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Nationalism, Gender and Feminine Identity: The Case of Post-World War ii Zionist Female Emissaries

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image of European Journal of Jewish Studies

The last three years of the British Mandate for Palestine, 1945–48, were peak years in the Jewish national struggle for the establishment of a Jewish state and the formation of a progressive society peopled by new Hebrew men and women. This article discusses the historical phenomenon of Zionist women in Palestine who were sent to Europe on special missions to rescue Holocaust survivors and bring them to Palestine. Their stories shed light on the emergence of a new feminine identity and serve as a platform for exploring nationalism and gender in general, with an emphasis on the evolving identity of women during a period of national struggle. The case histories presented in this study show how women of the time found personal fulfillment through nationalistic missions that helped to redefine the role of the Jewish woman. They became models for a new Jewish woman who deviated from the traditional model of the woman as homemaker and mother. Participation in these missions was significant in shaping their new identity. It was a three-stage process that began with a masculine initiative that prompted their activity; continued with traditional female roles carried out with a new twist, and ended with a change in female self-awareness. The experiences of these emissaries show how women’s participation in the national struggle was fraught with personal conflicts intimately connected to the encounter between traditional gender roles and their new role and nationalist identity.


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