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8 Inspiring Jewish women who made history

March is Women's History Month.

Throughout history, many Jewish women did extraordinary things. From science to sports to art, Jewish women constantly prove their creativity, strength, entrepreneurship, and leadership skills.

I thought it is very symbolic to celebrate women between Purim and Passover.

The stories of these holidays show us that even during those times, women found ways to make a difference:

- Vashti had the courage to refuse the king's command.

- Esther planned and executed an operational plan that saved her people.

- Yochaved, in order to save her son, went against Pharaoh's order.

- Miriam demonstrated her leadership skills when took her timbrel and led the women in song and dance after the Israelites crossed the Red Sea from slavery to freedom.

So in honor of these inspiring women, and to celebrate International Women's Day today (March 8th), I wanted to highlight 8 remarkable Jewish women who made history:

Rita Levi-Montalcini z"l

Rita Levi-Montalcini - Jewish women who made history
Rita Levi-Montalcini | Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Rita Levi-Montalcini z”l was born in 1909 in Turin, Italy. Although her father did not support her wanting to pursue higher studies, she completed medical studies at the University of Turin.

Although she was forced into hiding in Florence during WW2, she was able to resume her research at Turin after the war.

As part of her research, she discovered nerve growth factor (the protein that causes the production of nerve tissue), which earned her the medical Nobel Prize in 1986.

Rita never married or had children; she remained active in science until her death at 103 years old, on December 30th, 2012.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg z"l

Ruth Bader Ginsburg - Jewish women who made history
Ruth Bader Ginsburg | Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Ruth Bader Ginsburg z”l was born in 1933 in NY

When she began her career in law, women were treated worse than men. They were restricted by law, barring them from jobs, rights, and even jury service.

Despite all the difficulties along the way, RBG had many achievements and she became the second female and the first Jewish female justice of the US Supreme Court. She eventually became the longest-serving Jewish justice ever.

On September 18, 2020, Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away at the age of 87.

Agnes Keleti

Agnes Keleti - Jewish women who made history
Agnes Keleti | Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Agnes Keleti was born in 1921 in Budapest, Hungary.

She began her gymnastics training at the age of four at Budapest’s Jewish club and by the age of sixteen had won the first of her ten national titles.

During WW2, Keleti’s training came to an abrupt halt. Her father was sent to Auschwitz and eventually perished there, along with many of the Keleti family.

At the end of the war, Keleti returned to her gymnastics career. Over the years she became a world-champion artistic gymnast and coach. She is the oldest living Olympic champion and medalist.

She celebrated her 102nd birthday on 9 January 2023.

Golda Meir z"l

Golda Meir - Jewish Women who made history
Golda Meir | Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Golda Meir z”l was born in 1898, in Kyiv Ukraine.

When she was 8, her family immigrated to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she became an active Zionist. She graduated at the top of her class from the Fourth Street School in 1912, and eventually became a teacher at a Folk-Schulen (folk school) where she taught Yiddish. She immigrated to British Mandate Palestine in 1921 with her husband and settled in Kibbutz Merhavya.

Over the years, she has held a number of key positions, but her biggest achievement was becoming the fourth Prime Minister of Israel. She was Israel's first and only female head of state, the first female head of state in the Middle East, and the fourth elected female head of state in the world.

On December 8, 1978, Golda Meir passed away at the age of 80.

Rabbi Regina Jonas z"l

Rabbi Regina Jonas - Jewish women who made history
Rabbi Regina Jonas z"l | Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Rabbi Regina Jonas z”l was born in 1902, in Berlin, Germany.

As a young girl, she attended the Jewish girls' school of the orthodox synagogue on the Rykestrasse and excelled in all subjects related to Judaism, the Hebrew language, and Jewish culture.

In 1924, she began her studies at the Berlin Academy for the Science of Judaism. She had to overcome many obstacles along the way, but in 1935 she made a breakthrough, and became the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi.

Regina's life in Germany ended on 6 November 1942, when she was deported to the Theresienstadt ghetto.

On October 12th, 1944, at the age of 42, Regina Jonas was deported from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz and murdered.

Gertrude Elion z"l

Gertrude Elion - Jewish women who made history
Gertrude Elion z"l | Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Gertrude Elion z”l was born in 1918, in New York City.

Elion was an excellent student who graduated from Walton High School at the age of 15. She decided to dedicate her life to medicine after the death of her grandfather from stomach cancer.

In 1937, she graduated from Hunter College with a degree in chemistry, but at the time, there weren't many women in the field and she couldn't find a job as a chemist. Finally, in 1944 she was hired as an assistant to Dr. George Hitchings, who ran a small laboratory. Dr. Hitchings encouraged Elion to take on more responsibility since then she embarked on a 40-year scientific partnership with him. In 1988 Elion and Hitchings received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

On February 21st, 1999, Gertrude Elion passed away at the age of 81.

Judith Resnik z"l

Judith Resnik - Jewish women who made history
Judith Resnik z"l | Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Judith Resnik z”l was born in 1949, in Akron, Ohio.

Judith was a bright, curious child who, by kindergarten, could both read and solve simple math problems.

She was the sixteenth woman in the history of the US to have attained a perfect score on the SAT exam. Resnik graduated from Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh, with a major in electrical engineering. Later on, she received her Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Maryland.

In 1978, she was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA, and in 1984 Dr. Resnik flew her first flight as a mission specialist.

On January 28, 1986, during her second mission to space, the Challenger exploded after launch and Judith Resnik died at the age of 37.

Resnik was the second American woman to fly in space, and the fourth woman worldwide.

Molly Picon z"l

Molly Picon  - Jewish women who made history
Molly Picon z"l | Picture Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Molly Picon z”l was born in 1898, in NY.

When Molly was three, she moved to Philadelphia with her family, and at the age of 6, she started performing in the Yiddish Theatre.

When she was 16, she dropped high school, and join the traveling production: 'Winter in The Four Seasons'.

Over the years, she participated in big productions like East and West and Mamele, and in 1934, Picon had a musical comedy radio show called: 'The Molly Picon Program.'

Molly Picon's final role was as Roger Moore's mother in the comedies Cannonball Run and its sequel Cannonball Run II in 1981 and 1984.

On April 6, 1992, Molly Picon died at the age of 94.

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