Bertha Pappenheim who left the planet on second day of Shavuoth in 5765 (may 28 1936) was the founder and president of "Die judischer frauenbund ,"(Jewish Women's Association in Germany) . which functioned in Europe from early 1900 to 1939. Reputed to have 32,000 members in 1907 it grew to over 50,000.
A prolific writer and activist on behalf women's rights; she decried the "trafficking" of Jewish women (and entrapment into prostitution) which was taking place in her time. The organization she headed focused on the plight of orphans, widows and single mothers. She also petitioned Rabbinical gatherings on behalf of World War I "Agunot" (women whose husbands went missing, who could not re-marry under Jewish law without actual evidence)
Though frequently at odds with Jewish communal leadership; she was a devout Orthodox Jew all of her life and perpetuated Jewish culture and religion in the home for girls that she created in Neu Eisenberg. (A model of progressive social work, medical care, job training etc.)
While Pappenheim's life has not yet been fully celebrated in the Jewish world, she is actually quite well known in psychoanalytic circles under the pseudonym of "Anna O" in the journals of Joseph Breuer (who treated her with early psychoanalysis as a young woman ) Breuer later published her therapy as a case study with Sigmund Freud. She is sometimes credited with initiating "free association" which she described as "Chimney sweeping".
Before she died in 1936 Ms. Pappenheim was summoned for questioning by the state police in Offenbach, but she was not detained. However, In 1938 the home was attacked. It was disbanded by the Gestapo in 1942 and the residents were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp where most of them perished.
A descendant of "Gluckel of Hamlin" Pappenheim translated Gluckel's famous memoir and some religious texts from Yiddish to German. Her lifelong creative productivity is especially impressive considering that she spent many years in hospitals as a young adult, dealing with physical and mental health problems.
A pioneer for social change; Pappenheim was honored with a German stamp bearing her likeness in 1954. (Series called "Benefactors of Mankind") An excellent biography by Marion Kaplan was published by Greenwich press in 1979 and numerous articles have documented her extraordinary life.
This Shavuoth ( which falls on May 31 and June 1 this year) please consider reading about Bertha Pappenheim and telling her story. My practice for commemorating her and other heroines is Yahrzeit candles, Kaddish and meditation.
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Rabbi Leah is a published author, researcher and teacher. Much of her work has focused on the feminine (both divine and human) in Jewish tradition.
Rabbi Leah: Kabbalah by the Sea