From Fashion to Politics: Hadassah and Jewish American Women in the Post World War II Era

From Fashion to Politics: Hadassah and Jewish American Women in the Post World War II Era

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Shirli Brautbar

ISBN: 9781618111593 (hardcover) / 9781618112958 (paper)
Pages: 162 pp.
Publication Date: May 2012

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Hadassah: the Women’s Zionist organization of America, has wielded power in the halls of American political institutions and in the minds of many Jews in the United States. This book enriches our understanding of both modern Jewish history and American women’s history. Hadassah is important not only for what it tells us about women but also for what it reveals about Jewish history and politics, about Zionism, and about America. In the post-World War II era, Hadassah played a significant role in shaping Jewish women’s political action and identity. Widely known for its work in Israel, Hadassah played a central role in shaping the way generations of American Jewish women thought about themselves and about their involvement on the American political scene.

Dr. Shirli Brautbar received her B.A. in Middle Eastern Studies and Applied History at Carnegie Mellon University, her M.A. in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago, and her Ph.D in History from the University of Southern California. She is Assistant Professor of History at Nevada State College and winner of the Nevada State College iTeach Heritage award. Professor Brautbar has published articles in her research areas of: Jewish women’s history, Zionism, and political movements. She serves on the academic review board of the Intermountain West Journal of Religious Studies.

By reevaluating Hadassah’s philanthropic mission, public service work, educational efforts, and rhetoric in the context of world and domestic events, Brautbar presents a revisionists history that questions further the accuracy of the idea, popularized by the waves metaphor, that the postwar period was a nadir in feminist history. . . . Through painstaking research in the minutia of daily operations, Brautbar is able to relate Hadassah’s aspirations to become an important force in domestic politics and foreign affairs.
— Kathleen A. Laughlin, in The American Jewish Archives Journal 2013 Vol. LXV Nos. 1 & 2
Brautbar is at her best in depicting Hadassah’s use of traditional gender roles to promote effective participation by women in the public sphere...Hadassah members can take pride in and learn a great deal about their organization’s achievements, both for American Jewish women and for Israel, from [this] thoughtful [book].
— Roselyn Bell, Hadassah Magazine
[Brautbar] demonstrates how Hadassah actively influenced US sentiment and policy on the new state of Israel, communism, civil rights, and Soviet Jewry. Her study also illuminates larger questions, such as how Zionism moved from a peripheral ideological position among US Jews to a mainstay in much of US Jewish Life.
— S. E. Imhoff, (Indiana University), in CHOICE, December 2012
In this excellent study, Brautbar carefully recounts how the women of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, worked as activists, fundraisers, lobbyists, and public relations specialists throughout the 1950s and 1960s, defying social pressures to restrict their talents to the domestic sphere. . . . No one can read Brautbar’s work without recognizing that Hadassah has too often been unfairly dismissed (regrettably even by feminist scholars) as a social club. . . . Brautbar’s book gives us ample proof that well-dressed activists can also be quite effective ones.
— Rachel Kranson (University of Pittsburgh), Lilith, Winter 2012-1 3
Not only fashion and politics, but scholarship, gender, religion, discrimination–every hot button issue is examined in the story of the triumphant rise of Hadassah. A fascinating and important book.
— Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple, Los Angeles

Table of Contents


Chapter I
A State Is Born: Hadassah Adjusts to the New State of Israel and the Political Complexities of Homeland
        The Early Days
        Hadassah and the Holocaust
        Hadassah Lobbies for the New State
        Notions about Arabs

Chapter II
A ‘Bulwark against Communism’:
Hadassah’s Political Activism in Foreign Policy During the 1950s
        Hadassah Operations
        Hadassah’s Pro-Israel Lobby
        The Stranger Within

Chapter III
Jewish American Women in Action:
Hadassah Members and Political Engagement
in Domestic Issues in the 1950s and 1960s
        Civil Rights
        Black Power

Chapter IV
‘Ema’ or ‘Conscious Jewess’:
Jewish Maternalism, Activism, and Gender Roles in the 1950s
        Domestic Ideology

Chapter V
Fashioning Gender and Jewishness:
Hadassah, Fashion Shows, and Beauty Culture in the Post–World War II Era 84
        Fashion Shows
        East Meets West
        Fashion, Hadassah, and the 1960s

Chapter VI
From the Six-Day War to Nuclear Disarmament:
Hadassah and Foreign Policy in the 1960s
        The Six-Day War
        A Post-1967 World
        United Nations
        Soviet Jewry