by Bonny V. Fetterman
The Modern Jewish Mom’s Guide to Shabbat by Meredith L. Jacobs (Harper, 242 pp., paperback $16.95)
Meredith Jacobs, founder of ModernJewishmom.com, has an inviting way of speaking to her peers. Acknowledging the busy schedules of today’s moms, she offers a variety of helpful tips for creating that special shabbesdik atmosphere on Friday nights.
“I think of Shabbat as a practical parenting tool,” she writes. From baking challah to lighting candles and blessing the children, Jacobs describes how Shabbat rituals bring parents and children together. This intimate family time can be meaningful for young children as well as teens: “Using Friday night dinner to discuss lessons from the Torah or what is going on in the world provides a built-in excuse to teach our children morals and values and to enable us to gently find out more about what’s happening in our kids’ lives.”
Along with wonderful recipes and suggestions, Jacobs provides brief summaries of the weekly Torah portions and questions for discussion. Sharing what works with her family and friends, Jacobs presents a how-to and motivational guide for creating shalom bayit, peace in the home, the essence of Shabbat.
You Never Call! You Never Write! A History of the Jewish Mother by Joyce Antler
(Oxford University Press, 321 pp., $24.95)
The myth of the Jewish mother, Joyce Antler claims, is largely the creation of popular culture. The image of the manipulative, guilt-inducing mother emerged after World War II, the product of Jewish jokes by Jewish comedians. Sometimes very funny, but at other times a malevolent mix of antisemitism and misogyny, “Jewish mother humor” tells us more about its creators than about the real women it satirizes. These stereotypes of Jewish mothers, she argues, more accurately reflect the anxieties and ambivalence of their children regarding their own acculturation and maturation in American society. Taking her cues from popular culture—theater, movies, television, and novels—she traces multiple stereotypes of Jewish mothers, from the nurturing immigrant mother, to the benevolent matriarch of television’s Molly Goldberg, to the overbearing mothers portrayed in the jokes of Catskills comedians. She also explores the emerging images of her own generation of feminist mothers.
Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda’s Book of Prayers for Jewish Women edited and adapted into verse by Dinah Berland
(Schocken, 336 pp., $24)
Browsing in a bookstore, Dinah Berland found an 1866 edition of Hours of Devotion, a book of prayers for women by Fanny Neuda. One of the prayers, “For a Mother Whose Child Is Abroad,” gave her the courage her to reach out and repair a relationship with her adult son. It also inspired her to compile this new edition of Fanny Neuda’s prayers and render them in verse.
Fanny Neuda (1819-1894) was the wife of Rabbi Abraham Neuda, one
of the first modernizing rabbis in Moravia to introduce sermons in German. Widowed at thirty-five, she dedicated this book of original prayers to his memory. Published in Prague, Leipzig, and Frankfurt in 1855, the book was reprinted twenty-eight times, the last edition appearing in Nazi Germany in 1936.
Hours of Devotion is the first prayer book of its kind to be written by a woman. In addition to daily and holiday prayers, it includes special prayers for women—such as prayers for an expectant mother, for the naming of a daughter, for the unhappy wife, and for a mother whose son is in military service. As Fanny Neuda explains in her preface: “A man, however learned and great he may be, cannot capture the essential quality of a woman’s experience,” while a woman “need only gaze into her own heart to read the hearts of her sisters.”
A Recipe for Success: Lizzie Kander and Her Cookbook by Bob Kann
(Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 128 pp., paperback $12.95) Ages 8-12
Lizzie Kander (1858-1940) represents a generation of German-Jewish women dedicated to philanthropy and volunteerism. President of the first Jewish settlement house in Milwaukee, she herself taught cooking and homemaking classes to Jewish immigrants arriving from Russia and Eastern Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Written for young readers from eight to twelve, Bob Kann’s biography of Lizzie Kander tells an inspiring tale of commitment and spunk. When the men on the board of the settlement house refused to allocate $18 to print the recipes for the students, she and her committee raised the money for publication by selling advertisements in the book. An immediate commercial success, The Settlement House Cook Book paid in part for the construction of a new settlement house building and later Milwaukee’s Jewish Community Center. (It was reprinted forty times between 1901 and 1991 and sold over 2 million copies.) Called the “Jane Addams of Milwaukee,” Kander was a warm and generous woman whose volunteer work laid the foundations for Jewish social services.
In Our Own Voices: A Guide to Conducting Life History Interviews with American Jewish Women edited by Jayne K. Guberman
(Jewish Women’s Archive, 105 pp., paperback $25)
Based on the oral history projects of the Jewish Women’s Archive, this booklet provides professional guidance for conducting interviews with American Jewish women. The text identifies ten topics or areas of interest—family, education, work, community service, Jewish identities, home and place, leisure and culture, health and sexuality, women’s identities, and history and world events—each described with a short, informative essay by a historian, followed by lists of sample questions. Whether one is interviewing for an oral history project or for private use, this guide can help uncover rich veins of memory and experience.
Jewish Women Pioneering the Frontier Trail: A History in the American West by Jeanne E. Abrams
(NYU Press, 279 pp., $39)
Jeanne Abrams’ path-breaking study—the first book to document the lives of Jewish women in the Western frontier states—is filled with remarkable stories, attesting to the fact that Jewish women played a prominent role in commerce, politics, education, the professions, and religious life. In addition to their contributions to frontier society, women were often prime movers in building Jewish communities where none existed. “In the dynamic open and developing region of the American West,” Abrams observes, “Jewish women and men were free to choose how ‘Jewish’ they wanted to be. It is rather remarkable to note that many retained their active allegiance to Judaism and carved out a Jewish life.”
The Rabbi’s Wife: The Rebbetzin in American Jewish Life by Shuly Rubin Schwartz
(NYU Press, 312 pp., $35)
The contributions of rebbetzin—women married to male rabbis—are often overlooked and have never before been considered collectively. Shuly Rubin Schwartz discusses women who emerged as leaders in their own right—such as Carrie Simon, who in 1913 founded the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods (now Women of Reform Judaism); Mathilde Schechter, who started the National Women’s League for Conservative Judaism in 1918; and Louise Wise, who served as first president of the American Jewish Congress during World War II—as well as those women who played pivotal, supportive roles in their husbands’ congregations. She also considers the evolving role of the rabbi’s spouse today with the emergence of women rabbis and rabbinic couples.
Bonny V. Fetterman is literary editor of Reform Judaism magazine.