Women have been in the headlines a lot recently. Just take a look at the presidential race. For the first time in American history, a major political party has a woman as its candidate. And then there’s the other major political candidate who’s grabbing the national spotlight for his controversial tone (and alleged actions) towards women. Even though it’s taken 240 years for a female to make it this close to the Oval Office, women have been breaking through glass ceilings for years.- leaving their mark and making life better for the next generation.
I’d like you to meet some amazing Jewish-American women who have been trailblazers in their own right. You’ll see that they’re a collection of firsts. They’ve made us proud, and through their own sacrifices, have made us better.
Twelve-year old Judith Kaplan, daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, became the first American girl to mark her bat mitzvah in a public worship service. That happened in 1922 - two years after American women won the right to vote. With this revolutionary act, Judith and her father initiated what would become a widespread American Jewish practice. By the time she celebrated her second bat mitzvah in 1992, the ceremony would become a nearly universal expectation. But in 1922 - this was groundbreaking and controversial. By contrast, the bar mitzvah ceremony was developed at least 500 years ago.
FLORENCE PRAG KAHN
Florence Prag Kahn had her own public identity as a writer - she had her own newspaper column that covered the Washington beat. Her husband, Julius Kahn, a U.S. Representative from San Francisco died in office. Kahn ran a special Congressional election and in 1925 became the first Jewish woman and only the fifth woman in history to become an elected congresswoman. The next Jewish woman elected to Congress wouldn’t be until 1972 with Bella Abzug .
Kahn had other “firsts” to be proud of. She was the first woman to serve on the House Military Affairs Committee, where she introduced legislation that led to the creation of numerous military bases in her district and to the building of the Bay Bridge connecting San Francisco to Oakland.
A Republican, Kahn worked hard at maintaining excellent relationships on both sides of the aisle. That hard work paid off - she was the first Republican to be invited to dine in Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s White House. Teddy Roosevelt’s daughter, Alice Roosevelt Longworth, called Kahn “an all-around first-rate legislator, the equal of any man in Congress and the superior of most.”
Kahn argued that “there is no sex in citizenship and there should be none in politics.” If only more politicians thought that today…
SALLY JANE PRIESAND
On June 3, 1972, Sally Jane Priesand became the first female ordained rabbi in America.
As a rabbinic student, Priesand began to enjoy the rewards and experience the frustrations that would mark her career as the first female rabbi. Media attention swelled to a crescendo as she approached ordination, with headlines such as one reported in 1964, “Girl Sets Her Goal to be First Woman Rabbi.” Quickly, Priesand found herself standing before a wide spectrum of Jewish women as a symbol of the emerging feminism they were just then confronting. Her rabbinic thesis, published as Judaism and the New Woman (1975), highlighted the changing role of women in Jewish history and was meant to advance their emancipation in Jewish life.
Priesand stood in the forefront of those who have struggled to carve a place for women and their perspectives in contemporary Judaism. After three decades in the rabbinate, Sally Priesand retired in 2006.
The first president of NOW (the National Organization of Women), Betty Friedan was at the crux of the feminist movement that has forever redefined women’s roles at home and in society.
A bright student, Friedan excelled at Smith College, graduating in 1942 with a bachelor's degree in psychology. She then got married, and after her first child was born in 1948, Betty Friedan returned to work. She lost her job, however, after she became pregnant with her second child. Friedan then stayed home to care for her family, but she was restless as a homemaker and began to wonder if other women felt the same way she did—that she was both willing and able to be more than a stay-at-home mom. To answer this question, Friedan surveyed other graduates of Smith College. The results of her research formed the basis of her book The Feminine Mystique, published in 1963, throughout which Friedan encourages women to seek new opportunities for themselves.
The book quickly became a sensation, creating a social revolution by dispelling the myth that all women wanted to be happy homemakers, and marking the start of what would become Friedan's incredibly significant role in the women's rights movement.
These are just a handful of amazing Jewish-American women. We’d like to hear about the amazing women in your life. Tell us about who left an impression on you!