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Identity, Heroism and Religion in the Lives of Contemporary Jewish Women

Judith Tydor Baumel-Schwartz

What makes us what we are? How does our gender affect our identity? Who are our heroes and heroines and how do they mould the decisions we make and the way we live our lives? In what ways does our connection – or lack there of – to our birth religion shape our adult selves? These are just some of the questions which Identity, Heroism and Religion in the Lives of Contemporary Jewish Women addresses. In examining the lives and deaths of various Jewish women during the 20 th and 21 st centuries this study focuses on the dynamic by which they formed their identities at times of crisis, whether in pre-State Israel, during and after the Holocaust in liberated Europe, or throughout Israel’s formative years. As refugees, survivors, new immigrants or veteran citizens of a country these women’s lives are probed and analyzed in terms of their relationship to each other, to their surroundings, their past, their future, their ideologies, and their geographic and virtual communities, presenting us with a mosaic of contemporary Jewish women’s lives.


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Identity 17


Identity 18 19 1 “Hora to an Exiled Girl” (tr. Elie Leshem), retrieved 18 July 2013 from . Chapter 1 Bridges from Yesterday to Tomorrow – The Role of “Diaspora Culture” in the Stories of Fifth Aliyah Heroines Introduction A hora, roaring, tempestuous, blazes around me With the mystery of rhythm, gladdening and forging, It tugs at my body and heart. The foot marches, the back quivers, the song is ignited, a searing chorus Dance and song, a wordless prayer, Hail to the future, hail to creation. But then a figure flutters before my eyes My arm has escaped my friends’ embrace My heart spurns the tempestuous singing, Far and near it consumes me whole. Blue eyes Such a bewildered glance A sad silence and a stubborn mouth The stillness grows in me I remain standing Alone, in a crowd of a hundred, her and I.1 This poem, “Hora to an Exiled Girl,” was penned in late February 1943 by a twenty-one-year-old woman some three and a half years after she had immigrated to pre-state Israel. She was working as a steward on a kibbutz after a lengthy stint in the commune’s laundry room. In the diary that she kept at that time, she intermittently dis- cussed three topics that preoccupied her: love of her new homeland 20 2 The term was invoked, for example, in eulogies recited when Szenes’ remains were brought to Israel in 1950 and in writings in the Hebrew press. See my article, “Founding Myths and Heroic Icons:...

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