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America's Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today

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A groundbreaking history of how Jewish women have maintained their identity and influenced social activism as they wrote themselves into American history. What does it mean to be a Jewish woman in America? In a gripping historical narrative, Pamela S. Nadell weaves together the stories of a diverse group of extraordinary people—from the colonial era’s Grace Nathan and her g A groundbreaking history of how Jewish women have maintained their identity and influenced social activism as they wrote themselves into American history. What does it mean to be a Jewish woman in America? In a gripping historical narrative, Pamela S. Nadell weaves together the stories of a diverse group of extraordinary people—from the colonial era’s Grace Nathan and her great-granddaughter Emma Lazarus to Bessie Hillman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to scores of other activists, workers, wives, and mothers who helped carve out a Jewish American identity. The twin threads binding these women together, she argues, are a strong sense of self and a resolute commitment to making the world a better place. Nadell recounts how Jewish women have been at the forefront of causes for centuries, fighting for suffrage, trade unions, civil rights, and feminism, and hoisting banners for Jewish rights around the world. Informed by shared values of America’s founding and Jewish identity, these women’s lives have left deep footprints in the history of the nation they call home.


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A groundbreaking history of how Jewish women have maintained their identity and influenced social activism as they wrote themselves into American history. What does it mean to be a Jewish woman in America? In a gripping historical narrative, Pamela S. Nadell weaves together the stories of a diverse group of extraordinary people—from the colonial era’s Grace Nathan and her g A groundbreaking history of how Jewish women have maintained their identity and influenced social activism as they wrote themselves into American history. What does it mean to be a Jewish woman in America? In a gripping historical narrative, Pamela S. Nadell weaves together the stories of a diverse group of extraordinary people—from the colonial era’s Grace Nathan and her great-granddaughter Emma Lazarus to Bessie Hillman and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, to scores of other activists, workers, wives, and mothers who helped carve out a Jewish American identity. The twin threads binding these women together, she argues, are a strong sense of self and a resolute commitment to making the world a better place. Nadell recounts how Jewish women have been at the forefront of causes for centuries, fighting for suffrage, trade unions, civil rights, and feminism, and hoisting banners for Jewish rights around the world. Informed by shared values of America’s founding and Jewish identity, these women’s lives have left deep footprints in the history of the nation they call home.

30 review for America's Jewish Women: A History from Colonial Times to Today

  1. 5 out of 5

    saranimals

    As an American Jewish Woman myself, I was thrilled to receive an ARC of this book via a goodreads giveaway. An informative, well-researched, well written book. A worthwhile read for anyone interested in American history, and/or women's rights, and/or Jewish history. Absolutely essential for those interested in all three. Of particular note was the section on the incomparable contributions of Jewish Women to the labor rights revolution. The author perfectly addresses the "intersectionality" with w As an American Jewish Woman myself, I was thrilled to receive an ARC of this book via a goodreads giveaway. An informative, well-researched, well written book. A worthwhile read for anyone interested in American history, and/or women's rights, and/or Jewish history. Absolutely essential for those interested in all three. Of particular note was the section on the incomparable contributions of Jewish Women to the labor rights revolution. The author perfectly addresses the "intersectionality" with which Jewish women must contend: anti-semitism from Gentile women, misogyny from Jewish men. This is a book that I will read again and again and eventually pass on to my own daughter.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Shoshanna

    Really loved this book. Giving it five stars despite a rushed ending. I found to be true what I already though, that the periods of American Jewish Women's history that are most interesting to me are the Ellis Island era in NYC, and Jewish feminism's different iterations, in terms of Jewish feminism within Judaism, Jewish lesbian culture, Jewish contributions to Second Wave feminism. What I love most about this book, is that there is more to explore. I have added quite a few books to my Goodreads Really loved this book. Giving it five stars despite a rushed ending. I found to be true what I already though, that the periods of American Jewish Women's history that are most interesting to me are the Ellis Island era in NYC, and Jewish feminism's different iterations, in terms of Jewish feminism within Judaism, Jewish lesbian culture, Jewish contributions to Second Wave feminism. What I love most about this book, is that there is more to explore. I have added quite a few books to my Goodreads based on authors or figures in this book. Also the way that it centers Jewish women's culture. You can tell that it's written by an insider, and also by someone who is quite studious and learned, and also explains terms so that readers who are not Jewish women can learn more from this book about our culture and our history!

