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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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273 Religion 274 275 Chapter 8 Pioneers, Teachers, and Mothers: Ultra Orthodox Women among She’erit Hapletah Introduction In the spring of 1946, a young American social worker named Sadie Sandler presented her employers at the American Jewish Joint Distri- bution Committee with a report on the social and demographic situa- tion in the DP camps in Germany, where she had been working. She described, among other things, the survivors’ living and nutrition con- ditions, their attempts to trace family members, and the situation of women in the camps. She concluded by describing what seemed to be the most conspicuous phenomenon in the lives of women survivors at the time: “Every third woman is either pregnant or pushing a baby carriage.”1 Sandler’s remarks referred to women of the She’erit Hapletah in Germany at large, and not necessarily to the religious or Haredi (“ultra- Orthodox”) women among them. However, in view of the image of Haredi women as having been taught to establish large families, one might believe that this description would be all the more valid for this group. Was it so? Did Haredi women among the She’erit Hapletah really want nothing more than to become mothers as fast as possible? How were Orthodox women differentiated from other women in the She’erit Hapletah, and in what ways did these differences find expression? This chapter is concerns itself with the lives and activities of Haredi women in Europe after the Holocaust and, more precisely, among the She’erit Hapletah in Germany between...

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