July 2, 2022

Meet the HBI 2022 Gilda Slifka Summer Interns

By Lauren Hakimi

Madison Cissell outside stone building

Madison Cissell

Madison Cissell is an incoming graduate student at the University of Indiana-Bloomington, where she will obtain dual degrees in library science and folklore. She graduated in 2021 from the University of Kentucky, where she majored in psychology. She also helped conduct oral history projects, including the Jewish Kentucky Oral History Project, and served as a research assistant for Jewish studies professor Sheila Jelen. She is working with archivist Surella Seelig in Brandeis University’s Jewish feminist archives while also conducting an oral history project about women who had their bat mitzvahs later in life. Unfortunately, Madison was unable to bring her pet rat to Brandeis this summer.

Katayoun Matloubi by a cherry blossom tree

Katayoun Matloubi

Katayoun Matloubi is a PhD student in French literature at the University of Connecticut. She holds a master’s degree in that subject from Shahid Beheshti University in Iran, and she volunteers at Action Against Hunger and Amnesty International. At UConn, she also teaches French and serves as a senator in the graduate student government. As part of her dissertation, Katayoun’s project this summer focuses on female narratives of the Holocaust. She is also working with Northeastern University professor Debra Kaufman. She looks forward to getting to know fellow interns and work with scholars she admires.

Lauren Hakimi on Brandeis campus

Lauren Hakimi

Lauren Hakimi recently graduated from Hunter College with degrees in history and English. Her work as a writer and journalist has been published in CNN, WNYC/Gothamist, Bon Appétit, the Forward, JTA/New York Jewish Week, Alma, Lilith magazine and more. This summer, she is working with HBI Assistant Director Amy Powell on the institute’s blog, Fresh Ideas. She’ll also be working on a guide to the works of Grace Paley. This is her first time living outside of New York!


Miranda Hellmold Stone next to a large tree

Miranda Hellmold Stone

Miranda Hellmold Stone is a senior at Smith College, where they major in Jewish studies, minor in English, and serve as a tour guide. They also interned at the Los Angeles Review of Books and Persea Books. This summer, they are working with HBI Director Lisa Fishbayn Joffe on defining get refusal as a form of domestic violence. For their independent project, they will create a website about the history of agunot in the United States. Born and raised in New York City, Miranda’s go-to is an everything bagel with scallion cream cheese and lox. 

Mia Hay sitting on bottom bunk bed

Mia Hay

Mia Hay studies Jewish studies and gender studies at the University of Texas at Austin, where they are also involved in the Jewish Studies Undergraduate Students Association and serve as a resident assistant. They will work with religious studies scholar Jillian Stinchcomb on a reception history of the Queen of Sheba in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and for their independent project, Mia will analyze Hebrew Bible passages to show why they should not be used to justify transphobia. They look forward to escaping the Texas heat this summer.

Michaela Harrel head shot

Michaela Harrel

Michaela Harrel majors in gender studies and Spanish at Mount Holyoke College. They’re also a photographer at their college newspaper and served as a representative for Girls Learn International at the 63rd United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. Their personal project explores political propaganda aimed at convincing Soviet Jews to move to the Jewish Autonomous Region. This summer, Michaela will also work with professors Jonathan Krasner and Ziva Hassenfeld to analyze the development of gender roles in Jewish children. From California, they look forward to building concrete research experience and getting to know people who share their interests.

Noah Marchuck sitting on a stone wall

Noah Marchuck

Noah Marchuck is a rising junior at Emory University, where he studies psychology and gender studies and is president of the student government. He was also an intern at Hillels of Georgia and the Hillel representative for Emory’s Inter-Religious Council. Noah will work with Jewish studies professor Alexander Kaye on a project about exile and diaspora. He will also conduct an oral history project about how queer Jewish men navigate their queer and Jewish identities. He’s excited to be living with new people this summer. 



Lauren Hakimi is a recent graduate of Hunter College and a 2022 HBI Gilda Slifka Summer Intern. 

