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February 24, 1989 - Image 39

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1989-02-24

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

COMMUNITY

Historian Brings To Forefront
U.S. Jewish Woman's Role

SUSAN LUDMER-GLIEBE

Special to The Jewish News

D

r. Paula Hyman is on
a campaign to make
sure that American
Jewish women's history is not
forgotten and neglected.
Speaking last week at the
Hillel Foundation at the
University of Michigan for its
Women in Judaism series, the
Lucy Moses Professor of
Modern Jewish History at
Yale University recalled in-
cidents in American Jewish
history where women played
a vital role.
In the spring of 1902 the
price of kosher meat soared
from 12 cents to 18 cents a
pound. Throughout the
streets of the Lower East Side
and parts of the Bronx and
Brooklyn, Jewish women
organized protesting the
increase.

Housewives entered but-
cher shops flinging meat on-
to the city streets. Mass
meetings rallying support
and mapping out boycott
strategies were held through-
out tenement neighborhoods.
Leaflets called upon all
women to "Join the Great
Women's War."
Jewish mothers were ar-
rested by police and taken to
jail. Strike leaders even
entered synagogues using the
traditional communal tactic
of interrupting the Torah
reading when a matter of
justice was at stake; a move
that angered some men and
received support from others.
"The story was the front
page news in Yiddish papers
for three weeks," says Dr.
Hyman.
The role of the Jewish
woman in America is a
history that appeals to

Max Silk Wins Award
For Volunteer Efforts

Max Silk was honored last
week for "outstanding volun-
tarism" at the United Foun-
dation's 22nd annual Heart of
Gold Award luncheon.
As a professional bookie for
many years, his life changed
in 1946 when he was out col-
lecting bets. He was on the
streets working when he saw
Father Clement Kern, a
Catholic priest at Most Holy
Trinity Church, handing out
coins to the poor. Silk was
very intrigued by Father
Kern's actions.
A few weeks later after win-
ning big, he decided to give
Father Kern his first dona-
tion. This began a very long
friendship and partnership
that last until 1983, when the
monsignor died. But to this
day, Silk's commitment
continues.
Most days he can be found
running Max's Leftfield Deli
near Tiger Stadium, serving
Up his five soups-of-the-day,
hot and lean deli sandwiches
and over-the-counter conver-
sations, but his volunteer ac-
tivities always keep him on
the run.
Although Silk is Jewish, his
work involves all races,
religions and age groups with
a special concern for children.
After frustrating work with
young dropouts, Silk realized
it would be more effective if
he could reach these kids at

Hyman on a number of levels.
"I'm a trained Jewish
historian and a feminist,"
Hyman explains. "I became
very much interested in in-
tegrating Jewish women's
history and Jewish history as
a whole." Since graduating
from Columbia University in
1975, Hyman has been ex-
ploring that history.
Although her academic
field of expertise is 19th Cen-
tury French Jewish history,
Hyman might be best known
for the 1976 book, The Jewish
Woman in America that she
co-authored with Charlotte
Baum and Sonya Michael. "I
got leters from women who
said that it changed their
lives."
Hyman has been very much
a part of the evolving field of
Jewish women's studies.
"There's still a real excite-
ment and creativity in the
field of Jewish feminist
history," she explains. "I
think we have a long way to
go yet there have been enor-
mous strides."
Historians like Hyman
have delved into areas many
(male) historians overlooked
entirely. Hyman points out
that it's important for
historians to rethink the
types of questions that should
be asked about the past; to
sensitize themselves about
what is, in fact, historically
significant.
"Don't assume that the
male experience is the
historical experience;' she ex-
plains. "Even as Jewish
women shared in a common
experience with their
husbands and brothers they
also had a separate communi-
ty."
The history of this corn-
munity is different , and
demands its own approach,
Hyman says. "We do have to
look for different and new
sources. We have to open our
eyes." Her work has led
her to sources like oral
histories, photographs, im-
migrant newspapers, corn-
munity newsletters and
organization meeting notes.
The resulting history is,
often, quite different than we
imagined it to be.

