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Dec 19 2014

On Observing Hanukkah Miracles, Big and Small

By at 9:15 am

On Observing Hanukkah Miracles, Big and Small

“MOMMY! MOMMY! THE CANDLES BURNT OUT!” My 6-year-old daughter’s voice came wailing up the stairs while I was getting dressed this morning. “That’s not how it’s supposed to go! The miracle is that they stayed lit for eight nights! What happened to our miracle?”

“Well, sweetie, that’s not our miracle. That was the miracle in the Temple so long ago, but today we have different miracles. The candles of Hanukkah remind us to notice the miracles that happen for us, now, in our lives.”

I’ve been trying to notice those miracles. I really have. But with everything that’s been happening in our nation and our world this past year, it can be hard to find them. Even during Hanukkah.

Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 4 2014

They’re Not Teaching Our Kids the Whole Truth in History Class

By at 3:46 pm

I Hardly Recognize the History My Kids Are Learning in School

When my son came home from school the other day, the first thing he said to me was, “I learned about the Mayflower today!” And an immense feeling of dread overtook me.

This is not the first time this has happened. Last month, he came home from school and said, “I learned about Christopher Columbus today.” And again, my stomach dropped.

Don’t get me wrong; I love how excited my son is about learning. And I definitely didn’t let him in on my worry either time. My problem is not his. My problem is that I spent eight years as a middle school social studies teacher. Read the rest of this entry →

Jun 2 2014

How to Be Respectful to Your Racist Grandparents

By at 2:52 pm

michelle-obama

My husband and I have a rule for ourselves: We don’t argue with old people.

This rule applies primarily to our parents and their friends, but also old people in general.

We also have a rule for our three kids, ages 14, 10, and 7: You will respect your elders. Whether you agree with them or not. Especially when you are a guest in someone else’s home. That’s just Etiquette 101 in our book. Read the rest of this entry →

May 29 2014

When No One Believed Their Financial Guru Was a Woman

By at 10:01 am

sylvia-porter-magazine-cover

In the 1930s-1980s, where did you get your financial news? The smart money was on an insightful journalist and economist with the enigmatic byline S.F. Porter.

Only after nearly a decade of leadership and a daily column did this writer’s full name appear, plus a photo: Sylvia Field Porter. Unmistakably female! In an interview for New Women in Social Sciences, Porter later reflected, “On that day I became a woman.” By the time she died in 1991, Sylvia was a nationally syndicated columnist with 45 million readers in 450 newspapers across the country. Historian Peggy K. Pearlstein tells her story, which goes like this:

Sylvia’s young mother, widowed, changed the family name from Feldman to Field and built a successful millinery business. She lost what was to them a great sum the 1929 stock market crash. Shocked, Sylvia wanted to understand, so she switched her Hunter College major from English and history to economics, graduating magna cum laude. She married a banker and apprenticed at several Wall Street investment firms, building her expertise. Read the rest of this entry →

May 27 2014

The First Woman To Bike Around The World

By at 9:45 am

annie-cohen-jwa

“Let me tell you what I think of bicycling. I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel.” –Susan B. Anthony, 1896

Her adventure began with a bet. In 1894, one gentleman in Boston bet another, $20,000 against $10,000, that no woman could travel around the world by bicycle, a feat that had been completed for the first time by a man in 1885. Annie Cohen Kopchovsky took up the challenge and set out from Boston on June 25, 1894. Married and a mother of three children under age 6, she had ridden a bicycle for the first time only days before.

Under the terms of the bet, Annie had to begin her journey penniless, earn $5000 above her expenses along the way, and finish her trip in 15 months. She wasted no time. On her way out of Boston, she hung a placard advertising Londonderry Lithia Spring Water Company from her bicycle, accepted $100 from the company’s representative, and agreed to be known as Annie Londonderry. Read the rest of this entry →

May 22 2014

How a Nice Jewish Girl Became “The Best Goddamn Madam in All America”

By at 9:59 am

Polly_Adler_1953

Notorious for her connections with gangsters at the height of Prohibition, Polly Adler fought to become “the best goddamn madam in all America.” Historian Ann Millin tells the story:

Born in Belorussia in 1900 into a tailor’s family, Polly began her education with the village rabbi. Her father sent her to the United States at age 12 to be the first link in a “chain emigration” to bring the entire family to the United States. Separated from her family by the Great War as a teenager, she was raped at age 17, and lost the support of her family.  She then turned to factory work until her friendship with a bootlegger created a very different opportunity for making money: using his apartment as a base for herself and women she hired to entertain his gangster friends. After her first arrest, she tried to go legit, opening a lingerie business that did not last long. Read the rest of this entry →

