Looking down from the walls of thousands of synagogues, day schools and Jewish community centers nationwide today are images of labor activist-anarchist Emma Goldman, dancer Anna Sokolow and civil rights activist Gertrude Weil.
They aren’t the faces that usually get put up in Jewish settings alongside retired rabbis, former Sisterhood presidents, David Ben Gurion and the occasional portrait of Golda Meir.
But these three important Jews have now become part of a series of 18 Women of Valor immortalized in montages of photos, quotations from their speeches and writings, and timelines of their lives on posters published over the last six years.
The posters, issued three a year along with resource guides with deeper biographical information, study and programming ideas, celebrate the Jewish aspect of Women’s History Month, which is this month. Sets were mailed to 4,000 Jewish institutions.
Past years’ posters have highlighted the accomplishments of the well known and the less so, from Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold and Rep. Bella Abzug to doll-maker Beatrice Alexander and Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Gertrude Elion.
They have been a joint project of the Brookline, Mass.-based Jewish Women’s Archive and the Manhattan-based feminist group Ma’yan. But now it has come to an end. It was meant to be a six-year project, with the $30,000 cost of producing and shipping each poster, and maintaining the primary and other source material on the JWA Web site (www.jwa.org) financed largely by the Covenant and Righteous Persons Foundations.
Now, says project director Jennifer Sartori, JWA will turn its attention to developing lesson plans around the Women of Valor series for use in a range of different Jewish settings, and for varied age groups.
“These thousands of institutions that use the posters in programming are changing what Jewish kids — boys and girls — learn and give them a better sense of what it’s possible for Jewish women to be, without having to let go of their Jewish identity,” Sartori says.
Esther Krell, a history teacher at the Solomon Schechter High School on the Upper West Side, uses the Emma Lazarus poster in her 11th grade American history class.
“We discuss who this person was, which of course brings in the Jewish aspect of American history,” says Krell.
At Brooklyn’s Hannah Senesh Community Day School, the posters have become “a permanent part” of the curriculum, says general studies principal Nicole Nash.
The poster devoted to Alexander, creator of the Madame Alexander line of dolls and a significant philanthropist, is a hit with the 9-year-olds. “They began bringing in their Madame Alexander dolls and telling us about seeing them in stores,” Nash says. Nash had just become aware of a shelter for homeless women and their children in the Clinton section of Manhattan. With their art teacher the children made cloth dolls, and then brought them to the children at the shelter.
“It integrated many of the values of our school,” says Nash.