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Jewish Women's Leagues

Jewish Women's Leagues

The charitable societies and budding social activism that had characterized the nineteenth-century American Jewish communities dramatically developed further after World War I (1914–1919). Indeed, thousands of women carried on the work of their predecessors either as members of the temple sisterhoods or Jewish women's organizations. Their campaigns for social and political reforms supporting international peace, Zionism, the education of women and children, and other Jewish cultural and contemporary issues have significantly shaped American Judaism.

WOMEN'S LEAGUE FOR CONSERVATIVE JUDAISM

The Women's League for Conservative Judaism was founded in 1918 and Mathilde Roth Schechter (1857–1924) became its first president. It is the world's largest synagogue-based women's organization. As an active arm of the Conservative/Masorti Movement, the League has 600 affiliated sisterhoods organized in local branches. The Women's League is committed to strengthening and uniting synagogue women's groups with volunteer programs and projects geared toward developing an educated Jewish laity, encouraging religious observance, reinforcing the bonds with Israel, and social action. The organization is linked to the Jewish Theological Seminary, the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and its affiliated institutions, and the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies through the Torah Fund Campaign. In 1933 the seminary's Women's Institute was founded and supported by all the major Jewish women's organizations as a joint adult educational venture (Dobkowski 1986). And in 1952 the Women's League and United Synagogue joined to form the United Synagogue Youth (USY), an organization that serves Conservative teenagers around the world. This Jewish religious women's organization continues to work throughout its activities for the perpetuation of Conservative Judaism.

OTHER JEWISH WOMEN RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATIONS

Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, is a volunteer women's organization founded in 1912 by Henrietta Szold (1860–1945) to strengthen the partnership with Israel. In the United States Hadassah's mission is to enhance the quality of American and Jewish life through its education and Zionist youth programs, and by promoting health awareness.

The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), founded in 1893, is (with Hadassah) among the largest women's organizations. It is a voluntary association with an emphasis on religion, philanthropy, social reform, and education. Without sacrificing the commitment to either Jewish or women's issues, the NCJW has also been a leading force in the forefront of social welfare and civil rights.

Women of Reform Judaism (WRJ) was founded in 1913 and is affiliated to the Union for Reform Judaism in North America. Through the YES (Youth, Education, and Special Projects) Fund, WRJ provides financial support to rabbinical students, to youth programs, and to programs in Israel and the Former Soviet Union. WRJ is also at the forefront of social action and change in both Jewish and secular venues.

In 1971 a small number of educated Jewish women, affiliated with the New York Havurah organized a study of traditional Jewish sources to evaluate the position of Jewish women in Judaism. This group, called Ezrat Nashim (help for women), with ties to the Conservative Movement, reached the Jewish community at large with its call for changes in the role of women in Judaism. This group played a major role in the development of the Jewish feminist movement and helped organize the First National Jewish Women's Conference in 1973.

The Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA) is the youngest organization since it was founded in 1997. The JOFA advocates for an increased participation and equality for women in family life, in the synagogue ritual, in study, and in Jewish communal organizations, and this within the boundaries of halakhah (religious law).

As Mary McCune rightly argues in her work on American Jewish women activists, these women, including the well-to-do and the working classes, religious and secularists, Zionists and anti-Zionists, have had a profound impact on American Jewish life and modern Jewish identity.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Antler, Joyce. 2001. "Jewish Women and American Politics." In Jews in American Politics, ed. L. Sandy Maisel. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Dobkowski, Michael N. ed. 1986. Jewish American Voluntary Organizations. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance. Available from http://www.jofa.org.

McCune, Mary. 2005. The Whole Wide World, without Limits: International Relief, Gender Politics, and American Jewish Women, 1893–1930. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Women of Reform Judaism. Available from http://www.womenofreformjudaism.org.

Women's League for Conservative Judaism. Available from http://www.wlcj.org.

                                      Rosa Alvarez Perez

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