HBI By-the-Numbers: The Importance of Counting

By Terri Brown Preuss

My youngest daughter spent the last three months in Israel with her high school graduating class. While she had a wonderful experience, she was so ready to come home near the end of the trip that she was counting down the Shabbats until she was home. As we’re in the period of counting the omer, I’ve wondered what it is about counting that resonates so strongly — just as I found my daughter’s own counting so endearing. To learn more, I turned to the books. 

image of calendarThe literal injunction to count the omer in the Torah relates to agricultural pursuits, as is so often the case: 

Leviticus 23:15-16 states: (15) And from the day on which you bring the sheaf (Omer) of elevation offering—the day after the sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: (16) you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the LORD.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs notes that as the holiday of Shavuot “became associated with the giving of the Torah, and not only with a celebration of agricultural bounty, the omer period began to symbolize the thematic link between Passover and Shavuot.” 

But still, why do we count the days? What is it about the act of counting that brings meaning?  

There are several reasons, the most well known being the anticipation of a beloved encounter (this one lines up with my daughter’s counting). According to Maimonides, Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed) 3:43: “Shavuot is the time of the Giving of the Torah. In order to honor and elevate this day we count the days from the previous festival until it [arrives], like someone who is waiting for a loved one to arrive, who counts the days by the hours” (emphasis added).

Other meaningful reasons to count the omer have come to include: making the most of every day, practicing mindfulness, and promoting personal and spiritual growth.

It was these last reasons that sparked an idea—along with counting the omer, HBI itself would count its contributions to Jewish gender studies to be mindful of its work, to promote more impactful growth, and along the way to share all of this with our social media community.

Taking a deep dive into the depth and breadth of HBI’s work of the last 25 years has been a humbling and empowering experience. That said, the work must continue as the necessity to explore, understand, question and re-envision the rich and complex interplay of Judaism, women and gender is as great as ever. 

HBI by-the-numbers:

ONE organization, the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, was opened in 1997 to fill the gap in research about Jewish women’s history, lives and culture. 

TWO cutting-edge scholarly series this semester: (1) Gender, Reproductive Rights and Jewish law: Israeli and American Perspectives (2-part series), and (2) Using New Criminal Laws Against Coercive Control to Combat Get Abuse: Lessons from the Field (3-part series)

THREE – Now in its third year, the online HBI Sandra Seltzer Silberman Conversations Series has engaged with over 5,000 people to explore Jewish women’s lives through new and thought-provoking literary fiction, memoir and more.

FOUR – HBI’s Scholars in Residence are the backbone of the Institute. Meet our four Spring 2022 Scholars: Bat-Sheva Margalit Stern, Schechter Institute, Noya Rimalt, University of Haifa, Ayelet Brinn, University of Pennsylvania, and Miriam Udel, Emory University.

FIVE – HBI Research Awards make an impact on the world of Jewish literature. Five authors in this year’s HBI Silberman Conversations Series were supported by HBI Research Awards: Judy Batalion, Judy Bolton-Fasman, Marcia Falk, Carole Kessner, and Laura Arnold Leibman. 

SIX – Team HBI’s six colleagues have a depth of experience in promoting scholars and work at the intersection of Jewish studies and women’s and gender studies. 

EIGHT Studio Israel events to date—a look at Israeli culture and diversity through the lens of contemporary Israeli artists and creatives. In partnership with Jewish Arts Collaborative, The Vilna Shul, The Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, with generous funding from CJP. 

NINE books in the Reuben/Rifkin Jewish Women Writers Series of works that embodied Jewish women’s experiences, speaking for many whose names and stories are now lost. Series editors: Elaine Reuben, Shulamit Reinharz, Gloria Jacobs. 

TEN books in the Brandeis Series on Gender, Culture, Religion, and Law (GCRL). This HBI series fosters dialogue about conflicts between women’s claims to gender equality and practices justified in terms of religious and cultural tradition. 

ELEVEN Diane Markowicz Memorial Lectures on Gender and Human Rights. This Lecture Series, created in memory of Diane Markowicz by Sylvia Neil and her husband Dan Fischel, features internationally renowned scholars, judges and activists discussing ways of negotiating the tensions between gender equality and religious or cultural norms. Info: 

FOURTEEN – For 14 years, the HBI Artist Program has provided artists whose work develops fresh ideas about Jews and gender the opportunity to have a solo exhibition at the Kniznick Gallery at Brandeis University. Artists are awarded funds, provided both a physical and online exhibition, and receive an accompanying printed exhibition catalog. 

