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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Heroine of the Day

Today's Jewish heroine is Rebecca Gratz. She was born in 1781, in Pennsylvania, to a prominent Orthodox Rabbinic family, and went on to dedicate her life to helping those less fortunate than her. She started the Female Association for the Relief of Women and Children of Reduced Circumstances in Philadelphia when she was only 20 years old. She also went on to found the Philadelphia Orphan Asylum, chartered in 1815, the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1819, and the Jewish Foster Home and Orphan Asylum in 1855. She was on the leadership boards of all of these organizations throughout her life. When her sister Rachel, died in 1823, Rebecca took her six children in to her home and raised them as her own.

As Christian missionaries became more active in America, Rebecca began to fear that the less educated Jews in her community were becoming a target for them. She believed one way to counter this was to provide a religious education for as many Jews as possible. Using the very successful Christian Sunday School model, she created the Hebrew Sunday School Society of Philadelphia in 1818. The school was open, free of charge, to all Jewish children from the Philadelphia area. She then counseled women in many other Jewish communities on creating similar schools there.

Rebecca was extremely educated and literate, especially for an Orthodox Jewish woman of her era. She was a member of an elite circle of writers, that included Washington Irving and James Kirk Paulding. She was always involved in American politics.

Many of the institutions that she founded operated well into the 20th century. Look here or here for more information on Rebecca Gratz, this paradigm of charitable deeds who was truly ahead of her times.

18 Comments:

Anonymous shoshanna said...

I was waiting all day for this. Nice choice. Looking forward to the next. Are all your choices going to be Orthodox?

9:03 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Not necessarily. I just happen to have picked these two to start.

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Blogger Krum as a bagel said...

I like it. Way not to pick an obvious choice like sara schnirer. Very orthomom-like.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting topic. I never even heard of Gratz, but now that I googled her I see that she was really something. Keep this feature up! I wonder how many men find this feature as interesting as I do, though.

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Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

Yasher Koach

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Anonymous Harbona (an orthodad) said...

great story , thanks and yasher koach !
on the remark that she was born in 1781 (?) to an orthodox family , she couldn't have been born otherwise then as the reform's Union for Reform Judaism , in their own website , report in a time line, that their first reform congregation in the US , was established only 44 years later in 1825 .

1:07 PM  
Blogger orthomom said...

True, but not all of my readers are aware of these distinctions. Thanks for the compliment!

7:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been looking for sites like this for a long time. Thank you!
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Anonymous Rivster said...

Hooray -- Rebecca Graetz has been a major hero of mine since I was a kid and I read her biography. Thanks so much for giving her the kavod she deserves -- especially from those of us who LOVED "sunday school!"

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