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Jewish Women's Archive
http://www.jwa.org/index.h
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Jewish Women's Archive
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Reviewed by:
Nora Jaffary
Concordia University
October 2004






The Jewish Women’s Archive (JWA), a national non-profit organization, seeks to “uncover, chronicle and transmit the rich legacy of North American Jewish women.” This group of Boston-based historians and educators ably accomplishes this objective through its online exhibits, oral history projects, and public programs. This website provides access to an extremely useful collection of primary source materials, lesson plan ideas, and virtual exhibits, including over 800 digitalized images.

High school and college instructors will find much material here that they could incorporate into creative assignments and class activities, allowing students to connect thoughtfully to Jewish women of the past and the present. The site’s overall theme is the history of Jewish women’s participation in social justice movements and the links these women made and make between their faith, identity, and the public activities in which they engaged. The site features information on well-known figures (for example, anarchist Emma Goldman) and less-recognized activists, politicians, lawyers, scientists, dancers, artists, rabbis, organizers, philanthropists, and athletes. Students have the opportunity to examine unusual and well-presented primary source documents, as well as to read (or view film clips from) interviews with prominent women who are active in the present.

The site is organized into three sections. “Research” links viewers to brief (75-word) biographies of more than 500 women and to descriptions of more than 700 archival collections dealing with Jewish women’s history. Viewers can search this letter database through “Person’s Name,” “Subject,” or “Occupation” keys. “Discover,” contains virtual exhibits on the history of more than 50 Jewish women in America. One exhibit, “Women of Valor,” displays 5000-word biographies of “trail-blazing” Jewish women, many of them containing visual, audio, and documentary primary source artifacts.

Teachers might use this material to encourage the examination of these women’s relationships to institutions of social stability (the church, educational institutions, the law, and the family) in the modern era, examining how such women as Ray Frank, Bella Abzug, and Beatrice Alexander became America’s first female rabbis, members of congress, and business leaders. Instructors might also encourage students to consider why the beliefs and practices of some activists, such as Goldman, provoked such contemporary criticism, while those of others, such as Frank, were much less contested.

The “Teach” section contains an exceptionally useful collection of materials for instructors. It provides access to 40 possible lesson plans using a variety of primary-source documents contained on the site. There is a fascinating collection of cartoons, film clips, letters, news articles, organizational records, artifacts, photographs, and speeches covering the period from 1800 to 2000 and including such topics as anti-Semitism, arts, labor, immigration, Zionism, law, and women’s rights.

Links are also provided to other sources dating from the same era or treating the same topic. The sources can be accessed by type of source, time period, or topic. In addition, the site provides thoughtful discussions of how these sources should be examined, information about the historical contexts in which they were generated, and concrete examples of ways they might be used in the classroom. In the “Women’s Activism and Rights” section, for example, viewers can access a colorful pamphlet from the National Association OPPOSED to Women’s Suffrage from the 1910s. Intermingling reactionary social opinions and household cleaning tips, the pamphlet counsels readers to discourage women’s political participation.

Providing both a “Teacher Notes” and “Student Activity Sheet” for each type of document used, the JWA also helps establish the relevant contexts in which this and other documents should be viewed and analyzed. For the opposition to suffrage document, for instance, students are directed to “Identify the connection made here between the vote and household activities. Why did the Association make these connections?”

The range of women whose lives the JWA explores will assist instructors wishing to illustrate the variety of activities in which women, and in particular Jewish women, have participated despite the social barriers they faced. The JWA presents a comprehensive approach to dealing with primary-source documents; this approach challenges instructors and students to think historically about these women and the sources we may use to reconstruct their experiences.

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