Jewish Women in the USA

by Simona Shur

In honor of Women’s History Month, Hillel is taking a dive into influential Jewish women who have impacted American culture.

Most importantly, there is Ruth Bader Ginsberg, the late Supreme Court Justice who was a pinnacle of feminism. 

Ginsberg famously graduated from Columbia as valedictorian while being the full-time caregiver of her one-year-old daughter and then cancer-ridden husband. Throughout her career in the courts, she advocated for reproductive healthcare rights, pregnancy benefits, equal pay, and workplace empowerment for women. She persevered in the face of anti-semitism and sexism to become the most famous and successful Jewish woman in American government. 

Over the course of her career, RBG fought for minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, as well as women in American society. Her position on the Supreme Court enabled her to fight for marginalized communities as well as become an example and role model for women, especially Jewish women, everywhere.

RBG accredited her career to her personal Jewish upbringing. “The demand for justice runs through the entirety of Jewish history and Jewish tradition.” 

Natalie Portman, the actress who starred in the moviesBlack Swan and Thor, has also cemented herself as a Jewish feminist. She was one of the pioneers of the #MeToo movement, encouraging victims of assault to come forward and speak out against their abusers. 

Portman recently announced she will be playing the female version of Thor in upcoming Marvel movies. She will be the second Jewish American woman to play a Marvel superhero, following in the footsteps of Scarlett Johansson. 

The “mother” of the second wave of modern feminism also happened to be Jewish. Betty Friedan, who co-founded the National Organization for Women in America, fought for women’s equality, and analyzed women’s role in society. 

Friedan discovered that many women felt bored and trapped in their everyday suburban lives and launched a campaign criticizing female domesticity. She published many books about the phenomenon, hoping other women would break away from this type of lifestyle and enter into more competitive work fields and become more excited about their lives. 

Susan Brownmiller, famous American feminist in the 20th century, studied the pattern of violence against Jewish women throughout history. She grew up creating and fighting for  equality within organized religion, hoping Jewish women would find their voice in the fight against female directed violence. 

Over the course of her advocacy and political career, she formed a picket line protesting women’s treatment in the workplace and fervently participated in the Women’s Liberation Movement. 

At some point, Brownmiller attributed her drive to her Jewish roots. “I can argue that my chosen path – to fight against physical harm, specifically the terror of violence against women – had its origins in what I had learned in Hebrew School.” 

These are just a few of the thousands of Jewish women in the U.S. who have impacted American culture and otherwise everyday life. Many of them credit their Jewish upbringing in their fight for women’s equality. If it wasn’t for their ethnic or religious background, they would not have found the drive to fight for girls around the world.

As Women’s History Month continues, more articles will be published to celebrate Jewish American women’s impact on history. 

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