Celebrating Women’s History Month with Jewish Authors

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’ve compiled a list of books celebrating Jewish Women. As I was working on this list, I tried to pull from a variety of experiences. While this is by no means a comprehensive list, I hope I’ve managed to represent a number of view points across different time periods.

I hope you’ll join the conversation. Tell me your favorite books celebrating Jewish Women or your opinions about any of the titles on this list.

Happy Women’s History Month!


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Hiding in Plain Sight by Betty Lauer

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It is 1938. Berta Weissberger, twelve years old, lives in Hindenburg, Germany, with her mother and older sister. Her father has already left for America, and the family is awaiting the arrival of their American visas.

These hopes and plans are destroyed at the end of October 1938, however, when Jews are rounded up, loaded onto trucks, and driven to the Polish border. They are forced to cross a river into Poland and ordered, “Keep walking and do not turn back. Anyone attempting to turn back will be shot.”

So begins Bertel’s six-year terrifying odyssey in Nazi-occupied Poland. While living a life of constant vigilance and fear, Bertel grows into womanhood. Again and again, Providence steps in and saves her, guiding her to the right person or place.

It is Betty Lauer’s abiding faith in a higher power that enabled her to survive while hiding in plain sight, during the dark night of Nazi Germany, and to tell this remarkable story of great evil and of the nobility of the few who dared to defy the evildoers. An extraordinary story of strength, resilience, hope, and salvation.

The Lucky One by Sherry V. Ostroff

Ita was born in the wrong place at the wrong time. The place was the former Pale of Settlement which was a large swath of land in western Russia where Jews were forced to live for centuries. The year was 1918 and Russia was in the midst of two revolutions. The first occurred with the abdication of the last tsar of Russia culminating in his execution. The second was the bloody civil war that ensued for control of the country. Ita was caught in the middle during this time of great political and social upheaval. Wave after wave of murderous anti-Jewish riots, or pogroms, descended upon Jewish shtetls, and the only chance for her survival was to escape. Escape was not easy. In fact, it could be deadly. In Ita’s own words, along with her daughter’s (Sherry V. Ostroff) historical and cultural background information, she describes her privileged life in Russia, the bloody pogroms, and her harrowing escape. Ita faces each roadblock with resolve, including a new country that doesn’t want her, and proves why she is, indeed, the lucky one.

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The Crate: A Story of War, a Murder, and Justice by Deborah Vadas Levison

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After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust—in ghettos, on death marches, and in concentration camps—a young couple seeks refuge in Canada. They settle into a new life, certain that the terrors of their past are behind them. They build themselves a cozy little cottage on a lake in Muskoka, a cottage that becomes emblematic of their victory over the Nazis. The charming retreat is a safe haven, a refuge from haunted memories.

That is, until a single act of unspeakable violence defiles their sanctuary. Poking around the dark crawl space beneath their cottage, they discover a wooden crate, nailed tightly shut and almost hidden from view. Nothing could have prepared them for the horror of the crate’s contents—or how the peace and tranquility of their lives would be shattered.  

Now, their daughter, Deborah Vadas Levison, an award-winning journalist, tells the extraordinary account of her parents’ ordeals, both in one of the darkest times in world history and their present-day lives. Written in searing, lyrical prose, The Crate: A Story of War, a Murder, and Justice examines man’s seemingly limitless capacity for evil . . . but also, his capacity for good.


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Destiny by Design: Leah’s Journey by Mirta Ines Trupp

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Leah Abramovitz, a cossetted member of the upper echelons of Odessan society, has high hopes for a brilliant future—that is until Fate takes a hand. When confronted with alarming changes in political and societal mores, the family decide to flee and chart a course that will forever alter their lives. Will her dreams be washed away on the shores of Buenos Aires or will Leah finally achieve the freedom to design her own destiny?

Hidden Heroes by Pamela Braun Cohen

Spanning nearly three decades, Hidden Heroes gives an insider’s view of the modern-day exodus of Soviet Jews from the Soviet Union, a period of Jewish history that has rarely been told and is in danger of being forgotten. This deeply personal narrative explores the grassroots Soviet Jewish emigration movement through the eyes of one of its indefatigable leaders, focusing on the actions of heroic refuseniks in the Soviet Union as well as courageous individuals in the West – described by Natan Sharansky as the “army of students and housewives” who waged the battle to free Soviet Jews.

