Ambivalent Embrace: Jewish Upward Mobility in Postwar America

By Rachel Kranson | Go to book overview

FIVE
Hadassah makes You important:
Debating Middle-Class Jewish Femininity

In 1957 Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, attempted to recruit middle-class Jewish homemakers by promising them a way to make an impact on the world beyond the confines of their comfortable suburban homes. “Hadassah Makes You Important!” trumpeted one 1957 membership brochure above a photograph of a well-coiffed housewife sporting manicured nails and gold-knot earrings. Indirectly challenging postwar middle-class conventions that limited women’s activities to hearth and home, this campaign sent a message to upwardly mobile Jewish women that involvement in Hadassah would offer them the kind of substance and fulfillment that they could not attain through household responsibilities.1

While this particular Hadassah campaign encouraged potential members to pursue activities outside of the home, American Jewish women during the postwar period received many, and often conflicting, messages about how they ought to conduct their lives as they entered the middle class. No less than American Jewish men, American Jewish women also faced new expectations regarding their proper roles in a middle-class community. As postwar Jewish men felt pressure to become breadwinners, the mores of the middle class stipulated that married women limit their interests to the needs of home and family. Jewish women received mixed messages from their leaders as they negotiated their responses to these middle-class prescriptions for domesticity. Some Jewish leaders supported middle-class gender ideologies, and warned Jewish women against spending too much time away from domestic responsibilities. Others, including the leaders of Hadassah, encouraged Jewish women to defy postwar gender norms and to engage, fully and deeply, in the public sphere.

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