When the real Rosie the Riveter died last week, her passing made front page news. Wearing a polka dot bandana to protect her hair from being caught in the industrial lathe that she was operating, clad on coveralls, Rosie is photographed flexing her arm muscle. Above Rosie is the caption that reads: “We can do it”. To say that I was riveted by the three quarters of a century old poster of Rosie the Riveter would be an understatement. Truth be told, Rosie the Riveter brought to my mind a number of Jewish women throughout time, who did what few, if any others, were prepared to do or were capable of doing.
Twenty miles south of Haifa lies the city of Zichron Ya’akov. Named for the father of Baron Edmond James de Rothschild who was patron of the settlement founded in 1882, Zichron Ya’akov is where one finds the home and museum of Sarah Aaronson. One cannot help but be riveted by Sarah’s story. Abhorred and revolted by the genocide that was underway where the Turks systematically slaughtered one and a half million Armenians, Sarah, together with her two brothers Aaron and Alexander and Avshalom Feinberg, established the Nili (Netzach Yisroel Lo Ishaker- the eternal one of Israel will not lie) spy ring. They were prepared to do whatever was necessary to force the Turks out of pre-state Israel. The three volunteered to spy on Ottoman (Turkish) positions and report them to the British. In September 1917, the Ottomans caught one of Sarah’s carrier pigeons and cracked the Nili code. In October, the Ottomans surrounded Zikhron Ya’akov and arrested Sarah and several others. After four days of torture, Sarah learned that her captors planned on transporting her elsewhere. Sarah therefore requested to be taken to her home to change her clothes. Locking herself in the bathroom, Sarah retrieved a hidden pistol and shot herself. Sarah died after several days. Three and a half months ago, the one hundredth yahrzeit of a riveting woman was observed.
Close to four decades ago, Chaya Hacker was standing in line at Hacker’s, a kosher butcher shop in Jerusalem. As she waited to be served, Chaya noticed Mr. Hacker hand a young girl a huge plastic bag filled with chicken skin and chicken fat. “How many dogs and cats are there in that young girl’s family, the one you gave that plastic bag filled with fat and skin?” asked Chaya as she was being waited on. The butcher explained that there were seven children in that family. The father was on dialysis and the family subsisted on a most meager income. Because the family had already run up a bill of astronomical proportion, the best the butcher could do was supply them with skin and fat. They made soup with it for Friday night and it served as the basis for their cholent at Shabbat lunch. “From now on, give the family chopped meat and a whole chicken every Friday and put it on my bill,” said Chaya. Mr. Hacker did more than that. He told Chaya about other families in the same dire straits. Before long, Chaya was running up a weekly bill of over $1,000 dollars as she helped 136 families in need. Who could not be riveted reading about a woman single-handedly battling poverty and apathy?
I can’t speak for others, but throughout my school years, I recall the “accusation” that those in the Concentration Camps went to their deaths like lambs to the slaughter. In addition to my “counter accusation” of how dare anyone look down on the millions who were murdered, I much prefer to look up to those whose lives were snuffed out by the Nazis and their henchmen. Regina Safirsztein was born in Bedzin, Poland. After the Nazis invaded, Regina was sent to Auschwitz. Once there, she was put to work in the munitions factory. The room where Regina and a select group of women worked was the only place where inmates had access to gunpowder. Clandestinely, Regina was recruited to join the resistance movement. Each day for over a year, at tremendous personal risk to her life, Regina would set aside a small amount of gunpowder that would be smuggled out to a group of men planning a revolt. And then it happened. On October 7th 1944, Crematorium IV of Auschwitz was blown up. It took weeks until the Nazis traced the gunpowder back to Regina and others who worked alongside her at the munitions factory. All who worked there were interrogated and tortured. Ultimately, Regina and three others were betrayed. As Regina stood at the gallows with the noose around her neck, her last words were: “Be strong!” Regina was 29 years old at the time.
The next time we cry for the six million, let it be with pride as we find ourselves riveted, recalling Regina and the others who showed undeniable defiance along with unbelievable bravery.
Rosie the Riveter appealed to our patriotism. Sarah Aaronson, Chaya Hacker, Regina Safirsztein and a good many other woman who remain unrecognized by far too many, appeal to our Jewish hearts and souls.