"Not just ladies that lunch" : Hadassah and the formation of American Jewish identity / by Shirli Brautbar.
My dissertation explores how Jewish women used the preeminent women's Zionist organization, Hadassah, during the post-World War II era as an avenue to fashion a new vision of women's roles within the Jewish community and to create a place for women's participation within Jewish political and philanthropic culture. I argue that while confronting various social, cultural, and political forces, these women challenged traditional social and gender roles. In doing so, they combined their own sense of identity as women with certain important new notions of Jewish identity and community.Founded in 1912 by Henrietta Szold, Hadassah grew to become not only the most influential women's Zionist organization but also the largest Zionist membership organization in the world. In 1968 Hadassah boasted the largest membership of 300,000 people and by 1984 it had retained its status as the largest Zionist organization with 385,000 members. While often dismissed in the historiography as lacking in substance, this dissertation will argue that on the contrary Hadassah served as a potent force on both the international and domestic political scene. Hadassah women contributed to the development of an "emancipated" Jewish American woman whose purpose in life extended well beyond the confines of the domestic sphere into the arena of fund-raising, politics, education and an over all sense of self importance. Jewish identity served as the basic language from which to build a new discourse on gender and culture. During the post-world war II era, a period in American history which saw the rise of gender conservatism, Hadassah provided an alternative avenue with which to challenge the dominant historical trend of domesticity. At the same time Hadassah often incorporated regressive gender roles such as maternalism and modified its essence in order to expand maternalist sensibility beyond the domestic sphere.
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