Women of valor
Celebrating Jewish women who changed our world
by Judie Jacobson
In 1987, Congress designated March as “Women’s History Month” – a time to honor the achievements of women’s accomplishments and celebrate their contributions to the world we live in. Among these extraordinary women are a multitude of Jewish women whose lives continue to inspire us.
The following are but a few examples of Jewish women whose impact on history is profound. There are so many more. We pay tribute to them all.
A portion of this information was culled from Jewish Women’s Archive (www.jwa.org).
A tireless advocate for women’s and civil rights, “Battling Bella” was a U.S. Representative and women’s rights activist in the 1960s and 1970s. Born in the Bronx, in 1971 Abzug joined other leading Jewish feminists, such as Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan, to found the National Women’s Political Caucus. In 1970, her first campaign slogan was, “This woman’s place is in the House – the House of Representatives.” She was later appointed to co-chair the President Gerald Ford’s National Commission on the Observance of International Women’s Year and led President Jimmy Carter’s National Advisory Commission for Women.
Born in New York City, Gertrude Elion was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1988. A biochemist and pharmacologist, among the many drugs she developed were the first chemotherapy for childhood leukemia, the immunosuppressant that made organ transplantation possible, the first effective anti-viral medication, and treatments for lupus, hepatitis, arthritis, gout, and other diseases.
RUTH BADER GINSBURG
A native of New York City, in 1993, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was appointed a U.S. Supreme Court Justice by President Bill Clinton. Since then, she has been a strong voice for gender equality and rights of workers. She ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark case that made same sex marriage legal in all 50 states.
A political anarchist and writer, Emma Goldman is a symbol of the fight for free speech, as she fiercely advocated for absolute freedom and justice. Born in Kaunas, Lithuania (then Kovno, Russian Empire), she emigrated to the United States in 1885 and dedicated her life to the creation of a radically new social order. For much of her life, she struggled tirelessly against widespread inequality, repression and exploitation.
Regarded as a national heroine in Israel, the poet Hannah Szenes was one of 37 Jewish parachutists of Mandate Palestine who volunteered to parachute into Yugoslavia during World War II to rescue her fellow Hungarian Jews. She was captured, imprisoned and tortured, but refused to give up the details of her mission. She was eventually tried and executed by firing squad. The headquarters of the Zionist youth movement Israel Hatzeira, a kibbutz and several streets are named after her.
A leader in the Zionist movement in America, Henrietta Szold was one of six American Jewish women to found Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, which was dedicated to upgrading health care in Mandate Palestine. Since its founding, Hadassah has since funded hospitals, a medical school, dental facilities, x-ray clinics, infant welfare stations, soup kitchens and other services for Palestine’s Jewish and Arab inhabitants. In 1942, Szold, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, co-founded Ihud, a political party in Mandatory Palestine dedicated to a binational solution.
The author and poet Emma Lazarus is best remembered today for her words that grace the Statue of Liberty welcoming immigrants to America. One of the first successful Jewish American authors, Lazarus was part of the New York literary elite and was recognized in her day as an important American poet. In her later years, she wrote powerful poetry and essays protesting the rise of antisemitism and arguing for Russian immigrants’ rights. She called on Jews to unite and create a homeland in Palestine before the title Zionist had even been coined.
The fourth Prime Minister of Israel, Golda Meir (Meyerson) was born in Kiev, Ukraine and emigrated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1906. During World War II, she aided Jewish war refugees and fundraised for an independent Israeli state. Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1969, after serving as Minister of Labour and Foreign Minister, she was the world’s fourth woman and Israel’s first to hold such an office. Referred to as “the best man in the government” by former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, she was often portrayed as the “strong-willed, straight-talking, grey-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people.” Meir resigned as prime minister in 1974, the year following the Yom Kippur War.