Author Archives: Deborah Dash Moore

Deborah Dash Moore

About Deborah Dash Moore

Deborah Dash Moore is the Director of the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies and a Frederick G.L. Huetwell Professor of History at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Jewish Women and Suburbanization

Reprinted from Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia with permission of the author and the Jewish Women’s Archive.

Few Jews participated in the first wave of suburbanization during the final decades of the nineteenth century, when streetcar suburbs were built around such cities as Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. In their early years, Brookline in Massachusetts, the Main Line in Pennsylvania, and the North Shore in Illinois did not offer new homes to Jews.

In contrast to the close proximity of the rich, middle class, and poor in large cities, class stratification characterizes suburban districts. Moving to a newly created suburban utopia allowed people to be selective in their neighbors. Many suburbanites expressly kept Jews from living in their neighborhoods through individual residential covenants or through corporate regulations of planned communities.

Nonetheless, the children and grandchildren of Jewish immigrants embraced the American dream of home ownership and suburban living. Like other Americans, Jews wanted the cleanliness, quiet, and security that comes from living in a relatively homogeneous, middle-class community. Thus, Jewish suburbs were built, often by Jewish developers, during the second wave of suburbanization prior to World War II.

Most American cities with large Jewish populations had at least one such suburban district, usually within the city’s boundaries. This area was considered Jewish because of the presence of Jews (often as much as thirty percent of the district?s population) and Jewish institutions, including large, modern synagogues.

Most Jews, however, did not opt for suburban living until the mass-produced suburbs of the 1950s and 1960s brought home ownership within the reach of millions of middle-class Americans. In 1948, the Supreme Court had declared restrictive residential covenants to be illegal, invigorating the efforts of such organizations as the American Jewish Congress to eliminate anti-Semitic discrimination in housing.

Hadassah: The Women’s Zionist Organization

The following article focuses on the formative years of Hadassah, from its founding in 1912 through 1933. It is reprinted with permission from the American Jewish Historical Society’s
American Jewish Desk Reference: The Ultimate One Volume Reference to the Jewish Experience in America
, published by Random House.

“The Time Was Ripe”

When seven women concluded on February 14, 1912 “…that the time is ripe for a large organization of women Zionists” and issued an invitation to interested friends “to attend a meeting for the purpose of discussing the feasibility of forming an organization” to promote Jewish institutions in Palestine and foster Jewish ideals, they scarcely anticipated their resolve would lead to the creation of American Jews’ largest mass-membership organization.

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, became the most popular American Jewish organization within a short span of years, maintaining that preeminence to this day. It also is the most successful American women’s volunteer organization, enrolling more women and raising more funds than any other national women’s volunteer organization

The First Meeting

The first meeting drew over thirty female Zionists to the vestry room of New York City’s Temple Emanu-El on February 24, 1912. At the meeting’s conclusion, almost two-thirds of those in attendance were elected officers or directors, suggesting the leadership opportunities Hadassah would offer women. Henrietta Szold, at age fifty-two, was the senior leader, deeply committed to Zionism as a political and moral movement of Jewish renewal.

Hadassah recruited a leadership cadre from women of Eastern European, German, and Sephardic backgrounds. Many were native born college-educated American Jews, both young and middle aged. Their level of formal learning was unusual for women in this period and signified their cultural aspirations. Hadassah enrolled members from varied socioeconomic backgrounds, but many were working women–teachers, stenographers, shopgirls, and garment workers.