Celebrating the Modern Matriarchs


By Stephanie Black, American University

We know their names: Sarah, the wife of Abraham. Rebekah, the wife of Isaac. Leah and Rachel, the wives of Jacob. But this Women’s History Month, let’s celebrate the modern matriarchs.

These are the women who redefined what it meant to be both Jewish and female. They navigated these identities and paved the way for a new era of female, American Jewry to fight for our own futures decades later.

And they are the ones who made it possible for us, Millennial and Generation X Jewish women, to exist as we do. They overturned assumptions about the roles and duties of Jewish women and knew that we could struggle for justice outside of the role of Rabbi’s wife. These women forged the paths we walk on today. Here are only a select few women for us to celebrate this Women’s History Month:

Let’s celebrate Emma Goldman, who sought to radically redefine the shape of society and struggled for universal justice and freedom. Goldman fought for absolute freedom for women and pursued sexual freedom and birth control, education, unions for working women and women’s independence.

Let’s celebrate Bella Abzug, a lawyer and congresswoman who ran on a feminist platform. Throughout her distinguished career, Abzug spoke the truth as she saw it regardless of the consequences. Abzug presided over the first National Women’s Conference and founded Women USA, a grassroots political action committee.

Or let’s celebrate the boundary breakers, like Sally Priesand, the first female rabbi ordained in America. Rabbi Angela Buchdahl, the first Asian-American rabbi and cantor. Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses, the first female rabbi from the Syrian-Jewish community.

May their memories be a blessing, but let their activism light the way.



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