TWENTY-THREE – HBI has granted an average of 23 Research Awards per year since 1998 enabling exciting, cutting-edge research on Jews and gender. 

TWENTY-FIVE – For 25 years, HBI has emboldened those who seek to explore, understand, question and re-envision the rich and complex interplay of Jews and gender. 

TWENTY-SIX – HBI’S 26 Research Associates carry out projects that support the HBI’s mission to explore, re-envision and develop fresh ideas about Jews and gender. They are provided academic oversight, access to HBI and the resources of Brandeis University. 

THIRTY-EIGHT – HBI has published 38 issues of Nashim an international, interdisciplinary academic journal — the only one of its kind — for innovative work being done in Jewish women’s and gender studies with articles on literature, text studies, anthropology, archeology, theology, contemporary thought, sociology, the arts, and more. 

FORTY-TWO – The HBI Series on Jewish Women publishes a wide range of books by and about Jewish women that fills major gaps in literature. There are 42 books in this series to date.

FORTY-THREE – HBI produced 43 programs this past year in pursuit of its mission to question and re-envision the rich and complex interplay of Judaism, women and gender. 

FORTY-NINE – The Hadassah-Brandeis Institute awards grants to support research or artistic projects in Jewish women’s and gender studies across a range of disciplines. Research Awards are made to graduate students, early career, and established researchers. This year, HBI gave out 14 Research Awards totaling $49,000.

Terri Brown Preuss is the Director of the HBI Sandra Seltzer Silberman Conversations Series and the HBI Communications Coordinator.

Women’s Daf Yomi: Gender and Talmud Study in Digital Space

By Adam Ferziger

New Year’s Day 2020 saw a crowd of over 90,000 assemble in freezing temperatures at New Jersey’s Metlife Stadium. Rather than the usual football game, they had come for the Siyum ha-Shas of Daf yomi, the ritual “completion” ceremony celebrating study of all 2,711 folios of the Talmud (Shas) over the course of a 7.5-year daily regimen. The nearly five-hour convocation included public prayers, speeches by eminent rabbinical authorities, musical performances, and inspirational films. It culminated with a collective recitation of the final passages of the massive, multi-volumed ancient tome, followed by raucous dancing. Scores of parallel events – some filling arenas and auditoriums and others modest local gatherings in synagogues, study halls and private homes – took place on five other continents. Thousands more joined the Metlife celebrants and other large-scale venues via livestream as well.

Talmud text on a phone.The daf yomi (literally daily page) multi-year Talmud-study cycle was conceived nearly a century earlier as a means to unify Jews worldwide through a common consistent encounter with the foundational text of rabbinic Judaism. Participation has grown dramatically in recent decades. Since its inception, the overwhelming majority of participants were Orthodox men. While this remains the case, the 2020 festivities marked a watershed when over 3,000 attendees congregated in Jerusalem’s Binyanei ha-Umah Auditorium for the inaugural “Women’s Siyum Shas.”

The women’s event was spearheaded by Hadran, an Israel-based organization established in 2018 and led by Michelle Cohen Farber, a veteran immigrant from America and religious educator who has been teaching daf yomi since 2013 at her home in Ra’anana, a suburban town north of Tel Aviv. To celebrate the daf yomi milestone, Hadran brought together a coalition of women’s learning groups from Israel and around the globe, along with an array of institutions and individuals that are at the forefront of advanced Talmud study for women – thousands in person and more via livestream. The evening’s format shared much in common with the Metlife one, but it was orchestrated and led by women, as were over 90 percent of those who joined.

My investigation engages that which unfolded from the conspicuous January 2020 moment onwards, its meaning in the context of contemporary Orthodox Judaism’s enduring struggles over the religious standing of women, and the agency of digital technology in this process.

