Hadassah establishes research institute to study Jewish women

NEW YORK, July 21 (JTA) — Hadassah women overwhelmingly support religious pluralism in Israel, but they do not support the separation of church and state in the Jewish state. These are among the results of a study, conducted among 700 of the delegates at Hadassah’s national convention in Chicago last week. The study was the first project of the newly established International Research Institute on Jewish Women. The institute, founded and supported by Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, is located at Brandeis University and will focus its research on the experiences of Jewish women across the world.
Results from two of the survey’s questions were released. The other findings, slated to be released in the fall, focus on the “patterns between women’s lifestyles and their Jewish attitudes,” according to Brandeis University Professor Sylvia Barack Fishman, associate director of the new institute. Shulamit Reinharz, a professor of sociology at Brandeis and the director of the university’s Women’s Studies Program, will direct the institute. Actress and director Barbra Streisand has been named honorary chair of the board of directors. The institute will give grants to support the study of Jewish women and help create Jewish women’s research programs throughout the world. It will also hold conferences, with three or four already planned for the upcoming year. The first conference will be held in December to discuss the state of research on Jewish women worldwide, according to Reinharz; a conference next April will focus on the American Jewish family. In June, the institute will collaborate with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to hold a conference on the role of women in creating the State of Israel. In the “100th year of Zionism and the 50th year of the State of Israel, it’s time to study the role of women,” Reinharz said. “We’ve been invisible.” Marlene Post, the national president of Hadassah, said the institute will study the changing roles of Jewish women as the next century approaches. “What we don’t know from an academic research perspective is who this Jewish woman is and how she will impact in the next century on the Jewish people.” Post said Hadassah proposed the institute after seeing the results of “Voices for Change: Future Directions for American Jewish Women,” the 1995 report by Hadassah’s National Commission on American Jewish Women. She said the survey made Hadassah realize that there was a need for more research on Jewish women, “something that would take us to a higher academic level in an ongoing way.” Streisand released a statement in which she expressed her enthusiasm for the new institute. “[This] is one of the most exciting projects I have heard about in a long time,” she said. “As a Jewish woman, I have always been bothered by negative stereotypes about us, and in my films I have always tried to show Jewish women in a positive light.” Fishman said the institute is “very interested in the arts” and hopes to bring together Jewish women writers and artists for a conference.

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