Ear­li­er this week, Bon­nie S. Ander­son explored the Jew­ish iden­ti­ty of sub­ject of her book The Rab­bi’s Athe­ist Daugh­ter: Ernes­tine Rose, Inter­na­tion­al Fem­i­nist Pio­neer and why she would have been at the front of the Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton this past week­end. Bon­nie is guest blog­ging for the Jew­ish Book Coun­cil all week as part of the Vis­it­ing Scribe series here on The ProsenPeo­ple.

The word Juden­schmerz, which lit­er­al­ly means Jew­ish pain,” was coined in the first quar­ter of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry to denote the dif­fi­cul­ties of still being iden­ti­fied as Jew­ish when one has con­vert­ed from Judaism to Chris­tian­i­ty. Often used about the Ger­man poet Hein­rich Heine, it came to mean suf­fer­ing from anti­semitism when a Jew no longer believes in religion.

Grow­ing up in a nom­i­nal­ly Jew­ish fam­i­ly in New York City of the 1950s, I expe­ri­enced this pain. My moth­er had been raised in Eth­i­cal Cul­ture, a self-defined reli­gion cen­tered on ethics rather than the­ol­o­gy” with a pro­gres­sive, large­ly Jew­ish mem­ber­ship. My father was an athe­ist who believed that all reli­gions were a force for evil and all believ­ers stu­pid. We chil­dren were taught noth­ing about Judaism, nev­er went to tem­ple, and cel­e­brat­ed Christ­mas and East­er, which my father con­sid­ered to be Amer­i­can.” But the great­est fam­i­ly sin was to deny you were Jewish.

In those years, life in New York was seg­re­gat­ed along reli­gious lines: there were Jew­ish build­ings, Jew­ish law firms, Jew­ish danc­ing schools. My first expe­ri­ences of anti­semitism occurred at Brear­ley, an elite pri­vate girls’ schools unique for hav­ing 25% Jew­ish stu­dents — the oth­ers in its cohort were almost exclu­sive­ly Chris­t­ian. When I told our head­mistress that I want­ed to apply to the women’s col­lege at Har­vard, she said I wouldn’t get in because they have a Jew­ish quo­ta.” I won­dered why the head of this pres­ti­gious school sup­port­ed such dis­crim­i­na­tion. When I inter­viewed at the women’s col­lege at Brown, I was told that girls like me” were not very hap­py there. What do you mean, girls like me’?” I asked. Dark girls from New York City,” she replied. Since I was only accept­ed there, I was ner­vous about going.

I actu­al­ly had a fine time. I encoun­tered more anti­semitism when I mar­ried and changed my maid­en name, Sour, to Ander­son. Assum­ing I was not Jew­ish, a num­ber of my husband’s asso­ciates freely voiced anti­se­mit­ic views, call­ing my city Jew York,” say­ing some­one had jew­ed them down,” remark­ing that all Jews are stingy.” When I wrote my first book with my best friend, Judith Zinss­er, who is not Jew­ish, we used to trick peo­ple by ask­ing, Who’s the Jew?” and then telling them they were wrong.

All this was far milder than the anti­semitism Ernes­tine Rose (18101892) encoun­tered in the Unit­ed States. She lost her faith in Judaism at sev­en­teen, became an athe­ist, and fre­quent­ly lec­tured for freethought as well as fem­i­nism and anti-slav­ery. Although she expe­ri­enced far more prej­u­dice against athe­ists than Jews, doc­u­ments reveal at least two instances of anti­semitism in her life.

In 1854, Lucy Stone, a co-work­er in the women’s rights move­ment, wrote Rose’s clos­est female friend, Susan B. Antho­ny, that since Rose’s facewas so essen­tial­ly Jew­ish,” and she was avari­cious,” she should not be allowed to rep­re­sent women’s rights. Although Stone con­tin­ued this crit­i­cism, Antho­ny paid no atten­tion and con­tin­ued to place Rose in impor­tant roles with­in the movement.

A more seri­ous instance occurred ten years lat­er, when Horace Seaver, edi­tor of the freethought Boston Inves­ti­ga­tor news­pa­per, pub­lished a series of anti­se­mit­ic edi­to­ri­als. Anti­semitism direct­ed at the ancient Hebrews had a lengthy tra­di­tion with­in freethought, but Seaver, pre­vi­ous­ly Rose’s friend and cham­pi­on, now attacked mod­ern Jews, writ­ing that Judaism is big­ot­ed, nar­row, exclu­sive, and total­ly unfit for a pro­gres­sive peo­ple like the Amer­i­cans, among whom we hope it may not spread.”

Ernes­tine Rose ini­tial­ly answered her friend with humor: I almost smelt brim­stone, gen­uine Chris­t­ian brim­stone” when I read your piece, Would you dri­ve them out of Boston… as they were dri­ven out of Spain?” She cit­ed the wide­ly accept­ed stereo­type of the renowned Yan­kee,’ who, it is admit­ted by all, excels the Jew” as a cun­ning, sharp trad­er” and con­clud­ed by writ­ing I know there are hon­est, hon­or­able Yan­kees as well as Jews;” you are one of the very best.”

Seaver respond­ed vicious­ly. If the Yan­kees, as a class, like mon­ey as well as the Jews,” he replied, we ques­tion whether so many of the for­mer would be found in the ranks of the Union Army. They would be more like­ly to stay at home to deal in old clothes,’ at a prof­it of fif­teen per shent.’”

This angry cor­re­spon­dence con­tin­ued for eight weeks. Nei­ther con­vinced the oth­er. Ernes­tine Rose stopped writ­ing to the Inves­ti­ga­tor for almost five years. But she did lat­er resume her friend­ship with Seaver and expressed great sor­row when he died.

I felt a deep con­nec­tion with Rose over our sim­i­lar expe­ri­ences with Juden­schmerz, one of the crit­i­cal rea­sons I decid­ed to write her biog­ra­phy. I decid­ed, how­ev­er, not to put myself in the book, and have nev­er writ­ten about this sub­ject before. I hope Rose’s sto­ry — and my own — reach­es and res­onates with read­ers today, who have encoun­tered reli­gious, racial, or social prej­u­dice in their own lives.

Bon­nie S. Ander­son taught his­to­ry and wom­en’s stud­ies at Brook­lyn Col­lege and the Grad­u­ate Cen­ter of the City Uni­ver­si­ty of New York for over thir­ty years. A pio­neer in the field of wom­en’s his­to­ry, Ander­son lec­tures through­out Europe and the Unit­ed States on women’s move­ments, inter­na­tion­al fem­i­nism, the his­to­ry of sex­u­al­i­ty, and women’s issues today. The Rab­bi’s Athe­ist Daugh­ter: Ernes­tine Rose, Inter­na­tion­al Fem­i­nist Pio­neer is her fourth book.