Such siyum festivities, be they the established men’s ones or newly devised women’s gatherings, are intended to acknowledge the achievements of those who withstood the rigorous day-to-day challenge for over seven years. No less, they are aimed to inspire others to join in the next round. In fact, the new daf yomi cycle that began immediately after has witnessed further expansion in numbers. The signature engines for this growth have been inventive online platforms, apps, and tools that provide comfortable access to live and taped classes, study aids, and supplementary materials. Ironically, these innovations achieved critical value within weeks after the new cycle began, when due to Covid-19 restrictions, face-to-face classes became impossible. Indeed, the move of the main Hadran class from an in-person class setting to a live digital format, has increased participation exponentially. I contend that the emergence of the women’s daf yomi trend marks a pivotal juncture in the history of Orthodox Jewish feminism, a movement that arose in the 1970s and has since become a central source of both renewal and contention. 

Hadran’s stated goal is “to make Talmud study accessible to Jewish women at all levels…in a unique way: by providing a wide range of resources…in the voice of women teachers.” After in-person meetings became impossible, Farber began to teach her daf yomi class twice each morning via Zoom, once in Hebrew at 6:15 AM, and a second time in English at 7:15 AM. These were broadcast live via the Hadran website, as well as Facebook and YouTube. In the process, the live digital platform became Hadran’s core framework. This central live online study session facilitated a novel type of collective daily learning experience; it brought together women (and some men) just starting their day in Israel, Asia, Africa, or Europe, with others ending theirs – whether the previous one in North or South America, or the parallel one in Australia or New Zealand.

In a January 2021 interview, Farber described why she felt that her classes would fill an existing gap, and how she designed her method with this in mind:

When I went online to see some examples of how people taught a whole daf in 45 minutes, I was surprised to find hundreds of daf yomi shiurim by men but none by women. When listening to the shiurim, it was clear that the average woman who comes with little or no gemara background would have a hard time learning with one of those shiurim, not because they can’t learn from a man, but because most of the rabbis teaching assumed the listener had a certain comfort level with basic words and concepts. In addition, the questions that they asked on the gemara or issues they delved into were not necessarily the issues that the women would be interested in pursuing. Also, when a sensitive women’s issue arises, many gloss right over it and move on. It was then that I decided that I would record my classes and put them online to be able to offer a class that could appeal to the broader female audience.

As of November 2021, according to statistics provided by the organization, there were 1,600 daily listeners to her class, and an additional 2,500-5,000 individual downloads of tractates that were already completed.

Hadran home pageOnce they arrived at the Hadran website, a variety of presentations and links were available under the rubric of “Beyond the Daf,” where the female-centric quality of the platform is celebrated. One prominent Hebrew offering is a video blog entitled “Daf mi-she-la-hen” [a page of their own]. It features Rabbanit Hamutal Shoval, a former journalist who holds a master’s degree in new media and teaches advanced Talmud to women, and Rabbanit Shira Marili Mirvis, the first woman to be appointed as the main religious authority in an Israeli Orthodox synagogue. The conversations often gravitate to gendered aspects of the pages studied that week, including exploring how the patriarchy of Talmudic times continues to set the tone for many aspects of Jewish life. As Orthodox Jews, the presenters are committed to traditional Jewish practice and law, but they also acknowledge the many challenges they face as twenty-first century women who have been brought up to assume their rights to full participation in society.

When possible, Farber has further nurtured Hadran women’s network by taking periodic trips throughout North America where she addresses audiences in person, including visits to local women’s daf yomi groups and their supporters. That these women are part and parcel of a global kinship, is emphasized through another component of the website entitled, “Hadran Communities.” Listed there with clickable links are the names of 19 affiliated branches in Israel and 26  around the world. Some of these women meet daily – in person or virtually, while in other cases the local group complements daily study with Farber through private WhatsApp and Facebook discussions in which members present their own perspectives or relevant materials. 

The dedications that are read at the beginning of each session and appear on the digital apparatuses, offer an additional lens for discerning the “reception” of Hadran. They echo the sense that women identify with the gendered foundations of the endeavor. A listing in memory of a woman’s mother, shared a sharp articulation, “As a young girl, she begged her father to teach her Gemara [Talmud] so she could expand her knowledge. She would have loved to know that her daughter and daughter-in-law are pursuing that path.”

