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Women of Letters

It has been a milestone year for Jewish women writers and the Jewish Book Council. Fully 50% of the winners at the 49th Annual National Jewish Book Awards were women, and feminist interests were widely discussed during the April 1999 award presentations.

  • Amidst a conservative backlash attempting to discredit women’s Holocaust studies [see LILITH, Fall 1998], Marion Kaplan’s deeply gender-sensitive book Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany took the prize in Holocaust studies.
  • In presenting an award to Leon Wieseltier for Kaddish, his exhaustive and personal investigation into the meaning of the mourner’s prayer, LILITH Board member Francine Klagsbrun specifically commended his support of women’s reciting of the prayer, still hotly debated in some circles.
  • Accepting the award in Jewish Thought for her revolutionary book Engendering Judaism [reviewed in LILITH, Fall 1998], feminist theologian Rachel Adler noted with glee that “women have finally talked their way in and become equal partners.”
  • Most significant, perhaps, was the introduction of a brand new prize in Women’s Studies. Named the Barbara Dobkin Honorary Award, this award was created by friends and supporters of the feminist activist and philanthropist whose visionary support for an extraordinary range of Jewish feminist projects (LILITH included) has made possible a whole new set of possibilities for women in Jewish life. The prize this year went to Paula Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore, editors of the two-volume Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia.