Three Groundbreaking Jewish Feministsby Sharon Leder


Three groundbreaking secular Jews, women's historian Gerda Lerner, feminist Surrealist artist Susana Wald, and global ambassador Ruth W. Messinger, respond with Jewish universal values to conflicts worldwide, from the Nazi Holocaust to 21st-century genocides. What has not been fully recognized is how they wove messages from Exodus and Sinai into the fabric of their careers, sometimes publicly as Jews, sometimes muting Jewish identity. Their lives raise the question: Is simultaneous commitment possible both to Jewish continuity and to helping non-Jewish strangers in need? Their lives illustrate how Jewish particularism exists to teach universalism. Gerda Lerner, a Holocaust survivor, demonstrated the existence of American women's history, including Black women's history, as an academic field of study. Why did she mute her Jewish identity until the last decades of her career when the first intifada in Israel broke out? Susana Wald, also a Holocaust survivor, is one among few female Surrealist artists devoted to social change who is not known as "wife of . . ." Why did she mute Jewish identity in Chile, Canada, and Mexico, countries where she promoted her artistic career? Ruth W. Messinger, a social justice politician, the first woman Democrat to run for New York City mayor, served as the public Jewish voice of American Jewish World Service through the first decades of the 21st century. How did she expand the Jewish universe of obligation to include non-Jews in crisis around the world? For Jews and non-Jews, this book illuminates how universal values drive three women to become public about Jewish identity because they view the purpose of Jewish life to be alleviating inequity and suffering of all people.

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The Author:

Dr. Sharon Leder is Professor Emerita of English, Women's Studies and Jewish Studies at SUNY-Nassau Community College. She is author of The Fix: A Father's Secrets, A Daughter's Search, Silver Winner Benjamin Franklin IBPA Award, Best New Voice in Fiction (2018), co-editor with Milton Teichman of Truth and Lamentation: Stories and Poems on the Holocaust, nominated for the National Jewish Book Award (1994), and author or editor of fiction and books on: women writers, literature of the Holocaust, women in academia, and family dynamics. Founder of Creative Outlets: Finding Your Voice Through Arts at Cape Cod Museum of Art.


ISBN: 978-1951943424
Publication date: February 22, 2021
Page count: 186
List price: $15.99
Formats available:

At HIAS, the Jewish community's global refugee agency, we describe the evolution of our mission as going from helping refugees because they were Jewish to helping refugees because we are Jewish. In Three Groundbreaking Jewish Feminists: Pursuing Social Justice, Dr. Sharon Leder takes us into the lives of three inspiring women, all leaders in human rights and social justice, and explores how their being Jewish influenced their own journeys for justice. This book should be reading for anyone - male or female, Jewish or gentile - interested in making a difference while on this planet and in making that difference with the empathy.

Mark Hetfield

President and CEO of HIAS, The Global Jewish Refugee Agency

A profound meditation on the meaning of Judaism, social justice, and identity politics in the twentieth century, through the extraordinary lives of three Jewish women activists-- Gerda Lerner, Susana Wald, and Ruth W. Messinger. . . . A memorable read impossible to put down.

Marjorie Agosín

Professor, Wellesley College.

Well written, reads smoothly and expressively, I think this is a really interesting book for women of all ages - Jewish or otherwise, academic or not or simply “women”. Through this book, I have learned new things about myself and others’ generations.

This is a very interesting book and certainly out of the ordinay and that is something I really like. The first thing that called my attention was the title: “Three Groundbreaking Jewish Feminists” and this is why I decided to buy it.

Gerda Lerner, Susan Wald, and Ruth Messinger share being outsiders and universalists with Tillie Olsen, Albert Camus, and Richard Wright. The three feminists have very strong Jewish values. Their fascinating life stories are told with love by Professor Sharon Ledder in this important new book. Tom Rose

I really loved reading this great book, written by the very accomplished author Sharon Leader. This is truly an amazing piece of work that taught me about the existence of three very inspirational Jewish woman, named Gerda Lerner, Susan Wald and Ruth Messinger, who were all leaders in human rights and social justice.

Can one be committed to Jewish particularism-concerned with Jewish well-being and survival-as well as to universalist values of justice and equality for all peoples? In this fascinating study of three exemplary Jewish feminists, two of whom are Holocaust survivors, Sharon Leder explores how each woman wrestles with this question. Each one draws on her particular experience and professional field‒history, art, and international relations‒to arrive at a commitment to humanitarian service.

Robert Melson

Professor Emeritus Political Science, Purdue University. Author Revolution and Genocide: On the Origins of the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust, and a memoir, False Papers: Deception and Survival in the Holocaust.

The book introduces itself by clarifying something from the start: this book is not about Jews and their traditions. It doesn’t explain the meaning of the Sabbath; it doesn’t break down the rules of kosher-eating. It is about discussing Judaism as a social system –a brilliant and novel idea, for me!

Because of your research and beautiful writing I have "met" three women whose lives are so inspiring. I especially found the quote by Lila Watson to be life-changing for me. "If you have come to help me you are wasting your time.

Sharon Leder provides insights into the Jewish values of three groundbreaking feminists and the expansive work they performed in supporting and lifting up women and people in need of all cultures. Dr. Leder’s connections to these women and the way she shares their lives and struggles, inspired me to expand my social justice reach beyond the Jewish community. I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning about women who create and keep a strong sense of self, and move through life’s most difficult challenges creating change in their lives as well as the lives of many others.

For anyone who has experienced trauma and longs to transform it into a lesson to improve social good, Sharon Leder's book is a must-read. Timely and inspirational!

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