The gender egalitarian consensus of the Reform and Conservative movements would seemingly render obsolete the attraction of a predominantly all-women’s setting. Yet, based on direct communications from Hadran site users, 15-20% did not identify as Orthodox. Why do non-Orthodox Jews gravitate to Hadran? Numerous participants expressed that as opposed to most of the other existing online daf yomi options that were Haredi-oriented, they were attracted to Farber’s “non-yeshivish” style. Furthermore, quite a few correspondents disclosed that they began their daf yomi experiences listening to other lecturers but were frustrated by the lack of sensitivity to women’s issues. This dovetails with the comments of a few men who study regularly with male teachers but revealed that when the Talmud addresses gender-related topics, they make a point of turning to Hadran in order to gain exposure to Farber’s perspective. On a pragmatic level, moreover, even if there are many daf yomi portals, none are categorically non-Orthodox. Under such circumstances, Farber’s teaching and Hadran’s overall tenor resonate to Jews who have internalized an egalitarian Jewish approach.

Head shot of Adam FerzigerAdam S. Ferziger is professor in the Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry at Bar-Ilan University, Israel and holds the Rabbi S.R. Hirsch Chair for Research on the Torah and Derekh Erez Movement. He is a senior associate at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, University of Oxford and co-convener of the Oxford Summer Institute on Modern and Contemporary Judaism. He is a 2021 HBI Scholar in Residence. 

HBI Gives 14 Research Awards

HBI Gives 14 Research Awards 

By Amy Powell

When the pandemic hit, frequent research collaborators Elly Teman and Zsuzsa Berend, already accustomed to working on Zoom and across multiple time zones, decided to have some fun with their research.  

head shot of Elly Teman wearing a floral top.

Elly Teman

“We were both going a little bit crazy, me with my kids and Zsuzsa with the Zooms, and we decided to translate our ethnographic research into something visual,” Teman said.” We wanted to do something that would be shared with more than other scholars.”

Teman, at Ruppin Academic Center in Israel, and Berend at University of California, Los Angeles applied to HBI for a Research

Zsuzsa Berend head shot, wearing green tank shirt. g

Zsuzsa Berend

Award to create  A Tale of Two Surrogates: A Graphic Novel of Surrogacy in Israel and the US. The graphic novel will tell the stories of Dana in Israel and Jenn in the US, who both contract to carry babies for infertile intended parents highlighting the detailed regulatory context and largely standardized contractual arrangements in Israel and the deregulated arrangements in the US where surrogates negotiate provisions with infertile parents and lawyers directly. It will be rooted in data and research. 

Their award is dedicated to the memory of Frances Leder Kornmehl. 

Frances Leder Kornmehl
Mrs. Frances Leder Kornmehl was born in 1925 in Tarnow, Poland, the youngest of five children. In 1941, Tarnow was liquidated and, once living in the ghetto, it was her role to smuggle food hidden in her clothes to sustain her family. In 1943, 18-year-old Frances was deported to Krakow-Plaszow Concentration Camp. From there, she was sent to Auschwitz, and in a miraculous turn of events, was saved from the gas chambers. After the liberation, she returned to Tarnow where she learned that she was the only remaining member of her family. She met her husband, Nathan Kornmehl, in a displaced persons camp in Germany, and subsequently they emigrated to the US. Family, education, and her faith were the most important elements in Frances’ life; her table was always lively with her husband, her five children, and her childrens’ neighborhood friends. Frances always maintained her faith, optimism, and a sense of wonder that she expressed creatively in the poetry she wrote and published. Frances took great pride that her five children achieved higher education, built family lives, and had children of their own- surrounding her with nine grandchildren to carry on her family’s legacy.

Teman and Berend were one of the 14 recipients of  HBI’s 2022 Research Awards  totalling $49,000. These awards are given annually for work that incorporates HBI’s mission to support research at the intersection of Jewish studies and gender studies. Recipients range from historians and anthropologists to artists to poets, and across geographic boundaries, this year encompassing the US, Canada, Israel and Poland. All the titles and recipients can be found here

To select the recipients of  these competitive annual research awards, HBI relies on the expertise of an Academic Advisory Committee, comprised of 188 experts and academics from around the world. Final decisions are made by the HBI Academic Awards Decision Committee, this year comprised of Dr. Elisheva Baumgarten of Hebrew University, Dr. Deidre Butler of Carleton University, Dr. Debra Kaufman of Northeastern University, Dr. Pnina Lahav of Boston University, Dr. Ilana Szobel of Brandeis University and Dr. Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, The Shulamit Reinharz Director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute .  