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ann-Marie

    I knew very little about the history of our founding Jewish mothers. My American Jewish women's history started with the Triangle Factory Fire, skipped to the worker's rights movement, brushed by the McCarthy hearings and landed on small town Central Wisconsin in Beverly Garber's mother's 1959 baby blue Impala convertible. In other word's, "Who knew?" Pamela Nadell's " America's Jewish Women: A History From Colonial Times to Today" is the reason I sometimes sign up for giveaways on Goodreads for I knew very little about the history of our founding Jewish mothers. My American Jewish women's history started with the Triangle Factory Fire, skipped to the worker's rights movement, brushed by the McCarthy hearings and landed on small town Central Wisconsin in Beverly Garber's mother's 1959 baby blue Impala convertible. In other word's, "Who knew?" Pamela Nadell's " America's Jewish Women: A History From Colonial Times to Today" is the reason I sometimes sign up for giveaways on Goodreads for books that have very little to do with my regular interests. I learned a great deal about the impact an entire group of our population has had on our country's development, it's laws, our education system, our social structure and our arts & entertainment. I enjoyed this book. It belongs in all women's history libraries. I received this book free in exchange for an honest review on Goodreads.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Linden

    A review of the role of Jewish women in America's history, the earliest times are largely imagined ("To peer into their world we must use our imagination.") I prefer more factual nonfiction writing-- the rest of the book seemed thoroughly researched. The author also makes the controversial statement that the Bible "considers male homosexuality a capital crime " with which many scholars would disagree. It was quite interesting to learn how many progressive movements involved Jewish women, and how A review of the role of Jewish women in America's history, the earliest times are largely imagined ("To peer into their world we must use our imagination.") I prefer more factual nonfiction writing-- the rest of the book seemed thoroughly researched. The author also makes the controversial statement that the Bible "considers male homosexuality a capital crime " with which many scholars would disagree. It was quite interesting to learn how many progressive movements involved Jewish women, and how often they were opposed by Jewish men.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    Reading about my people always gives me such naches, and I also love learning about people from history who mostly got left out of the history books. So two for two here! Of course I knew there were Jews in the US from early on, but I guess I had a hard time conceptualizing that alongside all the stories about the Puritans and other Christians and such. So it was pretty interesting to see how Jews made their lives amongst all those other folks, and to what degree they were able to live full Jewis Reading about my people always gives me such naches, and I also love learning about people from history who mostly got left out of the history books. So two for two here! Of course I knew there were Jews in the US from early on, but I guess I had a hard time conceptualizing that alongside all the stories about the Puritans and other Christians and such. So it was pretty interesting to see how Jews made their lives amongst all those other folks, and to what degree they were able to live full Jewish lives. And I really liked seeing through the generations how Jewish women took up various causes, interests, ambitions, etc. We've often been at the forefront of social justice movements and forward-thinking ideas, and some of the women in this book were kick ass. I did think though that it got a little too narrative at times, and that the author threw too many characters (well, they're not characters, they were real people, but you know what I mean) at us. I had trouble keeping people straight in my mind, their families and such. And it got a little repetitive in the first couple of sections about all the little ins and outs of keeping house and observing their faith and such. And while the subtitle says it goes up to "today," there was very little about present or very recent stories, and I wish there had been more. But it was overall a fun and interesting read, and I learned a lot! I think this would be a great one for non-Jews to read, as well, but to my fellow MOTs, definitely give a copy to your bubbe :)