From Russia, Ukraine, and Lithuania to the distant republics of Central Asia, refuseniks come to life, discovering their identity, protesting on the streets, defending themselves in courtrooms, defying jailers in their prison cells, and struggling to survive in Siberian labor camps. This engrossing memoir tells the story of the resistance and moral courage of men and women inside the Soviet Union and of those in the West who relentlessly crusaded on their behalf.

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Day After Night by Anita Diamant

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Day After Night is based on the extraordinary true story of the October 1945 rescue of more than two hundred prisoners from the Atlit internment camp, a prison for “illegal” immigrants run by the British military near the Mediterranean coast south of Haifa. The story is told through the eyes of four young women at the camp who survived the Holocaust: Shayndel, a Polish Zionist; Leonie, a Parisian beauty; Tedi, a hidden Dutch Jew; and Zorah, a concentration camp survivor. Haunted by unspeakable memories and losses, afraid to hope, the four of them find salvation in the bonds of friendship and shared experience even as they confront the challenge of re-creating themselves in a strange new country.

Diamant’s triumphant novel is an unforgettable story of tragedy and redemption that reimagines a singular moment in history with stunning eloquence.

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The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

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Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history. 
 
When Helen is summoned by a former student to view a cache of newly discovered seventeenth-century Jewish documents, she enlists the help of Aaron Levy, an American graduate student as impatient as he is charming, and embarks on one last project: to determine the identity of the documents’ scribe, the elusive “Aleph.”
  
Electrifying and ambitious, The Weight of Ink is about women separated by centuries—and the choices and sacrifices they must make in order to reconcile the life of the heart and mind.  

To Be a Jewish Woman by Lisa Aiken

To Be a Jewish Woman is a clearly written, comprehensive book that gives the reader a wealth of information and insights. It presents historical, halachic (Jewish legal), philosophical and psychological observations about traditional Jewish views about women’s issues. In addition, it is an invaluable source of information for women considering a Torah-observant lifestyle as well as for those immersed in one. The relevance of its discussions about women’s roles in modern society, the synagogue, and family help the reader to find meaningful ways to achieve self-actualization in a changing world.

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Going South: Jewish Women in the Civil Rights Movement by Debra L. Schultz and Blanche Wiesen Cook

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Many people today know that the 1964 murder in Mississippi of two Jewish men―Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman―and their Black colleague, James Chaney, marked one of the most wrenching episodes of the civil rights movement. Yet very few realize that Andrew Goodman had been in Mississippi for one day when he was killed; Rita Schwerner, Mickey’s wife, had been organizing in Mississippi for six difficult months.

Organized around a rich blend of oral histories, Going South followsa group of Jewish women―come of age in the shadow of the Holocaust and deeply committed to social justice―who put their bodies and lives on the line to fight racism. Actively rejecting the post-war idyll of suburban, Jewish, middle-class life, these women were deeply influenced by Jewish notions of morality and social justice. Many thus perceived the call of the movement as positively irresistible.

Representing a link between the sensibilities of the early civil rights era and contemporary efforts to move beyond the limits of identity politics, the book provides a resource for all who are interested in anti-racism, the civil rights movement, social justice, Jewish activism and radical women’s traditions.

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RBG’s Brave & Brilliant Women: 33 Jewish Women to Inspire Everyone by Nadine Epstein

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The fascinating lives detailed in this collection–more than thirty exemplary female role models–were chosen by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, or RBG, as she was lovingly known to her many admirers. Working with her friend, journalist Nadine Epstein, RBG selected these trailblazers, all of whom are women and Jewish, who chose not to settle for the rules and beliefs of their time. They did not accept what the world told them they should be. Like RBG, they dreamed big, worked hard, and forged their own paths to become who they deserved to be.
 
Future generations will benefit from each and every one of the courageous actions and triumphs of the women profiled here. Real Wonder Women, the passion project of Justice Ginsburg in the last year of her life, will inspire readers to think about who they want to become and to make it happen, just like RBG.

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