“HBI’s mission is to support new research in Jewish gender studies across a range of academic disciplines,” Joffe said.  “We are so grateful for the time and care our colleagues around the world devote to evaluating proposals so that we can identify and fund the most important and impactful new research. This year’s roster of recipients represents exciting new work from across the field of Jewish women’s and gender studies.”

HBI’s Research Awards are part of a broader program at HBI to support scholars in the field at every stage of their career, a value exemplified by Teman:  She was one of HBI’s first summer interns in 2002. Other recipients this year include The Criminalization of Get Refusal, a project by Hadas Raichelson of Bar-Ilan University that  looks at several developments in Israeli criminal law regarding the prohibition of Jewish divorce refusal including discussion on the appropriateness of imposing criminal responsibility on recalcitrant spouses in light of theories of criminalization, the aspects of family law, and the feminist critique of law. The award is funded by the HBI Project on Gender, Culture, Religion and the Law which recently hosted an international workshop on this emerging topic, Using New Criminal Laws Against Coercive Control to Combat Get Abuse: Lessons from the Field.

In Medicalizing Ritual Life Among Judeo-Spanish Communities: Women, Religion and Health in the Late Ottoman Empire and Beyond (1870-1940) Anabella Esperanza of Hebrew University of Jerusalem explores the interconnected history of health and ritual, bringing together methodologies of Jewish studies, medical history, and gender analysis, while at the same time using a regional and comparative approach. This award is dedicated in memory of Dr. Harris A. Berman. 

Dr. Harris A. Berman
Dr. Harris Alan Berman was dean emeritus of the Tufts University School of Medicine and a pioneer in the field of managed care. From 1965 to 1967, he served in the Peace Corps in India. He came away with a strong interest in infectious diseases and a belief in the importance of public health and preventative care. In 1977, he co-founded the Matthew Thornton Health Plan, one of the first staff-model health maintenance organizations in the country, and in 1986 became chief executive officer of Tufts Health Plan. In 2003, he retired as CEO and joined Tufts University as chairman of the department of public health and community medicine and dean of public health and professional degree programs. He was named interim dean of the medical school in 2000 and served as dean from 2011.

Laura Leibman head shot, wearing turquoise blouse, navy jacketHBI also offers opportunities for award recipients to share the fruits of their research. As part of the HBI Sandra Seltzer Silberman Conversations Series, Dr. Laura Arnold Leibman shared her award-winning new book  When We Were Slaves: The Extraordinary Journey of a Multiracial Jewish Family which was supported by an HBI Research award. In her remarks, Dr. Leibman noted that it was this early support that allowed her to explore archives to uncover the life story of Rebecca Brandon, whose story became one the centerpieces of her book. 

Judy Batalion received three HBI Research Awards over several years for translation of the Yiddish memoir, Freuen in di Ghettos, which turned into her bestselling novel, The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos. It is currently being made into a movie by Steven Spielberg. Dr. Batalion credited HBI for being there in the beginning to value work by women, about

Judy Batalion headshot, wearing glasses

Judy Batalion

women, all leading to research on the Holocaust that had not been widely known. 

“Categorically, there is no way this book would exist without your support at HBI. Your support was 100 percent necessary for the development of this project and of all my work the past 14 years,” said Batalion.

Learn more about HBI Research Awards. To discuss opportunities to name a research award, contact Amy Powell

Amy Powell is the assistant director of HBI. 

Uncovering What’s Been Lost

By Terri Brown Preuss

Like Blanche Moses in 1942, the scion of one of the oldest American Jewish families in Dr. Laura Arnold Leibman’s Once We Were Slaves, the magnificently researched groundbreaking work featured in the February Sandra Seltzer Silberman HBI Conversations Series, I too am an obsessive amateur family genealogist. Unlike Blanche, whose goal was to preserve the grandeur and history of her family,  my passion stems from the desire to uncover what’s been lost to time and distance – and nothing so far shows any grandeur.

In March, I will happily mark my five-year anniversary with the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute. As I contemplate this milestone, I see a strong parallel between my passion for genealogy and my passion for the mission of HBI. Just as I was honored and humbled to discover and connect with my father’s second cousin whose parents’ entire families were murdered in Poland in 1942, I am also honored and humbled to spend my time and skills supporting and promoting research and programs that uncover the unrevealed lives of Jewish women around the world.

