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A Jewish Feminine Mystique?

Jewish Women in Postwar America

Edited and with an introduction by Hasia R. Diner, Shira Kohn, and Rachel Kranson

Publication Year: 2010

In The Feminine Mystique, Jewish-raised Betty Friedan struck out against a postwar American culture that pressured women to play the role of subservient housewives. However, Friedan never acknowledged that many American women refused to retreat from public life during these years. Now, A Jewish Feminine Mystique? examines how Jewish women sought opportunities and created images that defied the stereotypes and prescriptive ideology of the "feminine mystique." Focusing on ordinary Jewish women as well as prominent figures, leading scholars explore the wide canvas upon which American Jewish women made their mark after the Second World War.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xi

This volume resulted from our discovering a gaping hole in the scholarship of Jewish women, and our subsequent productive conversations about how to fill it. In the spring of 2005, the three of us came together for a course Hasia taught on Postwar American Jewry. Every week, we discussed and debated the existing literature in this subfield...

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pp. 1-12

In her classic 1963 manifesto The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan railed against a postwar American culture in which women “no longer left their homes, except to shop, chauffeur their children, or attend a social engagement with their husbands.”1 Although she herself grew up in a Jewish home that exerted a powerful impact...

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1. “Some of Us Were There before Betty”: Jewish Women and Political Activism in Postwar Miami

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pp. 13-30

In the early 1960s, Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique argued that postwar American culture promoted a repressive form of domesticity that trapped middle-class women in the home, subordinated them to the demands of marriage and family, and denied them the opportunity for personal or career fulfillment. ...

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2. The Polishness of Lucy S. Dawidowicz’s Postwar Jewish Cold War

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pp. 31-47

Lucy S. Dawidowicz (1915–1990), the American Jewish historian known for her work on East European Jewry and its destruction, was a fierce political animal in the postwar years. Her interests included the history of Jewish politics and the role of the leaders of the formal Jewish community as stewards of Jewish communal life. ...

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3. “Our Defense against Despair”: The Progressive Politics of the National Council of Jewish Women after World War II

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pp. 48-64

In a reflective mood at the conclusion of her 1954 report to the national board of directors, Elsie Elfenbein, executive director of the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW), placed the organization in the context of the perils of the atomic age. Referring with alarm to a test of the H-bomb, which “scattered particles of death to far corners,”...

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4. “It’s Good Americanism to Join Hadassah”: Selling Hadassah in the Postwar Era

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pp. 65-86

With the creation of the State of Israel and its subsequent victory over the Arab armies of the surrounding countries in 1949, the future of the Jewish home seemed secure. Lacking the urgency of the 1930s and 1940s, the 1950s presented Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, with a dilemma it had not faced since the 1920s: it had to struggle with the issue of how to attract new...

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5. “A Lady Sometimes Blows the Shofar”: Women's Religious Equality in the Postwar Reconstructionist Movement

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pp. 87-104

In 1922, Judith Kaplan, daughter of Reconstructionist ideologue Mordecai Kaplan, became the first girl to celebrate a bat mitzvah at the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (SAJ), the flagship synagogue of Reconstructionist Judaism. Although the creation of a solo coming-of-age ceremony for a girl introduced into Jewish religious life a degree of unprecedented gender parity, the content of Judith...

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6. Beyond the Myths of Mobility and Altruism: Jewish Immigrant Professionals and Jewish Social Welfare Agencies in New York City, 1948-1954

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pp. 105-125

On a cold December morning in 1950, Dr. K., an Austrian-trained dentist, single mother, and Holocaust survivor exploded in frustration to her case aide, a Ms. Hibble at the New York Association for New Americans (NYANA), proclaiming...

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7. Negotiating New Terrain: Egyptian Women at Home in America

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pp. 126-143

“When I came here [Brooklyn], it was so hard,” recalled Denise Z. of her immigration from Egypt to the United States in 1962. “I used to have two maids in the house [in Egypt]. When I came, first do the dishes, or go take care of the kids, or clean the house, or go wash, it was really hard.... You don’t know what to do first.”1 Like many other female Jewish immigrants from Egypt during the post-...

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8. The Bad Girls of Jewish Comedy: Gender, Class, Assimilation, and Whiteness in Postwar America

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pp. 144-159

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the bawdy humor of Belle Barth, Pearl Williams,and Patsy Abbott, a trio of working-class Jewish stand-up comics, enjoyed enormous popularity in the United States. Today largely forgotten or dismissed, they released bestselling LPs known at the time as “party records,” which, though intended for respectable, middle-class consumers, were often sold under the...

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9. Judy Holliday’s Urban Working-Girl Characters in 1950s Hollywood Film

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pp. 160-176

A Jewish-created urban and cosmopolitan working-girl feminism persisted in the1950s as a cultural alternative to the suburban, domestic consumerism soon eloquently critiqued by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique. The film persona of Jewish, Academy Award–winning actress Judy Holliday embodied this working-girl feminism. Audiences viewed her portrayals of popular-front working-girl...

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10. The “Gentle Jewish Mother” Who Owned a Luxury Resort: The Public Image of Jennie Grossinger, 1954-1972

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pp. 177-193

After Jennie Grossinger’s death in 1972, the New York Times characterized her as “the gentle Jewish mother who transformed a modest Catskills family hotel into a luxurious resort.” This description echoed the maternal and ethnic imagery that had propelled the hotelier to national fame during the decades after WorldWar II.1 ...

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11. Reading Marjorie Morningstar in the Age of the Feminine Mystique and After

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pp. 194-209

Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar appeared, to great fanfare, in September 1955: Book-of-the-Month Club selection, Reader’s Digest Condensed Book, a Time cover story, and an initial print run of 100,000. At over 190,000 copies, it was the best-selling novel of the year and went on to sell more than 1.7 million copies in the next decade; a popular 1958 movie version starred Natalie Wood and Gene...

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12. “We Were Ready to Turn the World Upside Down”: Radical Feminism and Jewish Women

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pp. 210-234

One of the most significant outcomes of the postwar feminine mystique was the rebellion against it. Second-wave feminism, the seeds of which were planted in the “mystique” decade of the 1950s, blossomed in the 1960s and early 1970s, for-ever changing the landscape of family life, social relationships, and individual consciousness. Many young women who grew up in the postwar years, strug-...

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13. Jewish Women Remaking American Feminism/Women Remaking American Judaism: Reflections on the Life of Betty Friedan

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pp. 235-256

This essay begins with the life of Betty Friedan and moves out to explore a series of issues central to the ways historians think about the history of Jewish women in the United States since 1945. I concentrate on four key topics that both illuminate Friedan’s life and connect her life to larger concerns animating this volume. First, to what extent did the “feminine mystique,” to use the phrase Friedan connected...

Biographies of Contributors

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pp. 257-258


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pp. 259-269

E-ISBN-13: 9780813550305
E-ISBN-10: 0813550300
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813547916
Print-ISBN-10: 0813547911

Page Count: 284
Illustrations: 9 photographs, 2 tables
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Jewish women -- United States -- Intellectual life -- 20th century.
  • Feminism -- United States -- History -- 20th century
  • Jewish women -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Jewish women -- United States -- Social conditions -- 20th century.
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