Top 18 Jewish Female Icons

January 22, 2024
Alyssa Rossen

Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Class of 2024

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One thing that I love learning about is women’s history. I love discovering all the ways women have impacted the world and encouraging people to acknowledge their contributions and accomplishments. Below is my list of the top 18 Jewish women throughout history. Some of them are modern, while others are biblical, and many are somewhere in between. This is just my opinion, and there are many, many more women that I would have loved to add to this list, but I narrowed it down to my 18 favorites.

18. Betty Friedan (1921-2006)

Author and leading figure in the American feminist movement, Betty Friedan, is best known for her work, The Feminine Mystique, which brought many women into the feminist movement, as they could all relate to “the problem that has no name.” She also co-founded the National Organization for Women and the National Abortion Rights Action League, as well as organized the Women’s Strike for Equality on the 50th anniversary of women’s suffrage. 

17. Gertrude Elion (1918-1999)

Biochemist and pharmacologist Gertrude “Trudy” Elion made countless life-saving scientific discoveries throughout her time in the medical field. Elion discovered various drugs to treat leukemia, malaria, bacterial infections, meningitis, and herpes, as well as a drug to help the body adapt to organ transplants. From 1967-1983, she was the head of GlaxoSmithKline’s  Department of Experimental Therapy. She earned a Nobel Prize in 1988 for her work. 

16.Emma Lazarus (1849-1887)

American author and poet Emma Lazarus began publishing her writing as a teenager. Her works caught the attention of many notable literary figures, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, and she brought her Judaism into the writing world as one of the first highly visible Jewish American writers. Many of Lazarus’ pieces center around her Jewish identity, including her most famous sonnet, “The New Colossus,” which is based on her family’s immigration experience and is now engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

15. Miriam (circa 1400-1274 BCE)

Miriam first appears in the Torah when she rescues baby Moses from the Nile River. Later on, she helped Moses lead the Hebrew people across the Red Sea and led the women in celebration and song. Miriam is one of the only named women in the Torah. 

14. Henrietta Szold (1860-1945)

Educated at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Henrietta Szold is the founder of the US women’s Zionist movement, Hadassah. Hadassah is the largest American Zionist group and it started by providing medical support to the Middle East. Szold also spearheaded the Youth Aliyah Program to help Jewish children escape Nazi Germany and bring them to what would soon become the State of Israel. 

13. Natalie Portman (1981-present)

Israeli-American actress Natalie Portman began her career as a child actress in the early 1990’s. She continued her rise to fame when she starred as Padmé Amidala in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Portman earned a Tony for her performance as Anne in Broadway’s The Diary of Anne Frank, as well as 2 Golden Globes for Black Swan and Closer and  an Academy Award for Black Swan. She has remained connected to her Israeli heritage and is a vocal advocate for the State of Israel.

12. Esther (circa 492-460 BCE)

The hero of the Purim story, Esther became queen of Persia after winning a beauty contest. She saved the Jewish people by foiling the evil plot of Haman, King Ahasuerus’ advisor who planned to kill the Jews of Persia. Esther planned a banquet for her husband and pleaded with him to protect her people, ultimately ending in Haman being hanged for treason and Esther becoming a heroine for the Jewish people.

11. Ruth Handler (1916-2002)

Entrepreneur Ruth Handler co-founded Mattel Creations with her husband, Elliot, in 1945. After watching her daughter Barbara grow up fascinated by paper dolls of successful women, Handler came up with an idea for a doll that represented young girls’ biggest aspirations. Barbie, named after Handler’s daughter, debuted in 1959, and Ken, named after Handler’s son, followed suit 2 years later. Handler became the president of Mattel Toys and remained its leader until 1975. Barbie is now one of the most recognizable toys and she inspires little girls everywhere to be whatever they want to be. 

10. Bella Abzug (1920-1998)

Nicknamed “Battling Bella” and often recognized by her signature colorful hats, Bella Abzug was the state of New York’s first female senator. While in office, she brought in billions of dollars in public works funding for the state of New York, co-authored Title IX, and was the chairwoman of President Carter’s National Women’s Advisory Council. Abzug also wrote two books and was awarded the Blue Beret Peacekeepers Award from the UN for her contributions to the women’s rights movement.