  6. 5 out of 5

    Mrs. D

    I heard Pamela Nadell speak at EMU pre-covid (how I now see time...) and loved her presentation on her book. I was so excited to hear more about the kosher meat riot and learn more about America's Jewish women. Before hearing her speak, I had not thought to delve into the history, as my parents/grandparents hadn't immigrated here until the '70s, so my country's Jewish history seemed removed from my own history. You may notice that I have read many books about Women's history in the US- in my las I heard Pamela Nadell speak at EMU pre-covid (how I now see time...) and loved her presentation on her book. I was so excited to hear more about the kosher meat riot and learn more about America's Jewish women. Before hearing her speak, I had not thought to delve into the history, as my parents/grandparents hadn't immigrated here until the '70s, so my country's Jewish history seemed removed from my own history. You may notice that I have read many books about Women's history in the US- in my last year of grad school I took a class and was introduced to some fantastic reads, though to be honest, very little of it talked about Jewish women, it was always as an aside. Thus, I decided I should learn more about the history of my people here. As a whole, the book was interesting, though the organization was not particularly intuitive. The book is chronological, discusses famous Jewish women, women's organizations, and highlights the many boycotts Jewish women lead/participated in. I found that the lens was mainly on successful/well known secular Jews. There was little about the Orthodox community, and most were platitudes which generalized. I had been hoping she would discuss the growth of the Jewish Day Schools, how Vichna Kaplan brought Bais Yakov to the US, what it is like for modern women to hold onto one culture while being immersed in another. It is certainly worth a read, despite my minor complaints.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Erika Dreifus

    Nice addition to my own "background" reading in my continuing education/self-study program in Jewish studies. (My thanks to Norton for the complimentary copy.)

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lois

    While most American Jews trace their ancestry in America to the early to mid 20th century, Nadell provides adequate proof that Jews have been on these shores for the entire history of the country. A move to America meant reevaluating Jewish practice, but the basic tenets were followed and enforced, more by the women of the house who cooked Jewishly, raised their children Jewishly, and conveyed the importance of their heritage. First came the Sephardim, Spanish-origin Jews like Emma Lazarus' famil While most American Jews trace their ancestry in America to the early to mid 20th century, Nadell provides adequate proof that Jews have been on these shores for the entire history of the country. A move to America meant reevaluating Jewish practice, but the basic tenets were followed and enforced, more by the women of the house who cooked Jewishly, raised their children Jewishly, and conveyed the importance of their heritage. First came the Sephardim, Spanish-origin Jews like Emma Lazarus' family; then came the Germans; and finally came the true "huddled masses," the Eastern Jews fleeing pogroms, the tsar's conscription of sons, the torment and debasement of daughters, and the lack of economic opportunity by long established covenants in Europe. The common thread, however, is that each group brought women who had a sense of singularity and commitment to their brother and sisters in the New world. If you, like me, were raised to believe that the word "Jewess" was connected only to old novels like "Ivanhoe" (the character of Rebecca has long been rumored to be based on Rebecca Gratz, a Philadelphian who would not marry her Christian suitor because of religion), you will need to get over it. Nadell refers to Jewish women for the better part of the book by this term; She thoroughly illustrates that, even when women were not seen in the workplace, Jewish women were among the first wave of American women workers, working the sewing machines in sweatshops (often owned by uncaring Jewish men), and doing other "homey" occupations for which they were paid pennies to keep their families alive. Later Jewish women were the driving force in unions like the garment workers, who persevered on issues like save work places and livable working conditions.. When men banned Jewish women, or relegated them to lesser roles, in fraternal organizations, women fought back by forming their own groups that mostly supported charitable organizations that cared for American Jews or supported the new found state of Israel. It is no accident that the first woman Prime Minister of Israel Golda Meir was Russian born but Milwaukee raised. American women have always had sharp elbows and a bit more chutzpah about achieving the impossible. Forget the stereotype of a Jewish bubbe cooking Sabbath dinner for her family. Of course they existed (and still do), but between dinners, American Jewish women made waves despite anti-Semitism which has always been a presence in American Jewish lives. The leaders of the Feminist movement, learning their skills from sisterhood, Hadassah, and unions, were disproportionately Jewish. While this is seldom mentioned, a quick survey of names identifies the intersection of Judaism or part Jewish heritage (e.g. Gloria Steinem) and harder edged desire for higher achievement, higher academic degrees, and more recognition. It was Ruth Bader Ginsburg who asked, "What is the difference between a bookkeeper in the garment district (her mother) and a Supreme Court Justice? One generation.") As we face the current climate of anti-Semitism, anti LGBTWQ sentiments, and new misogyny in our society, this is a reminder that Jewish American women, far from the Jewish American Princess stereotype, have always been hard at work, first behind the scenes and increasingly in the front of the pack, in the struggle for both Jewish and women's rights. I gave this four stars instead of five because I don't think the subject will have universal appeal and the I struggled a bit with the end of the book. That doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who needs proof that a (Jewish) woman's place is in the house -- and the Senate.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Darlene

