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My Ten Favorite Jewish Women

My Ten Favorite Jewish Women


Dina Ripsman Eylon

Jewish women have had little representation in history books. Here and there, we find anecdotes about prominent Jewish women, mostly those from wealthy families. But womens contributions to Jewish life and culture were undervalued throughout the ages. In their pioneering work, Written out of History: Our Jewish Foremothers (Sunnyside, NY: Biblio Press, 1988), authors Sondra Henry and Emily Taitz attempted to remedy the situation and shed new light on the lives of the more known Jewish women throughout history. From a feminist viewpoint, the book raised awareness, or rather consciousness to the problem of misrepresentation. The first edition was published in 1978 under a similar title, but more than three decades later, the books premise is still valid as ever. Henry and Taitz suggested their list of notable Jewish women, yet I have decided to compile my own list, a personal list of my ten favorite Jewish women. My reasoning for choosing any particular woman is also quite subjective: 1. Golda Meir (1898-1978) - The first and, so far, only Jewish woman to serve as the prime minister of Israel. Golda could not be labeled a radical feminist or even a grass-root activist, and her kitchen did not provide for the poor. But, she achieved a political status that no other Jewish woman before her did. 2. Donna Gracia Mendes Nasi (1510-1569) - A powerful, enigmatic Marrano [better termed anusah] woman who was also one of the wealthiest of her time. Her travels and ventures could serve as the material for a fascinating historical novel. She valued Jewish education, financed it, and saved many Jewish refugees from persecution in Portugal and Spain. 3. Glckel of Hamlen (1646-1724) - If she had only known how many tears I shed while reading her memoirs! [Heinrich Heine and Bertha Pappenheim, who also translated her memoirs into German, were two of her many descendants.] The ordeals that this widowed businessperson endured and survived read like a sappy

Dina Ripsman Eylon and Sisterhood Press Inc., 2012 All rights reserved. There should be no reproduction or distribution of contents by any means without prior permission.

My Ten Favorite Jewish Women

soap opera. Even today, her life story sounds and feels real, as if nothing has changed since the eighteenth century. The male translators and editors of her book omitted her whining, or as they referred to it: theologizing, and repetitious moralizing. A reliable English translation is long overdue; one that would incorporate these intricate feminine traits. Its time for a female translator to reveal the full text. 4. Rebecca Tiktiner (d. 1550) - The first, known woman to compose a midrashic commentary, titled Meneket Rivka. She also wrote poetry and tekhinot for women. 5. Rachel Luzzatto Morpurgo (1790-1871) - A great Italian poet who wrote, what could be dubbed today, Zionist poems in Hebrew. Like Rebecca Tiktiner, her work has not found an audience (or publisher) in contemporary literary circles. 6. Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) - A political, social activist, who practiced what she believed and befriended Lenin. She worked as a journalist when socialists owned a number of newspapers. This anti-capitalistic fighter, who was brutally murdered by her opponents, wrote The Accumulation of Capital in 1915. 7. Emma Goldman (1869-1940) - She was described in her obituary as an apostle of philosophic anarchism and of voluntary communism. The young radicals of our time, if they would have read her work, would have found her views fascinating, because she talked about wrong governments and the free cooperation of the masses. 8. Shulamit Alloni (1929- ) - A controversial political and social activist who wrote, I believe, the first feminist treatise in Hebrew entitled Women as Human Beings (1976). She was also the first Israeli woman to establish a political party and win seats in the Knesset. Part of her partys agenda proposed to establish a constitution, which would separate between Religion and State in Israel. 9. Hannah Senesh (1921-1944) - A poet and combat soldier who was caught by the Nazis while on a mission to rescue Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. She gave her life for the good of her people with dignity and unsurpassed heroism. And last but not least, one of my favorite Hebrew poets, 10. Leah Goldberg (1911-1970) - A writer, poet, translator, playwright, scholar, linguist and teacher - indeed, her life was surrounded by the written word. She
Dina Ripsman Eylon and Sisterhood Press Inc., 2012 All rights reserved. There should be no reproduction or distribution of contents by any means without prior permission. 2

My Ten Favorite Jewish Women

was described as a colorful woman with unfulfilled desires and inner conflicts. I just wish I would have attended one of her lectures on World Literature at the Hebrew University. A list so short cannot describe the contribution of Jewish women in every aspect of our life. It could serve as an inspiration for further in-depth research into the lives of these and other eminent Jewish women.

Dina Ripsman Eylon and Sisterhood Press Inc., 2012 All rights reserved. There should be no reproduction or distribution of contents by any means without prior permission.