prominence in Toronto during World War I because of her work for veterans, Jewish war orphans and the Red Cross. Born in Philadelphia to Harry and Dora (Belkin) Miller, at the age of twenty-one she married David Dunkelman (1880–1978), who became one of Canada’s most successful industrialists and retailers. For a short time, she participated in his business activities, chiefly the Associated Clothing Manufacturers and Tip Top Tailors, a chain of stores selling moderately priced clothing across Canada.
Deeply committed to the establishment and development of the State of Israel, Judith G. Epstein dedicated her career as a social and political activist to Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. She served Hadassah in many leadership roles, including two terms as president. She also attended several meetings of the Zionist World Congress as a delegate, served as a representative to the United Nations, and was largely responsible for funding the Rothschild–Hadassah–University Hospital in Jerusalem.
Jewish women have played a significant role in all aspects of the American feminist movement.