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Monday, June 27, 2005

Heroine of the Day

Thanks to Rebecca for calling today's very worthy Heroine of the Day to my attention.

Today's heroine is Bertha Pappenheim, a woman who overcame many personal obstacles to make a huge contribution to improving the social and economic position of Jewish women in her world. Born into a wealthy Viennese Orthodox family in 1859, Bertha was struck with a debilitating psychological disorder that caused paralysis. Through psychoanalysis, she was able to recover almost completely. She became interested in feminism, and through her studies, came to realize the lack of social infrastructure that existed for women in the German Jewish community. She decided to combine her interests in feminism and her identity as a Jewish woman with her concern for social justice. In 1902, she founded the Care for Women Society (Weibliche Fuersorge), which provided child care education for mothers, employment opportunities and vocational training for women, and placement for foster children. As a representative of the organization, she traveled throughout the Middle East, Russia and Europe, and became concerned with the plight of prostitutes and homeless women. She created the Juedischer Frauenbund in 1904 to campaign against prostitution and the white slave trade, and work to enhance legal protection for women. It also advocated for women's civil and religious rights.

Bertha traveled constantly and tirelessly, visiting brothels and consulting with police and social workers to improve the lot of these women sold into prostitution and slavery. She campaigned forcefully among the male leadership of these communities, urging them to deal with these problems faced by Jewish women. In 1907, she founded Isenberg, Europe's first Jewish shelter and group home for single mothers and their children and for girls escaping prostitution. Pappenheim published two pamphlets in 1910 that correlated poor educational opportunities with poverty among Jewish girls: "The Jewish problem in Galicia" and "On the Condition of the Jewish Population in Galicia." After she gave up the presidency of the Juedischer Frauenbund due to declining health, she continued to author and publish many pamphlets, plays and other writings dedicated to publicizing the plight of these women. In addition, she went on to translate many Jewish works including the Five Megillot, Tze'enah Ure'enah, and the Haftarot.

In 1936, Bertha's life was tragically cut short after a strenuous interrogation with the Gestapo about a anti-Hitler remark. Her obituary, which she wrote herself, read: "In 1904, she founded the Juedischer Frauenbund-its importance is not yet fully understood. The Jews of the entire world-men and women-owe her thanks for this social achievement. But they withhold it. What a pity!"

We certainly do not withhold the thanks today for her many achievements.
A more detailed biography of this amazing woman can be found here.

14 Comments:

Blogger Michael said...

FYI-The link to Rebecca's blog is incorrect; there's a problem with the url.

Also, into which language did she translate Tzenah Ur'enah?

10:06 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

Thanks. Link fixed. Good question about the language. I assume German.

10:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love that I never heard of her. So cool that you're avoiding the most obvious ones.

10:29 AM  
Blogger Michael said...

The fact that women were literate enough to read stories from the Torah but not the Torah and liturgy itself has always bothered me.

What are your thoughts on Tzenah Ur'enah in general?

10:34 AM  
Anonymous shoshanna said...

You must be putting so much work into these biographies. It's an amazing undertaking. I can only imagine how hard it must be to boil down these biographies into a shortish post.

10:40 AM  
Blogger orthomom said...

I agree about Tzenah Ur'enah. Thankfully, we've come a long way.

10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dis she remain Orthodox throughout her life?

12:08 PM  
Blogger Mar Gavriel said...

Wait a minute-- I knew that name sounded familiar! She was Anna O., the first patient who was helped by (an early, proto- form of) psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis, hooray! I love Freud! (And was his mentor, Dr. Joseph Breuer, related to Rabbi Dr. Joseph Breuer of K'hal Adass Jeschurun?)

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Tzippora said...

First of all, she's an ancestor of mine. And yes, Mar Gavriel, she is Anna O.

5:40 PM  
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