Women’s History Month inspires reflection on economist Myra Strober and Jewish life

By Debra Israel

As I prepared to give a talk for Women’s History Month at Indiana State University on the two women who received the Nobel Prize in Economics, Elinor Ostrom and Esther Duflo, I also reflected on a memoir I read a few years ago by the economist Myra Strober.

Economist Myra Strober reflected on her Jewish experience in her autobiography, Sharing the Work.

Strober’s memoir Sharing the Work: What My Family and Career Taught Me about Breaking Through (and Holding the Door Open for Others) tells of her experiences earning her PhD in Economics during the late ’60s at MIT, at a time when even fewer women worked in the field.

Strober asked why she could not prepare for her Bar Mitzvah like her male Hebrew school classmate, and was told she couldn’t since she was a girl.

However, she also includes her connections with Judaism, from growing up close to her Orthodox grandfather in Brooklyn to her experiences with different congregations at different places and times in her life.

Strober grew up attending and enjoying services with her grandfather, but expressed frustration when she was told she could no longer accompany him and would instead have to sit apart in the women’s section of the synagogue.

Shortly after she also asked why she could not prepare for her Bar Mitzvah like her male Hebrew school classmate, and was told she couldn’t since she was a girl. This was during the 1950s, but it wasn’t until later that she realized non-Orthodox congregations had already been allowing Bat Mitzvah ceremonies for girls.

Strober completed her Bat Mitzvah in 2006

Years later, in 2006, Strober attended a B’nai Mitzvah class for adults and finally had her chance to become Bat Mitzvah.

I highly recommend Myra Strober’s memoir. If you are interested in learning more about the history and stories of girls and the Bat Mitzvah ceremony, I also recommend Barbara Diamond Goldin’s book, Bat Mitzvah: A Jewish Girl’s Coming of Age (Viking Press, 1995).

As the daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, Judith Kaplan became the first girl to complete her Bat Mitzvah, in 1922 in New York City.

As the daughter of Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan, founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, Judith Kaplan Eisenstein became the first girl to complete her Bat Mitzvah, in 1922 in New York City.

Eisenstein later wrote about her experience in a piece entitled The First Bat Mitzvah.

Happy reading for Women’s History Month!

Debra Israel is a member of the United Hebrew Congregation Terre Haute board.

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