The panel entitled Negotiating Jewish and Gender Identity on the International Political Landscape is exactly what I was hoping to get from this year’s Berks Conference. As an MA History student in the cooperative program with the Centre for Jewish studies my own research involves a gendered Jewish identity in Toronto in the interwar period. I am drawn to Esther Carmel-Hakim’s research on Lillian Freiman, as the first Jewish-Canadian recipient of the OBE. Lillian was Ontario born and raised and constructed a Canada-wide network of Zionist based Hadassah chapters that persevered through the great depression. She was incredibly powerful in the foundation and development of Canadian Zionism and broke through normative gender role barriers to accomplish incredible things. Her influence on Jewish women in Toronto is apparent throughout my sources. The OBE was issue to Lillian in 1934 but her philanthropic efforts started many years prior to that. She was critical in raising funds for Jews in Europe and Palestine during World War I and immediately after the war she spearheaded the campaign to bring 150 Jewish Ukrainian war orphans to Canada. Her prominence in Canadian philanthropic organizations made her a leader and role model for many of the women who are featured prominently in my own research.
Seeing Professor Carmel-Hakim’s work in comparison to the two other presenters will shed new light on Jewish women breaking through gender barriers from around the world. The common themes of Jewish identity, gender, and Zionism paint an image of women, deeply committed to their causes, who challenged the traditional circumstances of their time. I am very excited to hear all the research that has gone into these amazing papers. I am very optimistic that their analyses and professional insights will inspire my own research and Masters thesis. I hope that many more attendees will see the incredible value of a conversation on the intersections of religion, gender, and political ideology within a global framework.
Sarah Livingston (MA Candidate in History/Jewish Studies, University of Toronto)