As an amateur genealogist, I search through thousands of documents to find the next great-grandparent. As I do,  people’s lives pass before my eyes, often with only the barest of details. However, here is the key: there are important facts to learn when one looks closely. From the United States census andArticle image from June 8, 1934 Boston Globe immigration documents, I see a rag salesman, a grocer, and a relative who, tragically, remained back in the old country. From the newspaper clippings, I see my beloved great-aunt asserting her right to live in peace as seen in this astounding and inappropriately tongue-in-cheek 1932 Boston Globe article “Mrs. Liberty To Plead For Freedom In Court.” And, from the survivors’ testimonies at Yad Vashem: I see cousins’ lives ending in despair and pain, but the testimonies shout to the world that their loved ones did in fact live. 

It’s much the same with Jewish history. We know the barest of details about Jewish women’s lives throughout history and so we must look – and look closely – with a gender lens. This is important not only to learn about Jewish women themselves but to apply a gender lens to research reveals crucial yet unknown information. We see this in Judy Batalion’s The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos, a work supported in its early stage by two HBI Awards and featured in this year’s Sandra Seltzer Silberman HBI Conversations Series. 

In applying a gender lens to the Jewish resistance movement in Poland in the 1930s, Judy Batalions’s The Light of Days revealed indispensable and previously unknown information about Jewish women’s selfless and courageous actions resisting Hitler’s Final Solution. While most of the women and men perished, we now know that the resistance was strong, active, and well organized. 

Of course, there are the exceptions – women who much has been written about, like Golda Meir. For the most part, these women are written about mainly because they are an exception. There is also the brave Hannah Senesh, who we now know from Judy Batalion’s research and writing was given broad focus – though not undeserved – not only due to her bravery but to her beauty and acceptable place in the evolving narrative of the growth of Israel from the ashes of Europe. 

copy of a passenger manifest with a magnifying glassBut there were others. Many others. Through HBI Research Awards given to authors including Judy Batalion and Laura Arnold Leibman, we now know that in 1943 Renia Kukiela passed as a Polish Catholic to work as a courier, spiriting people, munitions and more to and from the supposedly sealed ghettos of Europe, and how Sarah Brandon Moses, born Christian and enslaved in the early 1800s in Barbados, applied the the era’s workings of racial shift to move her family into freedom and the Jewish community for generations to come. 

That both of these stories lead to a fuller understanding of Jewish history – and world history – exemplifies what we know to be true: that history is not completely understood and known until we apply a gender lens to our research. This is the crux of HBI, and that which I am so proud to be a part of in my role as director of the newly rededicated Sandra Seltzer Silberman HBI Conversations Series. 

Whether you join us for the deeply researched history which uncovers the lost stories of Jewish women’s lives, the memoirs of Jewish women fighting for civil rights and acceptance within and without the Jewish community, or for some of the fictional Jewish women we encounter in the Silberman HBI Conversations Series (I’m looking at you, Rabbi Vivian Green), we hope you continue to join us and support our work and the mission of HBI. 

head shot of Terri Brown PreussTerri Brown Preuss is director of the The Sandra Seltzer Silberman HBI Conversations Series.

Join us for the next two programs in The Sandra Seltzer Silberman HBI Conversations Series: 

Judy Heumann, “Being Heumann: An Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist”, tomorrow, March 23, 7:00-8:00 pm EDT 

Being Heumann: The Unrepentant Memoir of a Disability Rights Activist is the powerful story of one Jewish woman’s fight to achieve respect, acceptance, and inclusion in society for herself and disabled people in the United States and later, around the world. 

Marcia Falk, Night of Beginnings: A Radical Re-visioning of the Passover Seder, April 11, 7:00-8:00 PM EDT

Marcia Falk (Brandeis ’68),  will read from and discuss  Night of Beginnings: A Passover Haggadah, her new haggadah which returns to the roots of the festival with a full recounting of, and original commentary on the Exodus story.   Co-Sponsor: The Brandeis Alumni Association

See all of HBI’s Upcoming Events here.


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