May 20 2014

The Jewish Woman Who Revolutionized Children’s Television

By at 9:47 am

peggy-charren

Imagine what children’s TV would be like without Peggy Charren. You can’t! Peggy took on the burgeoning television industry of the 1970s and won. She fought to keep advertising out of children’s programs, to keep quality children’s shows on the air, and to place limits on programs designed to sell toys to kids. Some people thought she was in favor of censorship, but Peggy vehemently disagreed: for her, content for children was all about context.

Journalist Janet Beyer tells her story:

The product of a liberal upbringing–Peggy learned union songs and noted, “We belonged, as did a lot of people, to all those organizations that were on McCarthy’s enemies list.”–Peggy majored in liberal arts at Connecticut College, then became film department director at WPIX-TV in New York City. She married and had two kids. At home with her young daughters, she grew concerned over too few educational TV programs for kids and too many violent, toy-focused shows. In 1968, armed with her TV experience and skill for organizing, she founded Action for Children’s Television (ACT), a nonprofit dedicated to diversity in children’s TV choices. Originally a small group of concerned mothers, ACT grew to become a grassroots organization of almost 20,000 volunteers. Read the rest of this entry →

May 15 2014

The Russian-American Opera Singer Who Balked At All Convention

By at 9:39 am

Winetskaja-Maria

Meet Maria Winetzkaja, a renowned opera singer and a rebellious, independent woman.

Russian-born around 1888, her father was a cantor, but Maria wanted nothing to do with her family’s Judaism. She called it ridiculous and foolish, due to what she perceived to be a lack of respect for women, according to her grandson Steven Winnett. His biography of her relates what happened next:

Her family moved to the United States in 1904, following a series of pogroms. She studied opera in New York, eventually traveling the globe as a performer and learning to speak eight languages. She sang at New York’s Carnegie Hall but never at the Metropolitan Opera, the pinnacle of success for American singers: the reason, she said, was that she refused to sleep with one of the Met’s directors. Read the rest of this entry →

May 13 2014

The Tireless Jewish Feminist Who Opposed Women’s Suffrage

By at 9:45 am

meyer-jwa

Meet an energetic and thoughtful woman who opposed the suffragist movement: she’s the tireless writer, advocate, activist, fundraiser, author, playwright, and art critic who founded Barnard College, New York City’s first liberal arts college for women. Historian Myrna Goldenberg tells her story:

Annie Nathan Meyer, born in 1867 and a descendent of Gershom Mendes Seixas, a Jewish Revolutionary War patriot, received less than six months of formal schooling. She educated herself, later boasting she had read all of Charles Dickens by age 7. As a young woman, she enrolled in the newly established Columbia College Collegiate Course for Women. In 1888, Annie begin her campaign to build Barnard with a passionate 2,500-word letter to The Nation, arguing that New York could make no real claim to culture without a women’s liberal arts college. What started as a seven-year plan, she accomplished in two.

Along the way, she developed a “separate spheres” ideology about women’s roles: she did not believe the suffragists’ claims that social and political change would ensue when women could vote and opposed their pacifism, and she wrote extensively about her views. Turns out she was also intensely jealous of her sister, Maud, a progressive activist and well-known suffragist. However, after the 19th Amendment passed, she joined the League of Women Voters. Read the rest of this entry →

May 8 2014

The Jewish Nobel Prize Winner With a Crater Named After Her

By at 9:54 am

gerty-biochemist

How many women do you know who have a crater named after them? Now, at least one: Gerty Theresa Cori. And planetary study wasn’t even what made her a scientific star.

In 1947, Cori became the first American woman–the third woman ever–to win the Nobel Prize. She and her husband Carl received it together in recognition for their life’s work on carbohydrate metabolism, specifically for “their discovery of the course of the catalytic conversion of glycogen,” which expanded understanding of how muscles make and store energy and the role of enzymes, with implications for the treatment of diabetes, among other diseases.

What’s particularly amazing is that she did all this while marginalized, for most of her career, in junior research positions at a small fraction of her husband’s salary. Gerty and Carl worked so closely together that he turned down prestigious positions at universities which would not support their collaborations; even so, she only rose to full professorship shortly before receiving the Nobel Prize.  Read the rest of this entry →

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