9. Gal Gadot (1985-present)

Wonder Woman’s Gal Gadot got her start as the winner of the Miss Israel beauty pageant in 2004, which began her hugely successful modeling career. She has been the covergirl for major brands and campaigns, including Gucci, Reebok, Jaguar Cars, and Revlon. After performing her mandatory IDF service, Gadot’s military background earned her a role in the acclaimed Fast and Furious series, which launched her into the acting world, and eventually, she earned the titular role of Wonder Woman. 

8. Sheryl Sandberg (1969-present)

Sheryl Sandberg is a technology executive, writer, and philanthropist best known for serving as the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook (now Meta) from 2008-2022. Sandberg is credited with making Facebook into the highly profitable platform it is today by implementing a discreet advertising initiative and her own impressive leadership of communications, sales, HR, and marketing for the company. She is also a huge advocate for women in the workforce and has given TEDTalks, and speeches and written a book detailing the issues blocking many women from leadership positions like hers.

7. Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)

Austrian-American actress Hedy Lamarr rose to fame during MGM Studios’ Golden Age. After starring in films such as Boom Town and Samson and Delilah, Lamarr was recruited by friend George Antheil to help develop a “secret communications system,” which changed radio frequencies to prevent enemies from decoding military messages. The two patented the invention, and it was later used to develop WiFi, GPS, and Bluetooth, posthumously giving Lamarr the nickname “the mother of WiFi.”

6. Madeleine Albright (1939-2022)

Madeleine Albright was the first female Secretary of State in the US. She advocated for the expansion of the NATO alliance and fought for democracy in Eastern Europe post-WWII. Albright was also a strong supporter of the Kyoto Protocol on global climate change and fostered better relations between the US and Vietnam. Despite not knowing of her Jewish heritage until age 59, Albright ventured to learn all that she could about her ancestry, especially after discovering that her ancestors perished in the Holocaust. 

5. Aly Raisman (1994-present)

Aly Raisman, an accomplished American gymnast, began the sport at the age of 2. By 2010 and 2011, she was winning international competitions, and in 2012, she made the US Olympic gymnastics team. Raisman was part of the gold-medal-winning Fierce Five Olympic team and took home two individual medals as well: a bronze and a gold. In 2016, she again joined the US Olympic team, winning an individual silver medal and helping the Final Five win gold, too. After her time on the US National Team ended, Raisman and others revealed that they were sexually assaulted by team doctor Larry Nassar. She sued the US Olympic Committee and became a spokeswoman for the #MeToo Movement. 

4. Anne Frank (1929-1945)

Born in Germany as the Nazi party was coming to power, Anne Frank is best known for the diary she kept while she remained in hiding for 761 days in an attic in Amsterdam. While Anne and her family were eventually discovered and killed in concentration camps, Anne’s diary was found and published posthumously and remains a staple in literature classes across the world. 

3. Golda Meir (1898-1978)

Golda Meir is one of the most well-known Israeli politicians. As the Executive of the Jewish Agency in America, Meir was a highly vocal advocate for US support of Israel throughout the Israeli War of Independence. Once Israel became an independent state, she served as a member of the Knesset, Foreign Minister, and later the Secretary General of the Labor Party. In 1969, Golda Meir became the first female prime minister of Israel and the first female head of state in the Middle East. 

2. Ruth Bader Ginsburg (1933-2020)

The second woman to sit on the Supreme Court, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is perhaps the most recognizable name of the modern feminist movement. Known by many as “the Notorious RBG,” Ginsburg was one of the first women to get degrees from Cornell, Columbia, and Harvard Law and, before becoming a justice herself, argued 6 cases on gender equality before the Supreme Court. Once on the Supreme Court, RBG was a key player in many landmark cases, including the Affordable Care Act, legalizing same-sex marriage, and fighting for equal pay.

1. Anita M. Perlman (1906-1996)

Anita M. Perlman is alive and well! The founder of the International Order of the B’nai B’rith Girls, Anita continues to inspire BBGs across the world to be leaders in their communities, even after her passing. Her legacy: the largest movement of young Jewish women in the world, and the one we are all proud to be a part of. 

Alyssa is a BBG from Shaina BBG in Raleigh, NC, and she has held a sloth twice!

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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