Social Equity distinguished lecturer series highlights women in Judaism, including Ginsburg

Category:  News
Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 at 7:28 PM

In a recent campus presentation, professors and students alike shared and learned information regarding the lives of particular Jewish women throughout the 19th century and up to the present day.

Titled “Pioneers, Activists, and Warriors: Jewish Women in the Struggle for Social Justice,” the presentation was held in room 101 of Hendricks Hall on Monday, March 25 at 3 p.m.

According to Dr. Jerra Jenrette, a professor in the History, Politics, Languages and Cultures Department, she chose this topic because the history of Judaism and its people has been “fraught with persecution” for at least 2,000 years, and that Jewish women have been “at the forefront of” the fight for women’s equality, along with issues such as reproductive freedom and social justice. Research for the event was also conducted by student Nichole Heitzenrater.

Hedy Lamarr, an actress and inventor, was the first example, whose history was expanded on through the words of a student and through a video near the end. One of her breakthroughs was designing a radio system for torpedoes during World War II that could not be tracked or jammed, while an updated version of this was implemented through the U.S. Navy in the early 1960s.

Margaret Sanger was the second example, a public health nurse and birth control activist who opened the first U.S. birth control clinic in New York City and advocated for women’s rights in that regard, especially through a pamphlet called “Woman Rebel.” Sanger’s message through the pamphlet was that women should fight imposed limits “openly, consciously and fearlessly.”

She also helped create the American Birth Control League, now known as Planned Parenthood.

Gloria Steinem, who said that a feminist “is anyone who recognizes the equality and full humanity of women and men,” founded Ms. Magazine.She also gained insight from the African-American perspective, as perceptions of what they viewed and lived by as feminism had negatively impacted their population.

Szenes, a Special Operations Executive (SOE) paratrooper and also a poet, worked to rescue Jewish people as well as prevent their entrance into the German death camp Auschwitz during World War II. Unfortunately, she was imprisoned and eventually executed for her endeavors.

Gisella Perl’s situation was one of ethics, as she performed thousands of abortions during her time at Auschwitz as a barrier to execution for pregnant women. She was eventually hired in New York City and led a successful career delivering thousands of babies, also reuniting with her daughter before she died. Her story can be learned in the 2003 film “Out of the Ashes.”

Dr. Elaine Rinfrette, chairperson and associate professor of the Social Work Department began her part of this presentation by sharing 23 Yiddish words and their definitions, several of which are said in English, such as “glitch,” “klutz,” “kosher,” “nosh” and “spiel.”

She chose Betty Friedan and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as her examples.

Friedan was an American feminist, writer and activist who faced backlash for her 1963 book “The Feminine Mystique.” She is also credited for sparking the second wave of American feminism in the 20th century.

Ginsburg, meanwhile, successfully fought the status quo when it came to employment for women. Rinfrette explained that Judaism, from the social justice perspective, stood out to her, hence what led to a career in social work.

For women themselves, she feels that the current political climate is still not on their side — a situation that definitely needs changed, leading to another professor’s discussion about the significance of women in her family.

Dr. Molly Wolf, an associate professor in the Social Work Department, was born into Judaism and considers it an ethnicity, race and religion.

Wolf believes that its cornerstone is critical thinking, especially in the areas of questioning the existence of God, observing the world around us and even the subject of cursing. She shared details of her family history, in which her maternal grandparents both met as Holocaust survivors after facing traumatic experiences. Her mother, who Wolf describes as a warrior, values education and economic security, and holds many significant achievements, including the ability to speak five languages.

Wolf admits that she did not know the meaning of “feminist” when she was first called one, yet feels that’s what she has always been.

Amber Chisolm |

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