    A good overview of American Jewish women's history and in many ways a valuable update to the seminal THE JEWISH WOMAN IN AMERICA by Baum, Hyman and Michel from the mid-1970s. Much has happened since then, including Jewish American women moving into history as Supreme Court Justices, US Senators, governors and astronauts. In addition, unlike the earlier history, Nadell doesn't skip over the Sephardi women who were the original Jewish settlers in 1654, settling up and down the Eastern seaboard and A good overview of American Jewish women's history and in many ways a valuable update to the seminal THE JEWISH WOMAN IN AMERICA by Baum, Hyman and Michel from the mid-1970s. Much has happened since then, including Jewish American women moving into history as Supreme Court Justices, US Senators, governors and astronauts. In addition, unlike the earlier history, Nadell doesn't skip over the Sephardi women who were the original Jewish settlers in 1654, settling up and down the Eastern seaboard and playing roles in the American Revolution and the War of 1812. This is a resource for anyone wanting more information on of the role Jewish women played in American communities and in their own Jewish communities, and how their activism moved from the sphere of the Jewish community into the broader arena of American life.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Stark-Nemon

    Pamela Nadell’s America's Jewish Women¬ a History from Colonial Times Until Today, is a tour de force of history, flash biography and succinct feminist treatise on the Jewish women who informed their wide swath of influence over the course of America’s history. Finely written, Nadell’s work draws together the stories, the contexts and the meaning of these women’s contributions to the Jewish world in this country and elsewhere. Brava!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jane De vries

    Very informative and a quick read. It appeared that Jewish women in the past were one big league of social workers. Then they became disproportionately connected with just about every liberal cause there was. But is this good? In between Ultra-Orthodoxy and unending support of left wings causes, perhaps a new, more moderate approach should define today's, Jewish woman.

  12. 4 out of 5

    holly

    Interesting but a little textbook. I did enjoy the stories but wish they went into a bit more detail about some of the women’s lives instead of just throwing out names and very brief descriptions of how they helped move us toward modern Judaism and feminism. It’s a good overview.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sylvia Abrams

    A sweeping history aimed at the non-academic reader. I found it hard to find the criteria by which a particular woman deserved mention. Very few women scientists included. More a political social history.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Meredith Martelli

    I wanted to learn more about my friend’s culture because I have been considering conversion for years. I reached out to another Jewish friend for advice on what to read, particularly with a feminine perspective. She kindly consulted her rabbis and with their help devised a list. This book actually is not on the list, but while I wait for one that is to be delivered I stumbled upon it. I am quite pleased with my choice! The author has such a genuine voice, and coupled with her deep knowledge and I wanted to learn more about my friend’s culture because I have been considering conversion for years. I reached out to another Jewish friend for advice on what to read, particularly with a feminine perspective. She kindly consulted her rabbis and with their help devised a list. This book actually is not on the list, but while I wait for one that is to be delivered I stumbled upon it. I am quite pleased with my choice! The author has such a genuine voice, and coupled with her deep knowledge and thorough research, I am reminded of the scholarly articles I read in college and graduate school. The book paints a gleaming picture of Jewish women in America since been before 1776. This is not a boring read full of dates and names, Iike some historical reads. Rather, and perhaps because of my particular interest, I find it to be a well-written chronology of brave, genus feats of strong women.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Brenda McCloud

    Excellent history of Jewish women from colonial times until today in the United States. Pamela S. Nadell also has wonderful and educational videos on YouTube that I highly recommend to get to know the author as well. I highly recommend this book!

  16. 4 out of 5

    Nicole

    Extremely readable - not dry at all. Highly informative and clearly well-researched.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kristine Sandy

    Excellent. Well-researched and compellingly written.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    Very interesting read.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Patricia Rohner

    I love this book It really gives me a feel for how jewish women evolved and contributed in America through the ages!!!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Heller

    Reviewed for Library Journal.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Ernie

    Is this book suitable for an exceptionally intelligent 10-year-old? She is reading adult books such as Ruth Bader Ginsberg's "My Own Words" - adult version.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Evie Rabeck

  23. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

  25. 4 out of 5

    Macy

  26. 5 out of 5

    Stu

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jakob Breunig

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jarrett Freeman

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rose Ireland

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