.

Max Silk

an earlier age. As a result, in
1977, Silk founded and sup-
ported the Sunshine
Montessori School for in-
digent preschool children.
On another plane, when the
Pope John XXIII Hospitality
House needed an ambulance
to transport youngsters with
cancer to Children's Hospital
for therapy, Silk coordinated
it.
His other volunteer ac-
tivities include the
Southeastern Michigan Men-
tal Health Group, Coalitions
on Temporary Shelter
(COTS), Corktown Citizens'
District Council, the
Brooklyn Youth Center and
the Downtown Synagogue.

"There's a romanticizing of
the past," she explains.
"There are things not men-
tioned in Fiddler on the Roof
From her own work on the
early Eastern European im-
migrant Jewish experience in
the U.S. Hyman pointed to

some of the dismal realities
many Jewish women faced:
low pay, terrible working con-
ditions, prostitution and
desertion. About the latter
she says: The Jewish Daily
Forward published regularly
a gallery of missing
husbands.
On the other hand, coming
to America often allowed
Jewish women a measure of
autonomy they hadn't realiz-
ed before. In the Old World
women rarely went to school,
and often didn't even receive
formal religious education. In
the U.S., night school was a
possibility even if college was
not. Jewish women were ac-
tive participants in the
political arena. Their union
organizing and involvement
in suffrage campaigns, gave
them, if not actual power, an
understanding of the political
process, Hyman says.

Hyman also talked about
"domestic Judaism" and its

social corollary, "domestic
feminism." When Jewish im-
migrants arrived in the U.S.
the men, in large part, aban-
doned the house of study for
the world of work. But the
women had less of a disrup-
tion with their Jewish identi-
ty and, in fact, became major
transmitters of Jewish obser-
vance and tradition. Addi-
tionally, women applied their
concerns — about family,
health and child care — to the
social and political realms
where they were actively in-
volved to community and
neighborhood affairs.
Hyman says she sees a cor-
relation between her look
backwards into the past and
its significance for the
present.
"What's very exciting is
that Jewish feminism has
made an impact on the
American Jewish communi-
ty," Hyman says. "Jewish
feminist thought is a source of
vitality."

Ohr Samayach Dean
Due Here For Machon

Machon IfIbrah, the Jewish
Learning Network of Michi
gan, in conjunction with Ohr
Somayach.Thnnenbaum Col
lege, will present a special
program with guest speaker
Rabbi Mendel Weinbach of
Israel on Wednesday at 8 p.m.
at the Machon Inbrah Learn-
ing Center, 15221 W. 10 Mile,
Oak Park.
Dean of Ohr Somayach Tan-
nenbaum College of Judaic
Studies in Jerusalem, Rabbi
Weinbach is one of Israel's
leading political activists and
columnists.
Meanwhile, Machon L'To-
rah, in conjunction with
Arachim Organization of
Israel, will present a retreat
weekend March 9-12. Based
on the theme, "The Authen-
ticity of Judiasm," the
weekend will host three
scholars-in-residence.
They are: Dr. Shalom
Serbernick of Jerusalem,
scientist and Nobel Prize
nominee in nuclear physics
and a founder of Arachim;
Rabbi Yehuda Silver of Lon-
don, England, director of
SEED, a network of Jewish
education resources; and Rab-
bi Shalom Schwartz of Toron-
to, Canada, director of Aish
Halbrah of Ibronto.
The weekend will be held at

Rabbi Mendel Weinbach

the Campus Inn Hotel in Aim
Arbor.
Package rates for the
weekend include registration
fee, Kosher meals, lectures
and all gratuities. Child care
will be available by request at
an additional cost.
The Machon also will pre-
sent a lecture on "The Power-
ful Serenity of the Sabbath —
Can We Afford Not to
Benefit?" on Monday at
7:30 p.m. at the Machon
IfIbrah Learning Center.
Lecturer for the evening
will be Rabbi Avraham
Jacobovitz, director of
Machon L'Torah. There is no
charge, and refreshments will
be served.

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

39

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