By Lisa Kogen
With Strength and Splendor: Jewish Women as Agents of Change was unveiled at Convention 2008 to rave reviews. It is an extraordinary book highlighting extraordinary North American Jewish women from the past two centuries. Begun as Beauty, Brains and Brawn: The New World Balabuste, the Women’s League exhibit commemorating the 350th anniversary of the arrival of Jews in North America, it has been expanded and given a new title, With Strength and Splendor, reflecting how Jewish women disassembled old gender roles, shattered boundaries, and expanded the options for future generations.
The exclusion of Jewish women from historical narratives is nothing new. With Strength and Splendor redresses this imbalance by introducing some extraordinary women – each of them a pioneer in some way – into the historical account. According to author and Women’s League Education Director, Lisa Kogen, the lives of Jewish women had been dictated by external political restrictions and internal cultural and religious considerations. In the new world, Jewish women have been freed to explore new frontiers in science, the arts, politics, religion, and even competitive sports. But even as they successfully challenged cultural norms of femininity and notions of a woman’s place, their accomplishments continued to be neglected in Jewish historical writings. This project aims to bring women in from the margins.
Half coffee table book, half encyclopedia, this book contains dozens of beautiful photographs and brief but potent and analytical biographical essays that can be read again and again. The selection of these women is an eclectic amalgam of known and unknown women who have made important contributions to life in North America. In addition to celebrated Jewish women like children’s author Judy Blume and Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg, the book is filled with women whose stories have been relatively unsung. They range from pioneer lawyer Felice Cohn to Planned Parenthood founder Bessie Moses. Their stories are all different, the women are all distinct: some are pious, others hardly identifiable as Jewish, some are radicals, scientists, athletes, and artists. Regardless, each woman is truly an agent of social change.
This collection not only honors exemplary Jewish women, but it also serves to encourage and inspire young Jewish women, fighting similar and disparate battles every day. With Strength and Splendor will make a wonderful gift for adult or teen bat mitzvahs, high school and college graduates, teachers, counselors, friends, and family.
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