Painting a vivid picture of a golden land that often defaulted on its promises, Nadell creates an extremely readable portrait of Jewish women collectively realizing their power to change their destinywhether through creating charitable organizations or joining forces in the broader workers' movement. It's especially pleasurable to hear stories of Jewish activism around the battle for women's suffrage and the availability of birth controlboth of which gave American women as a whole more agency and capacity for self-determination…
America's Jewish Women is a thoughtful history of a group of diverse, passionate, contemplative, vocal and dynamic women, and is a welcome addition to the American historical canon. It's truly remarkable to read this book and appreciate how these womennumerically small, qualitatively greatmade such a tremendous impact on this nation.
The New York Times Book Review - Jordana Horn
Women Who Would be Rabbis), the director of the Jewish studies program at American University, gives a brisk overview of “American Jewesses,” with a heavy focus on the 20th century. Her particular strengths are social, labor, and cultural history. For example, she notes that the intermarriage rate among American Jews rose from 3% in 1930 to 17% in 1970, before soaring to around 50% in the 1995–2013 period. She also turns out strong mini-profiles of several dozen prominent figures and unearths the little-discussed oppressive side of American Jewish women’s history, including sexual harassment of sweatshop workers and economic hardships that forced some Jewish women into prostitution. The broadness of the topic means there are some omissions: the writers Grace Paley and Edna Ferber are mentioned but not, say, Tillie Olsen or Cynthia Ozick; some prominent Jewish women are covered too cursorily (two 20th-century political firebrands, Emma Goldman and Bella Abzug, are accorded all of three sentences each); and American Sephardic women and Jewish feminist theology are barely dealt with. It is easy to kvetch, but Nadell has taken on a big job in covering such a multidimensional, important subject. Nadell does it in informative and succinct style, and the result is a readable, valuable text. (Mar.)
"The definitive history of Jewish women in America."
"[Nadell] has turned the diverse life stories of dozens of women across centuries of time into a mesmerizing whole. This is a book to read and reread, then sit back and contemplate, with a smile, the wondrous achievements of Jewish women in America."
"We learn a great deal about some spectacularly brave and innovative women who transgressed traditional boundaries to break new ground."
Jerusalem Post - Elaine Margolin
"A compelling and well-researched chronicle.… The contributions of these remarkable women shine in Nadell’s impressive book."
America’s Jewish Women is a thoughtful history of a group of diverse, passionate, contemplative, vocal and dynamic women, and is a welcome addition to the American historical canon."
New York Times Book Review - Jordana Horn
"A masterful and remarkably timely history which should be on every shelf. In becoming America’s Jewish women, generations of immigrants and their native-born daughters transformed themselves, their faith, and the nation they called home."
World Religion News - Joseph Preville
"[A] swift-paced and concise history.… Nadell fluidly intersperses thumbnail accounts of the famous and less so with a discussion of trends in American Jewish life."
"An accessible, yet scholarly account of our history."
Jewish Book Council - Bettina Berch
"With an expansive knowledge of both American Jewish history and women’s history, [Nadell] brings to this book unparalleled insights."
The distinct diaspora story of Jewish women in America.
Nadell (Women's and Gender History, Jewish Studies/American Univ.;
Women Who Would Be Rabbis, 1998, etc.) presents a sweeping history of American Jewish women beginning in the mid-17th century. Focusing on specific individuals and even specific families, the author presents a personalized story that is slanted toward progressive Jewish women and the legacy of Reform Judaism. Nadell follows a natural and predictable progression through the history of American immigration. The first American Jews were few in number and, despite opposition from some quarters, managed to live alongside their non-Jewish neighbors in relative harmony. The Revolutionary and Civil wars punctuate their family stories, and though Jewish women largely lived out domestic roles, they did manage to win certain new freedoms and places of influence in their communities. In the late 1800s, Jewish women took part in many of the era's social reform movements and laid the groundwork for important work that would be required with the coming wave of immigrants in the early 20th century. These new Jewish immigrants, mainly fleeing Russian pogroms, lived difficult lives in precarious economic times, but many managed to succeed even in the face of increased anti-Semitism. Throughout these years, Jewish women entered the ranks of political and social progressives. A final wave of immigrants, survivors of the Holocaust, added new complexity to the American Jewish community. In the postwar era Nadell explores the lives of such diverse Jewish women as Joyce Brothers, Betty Friedan, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, among many more less-famous individuals, whose roles in popular culture, politics, and social trends have been significant. The author largely succeeds in providing a fascinating portrait of American Jewish women, though her subject matter is definitely slanted toward Reform and even secular Jews. She offers little examination of Orthodox or even Conservative Jewish women's lives, especially in the modern era.
A worthwhile history given the difficulties of capturing such a wide-ranging population.
Jewish women in America have moved between assimilating and preserving traditions and creating new forms of American Judaism. While always on the margins of society, their lives and work have influenced or interacted with much of American culture. Nadell (women & gender history, American Univ.;$SPACE$
Women Who Would Be Rabbis) tells of women who are emblematic of four waves of American Jewish women's history: the colonial era and early America, largely well-to-do women in the 19th century (including Confederate widows and slave owners), eastern European immigrant women, women in the labor movement, and feminists. The lives and concerns of wealthy 18th-century women such as Grace Nathan (grandmother of American author Emma Lazarus) or Abigail Franks stand in contrast to figures such as Bessie Abramowitz Hillman, a Russian immigrant who became a labor leader and educator. What emerges is a full portrait of the complexity and variety of women's lives, though with less focus paid to non-Ashkenazic communities and second-wave feminism. VERDICT Covering so many swaths of American history, this should be widely acknowledged as intriguing women's history and also the history of Judaism. —Margaret Heller, Loyola Univ. Chicago Libs.