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Jewish Women Throughout History

In honor of Women’s History Month, our Federation would like to recognize Jewish women throughout the years who have made an impact on our Jewish community and beyond.

Henrietta Szold (1860-1945)

Never heard of her? You’re among many. The daughter of a rabbi, Henrietta Szold founded Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. She also took it upon herself to help Russian Jewish immigrants in her hometown of Baltimore, establishing the first American night school to teach them English and vocational skills so they could thrive in their new home. A pioneer, Szold paved the way for women to become rabbis when she convinced the Jewish Theological Seminary, which then only accepted men, to allow her to take classes. Though she was barred from becoming ordained, Szold’s influence as a respected student no doubt began to change the atmosphere and the way women were thought of in the American religious world. In her later years, Szold moved to Israel where she saved many lives through her involvement with Youth Aliyah, which brought German Jewish children to Israel — instead of to concentration camps.

Rabbi Regina Jonas (1902-1944)

Born in Berlin, Regina Jonas was ordained at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in 1935, officially making her the first female rabbi. The year can be seen as both fortunate and unfortunate, as Rabbi Jonas continued to practice and serve others, even after being arrested by the Gestapo. She met trains at the station when they arrived at Thereseinstadt concentration camp, providing crisis intervention from the moment people disembarked. Her words were likely a great comfort to many before and during the horrors they faced there and at Auschwitz, where Rabbi Jonas was later deported and met her death.

Golda Meir (1898-1978)

Israel’s first and (thus far) only prime minister, Golda Meir was born in Kiev where she remembered hiding from the Cossacks as a young girl. Her family moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, when she was just 8 years old. After graduating from elementary school, Golda’s parents encouraged her to find a husband, but she felt that education was too important and enrolled in high school without their blessing. She later moved to Denver to live with her sister where she spent many nights listening to Zionists speak. She was strongly influenced by their ideals. Golda fell in love with a man named Morris Meyerson and agreed to marry him — on the condition that they move to Palestine. The couple made Aliyah in 1921. Golda’s political career began as secretary in the Women Workers Council. Twenty years later, in 1948, she was one of 24 people (and only two women) to sign the Israeli Declaration of Independence. She continued to move up in the Israeli government until she was elected as Prime Minister in 1969. Her dedication to Israel and to the Jewish people was unwavering.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-present)

The first Jewish woman and only the second woman to serve on the Supreme Court, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has fought for gender equality her entire life. One of eight women in her Harvard law school class of 500, she later transferred to Columbia Law School where she graduated first in her class. Persevering through sexism and a 1950s legal workforce that was only beginning to accept the merits of Jews, Ginsburg was offered her first appointment as a law clerk by Judge Edmund L. Palmieri. Later, she became the first female tenured professor at Columbia and served as the director of the Women’s Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1993, she became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, where she has remained an infamous force ever since. Surviving two bouts of cancer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg underwent surgeries, chemo and other treatments, yet never missed a day on the bench.

We hope that you will join us in recognizing and honoring the Jewish women above as well as the Jewish women in your life — today and every day!

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