Palestine’s First Jewish Feminist


When Pesha Dzimitrovsky, the daughter of an Orthodox rabbi in British Palestine, turned 15 in 1921, her schooling was over—or would have been, had she remained in Jerusalem. So her parents shipped her off to boarding school in Weimar-Republic Frankfurt. The move would be her first step in a lifetime of country-hopping and flouting gender expectations.

“Pesha’s Journey,” a small but powerful exhibit up through the end of May at the University of Michigan’s Frankel Center, draws from Pesha’s worldly, energetic life, in the form of love letters,  newspaper clippings that track the fate of Europe’s Jews, and her husband Benno’s photos. The couple left Frankfurt for New York just before Hitler was elected Chancellor.

In these artifacts, Pesha details her reading of Schiller and Ibsen, discusses “modern marriage” with her husband-to-be, and supports a court decision allowing the sale of contraceptives. In a photograph taken before she left Palestine, Pesha’s gaze is so serious and direct we can’t help but wonder how her life—and her country—might have been different had she stayed.

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