She's a Mensch: Two Collective Biographies of Jewish Women

By a surprising coincidence, two separate collective biographies of Jewish women are being published this year, both entitled She's A Mensch. Coming out on May 15 is She's a Mensch: 10 Amazing Jewish Women by Anne Dublin (Second Story Press) for ages 9-12, and coming out on September 1 is She's a Mensch: Jewish Women Who Rocked the World (Intergalactic Afikomen) by mother-daughter duo Rachelle Burk and Alana Barouch, for ages 5-10.

In honor of Mother's Day, I bring you a joint interview with Anne, Rachelle, and Alana about their menschy books!

Anne, Rachelle, and Alana, coincidentally your books are both called She's A Mensch. How did you choose that title?

ANNE: My publisher (Second Story Press) and I tried several titles out, but She’s a Mensch! resonated with all of us. My late father used to say (in Yiddish) about a person he admired: “He’s a mensch” or “She’s a mensch.” That compliment is one of the highest one can bestow upon a person and therefore has a special meaning to me.

RACHELLE: With our first draft completed, we still had a working title that wasn’t working. We were looking for a title that would really capture the awesomeness of the women and make the reader want to meet them. Jewish Wonder Women? Jewish Women Who Inspire? Amazing Jewish Women? UGH. These were terrible. Late one night, Alana called me. “She's a Mensch!” she said excitedly. Yes! It was perfect. “Mensch” is a word rarely used to describe women. But why not? After all, the Yiddish word is gender neutral, and it is a fitting description of every woman in the book. We had our title. (The subtitle, however, took many more months: Jewish Women Who Rocked the World.)

What inspired you to write a biography of Jewish women?

ANNE: When I was a girl, I must have read every biography in the local branch of my library! So, I guess it wasn’t such a stretch that I wrote biographies when I became an adult. This isn’t the first biography I’ve written about Jewish women. Years ago, I wrote a biography about Bobbie Rosenfeld, an all-round athlete and Olympian who was named Canada’s female athlete of the half-century in 1950. A few years later, I wrote a collective biography about women dancers called Dynamic Women Dancers. Two of the women in that book were Jewish. I believe that life stories about women are often underplayed or undervalued. Sure, there are lots of biographies about Anne Frank and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—important in their own right. However, I wanted to write biographies about Jewish women who are also amazing but who are less well known (if at all).

ALANA: It was the height of COVID quarantine, and oy, were we bored. I said, “Hey Mom, let’s write a book together!” My mother said that this was her writing dream come true. We called it our “Mother/Daughter Pandemic Project.” She already had several published children’s books, and I always enjoyed writing but never tried to write a book. We had read something in the news about a Jewish woman who was a World War II spy, and thought, wouldn't a book that profiled such extraordinary Jewish women be an inspiration to children?

Although the pandemic prevented us from seeing each other in person, we spent hours together on Zoom. We researched and were intrigued by dozens of amazing Jewish women.

Who are the women profiled in your book?

The 20 women profiled in our book are artists and activists, athletes and adventurers, scientists, celebrities, and more.

Some are very well known—Henrietta Szold, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Barbra Streisand, and Judy Blume, for example. But others you probably never heard of, such as judo champion Rusty Kanokogi and pioneer conservation zoologist Devra Kleiman. 

ANNE: The ten women in my book are:

  1. Agnes Keleti (1921– ), Hungary, Australia, Israel: Holocaust survivor; Olympics gymnast and coach.
  2. Ruth First (1925–1982), South Africa, England, Mozambique: journalist and author; combatted apartheid.
  3. Marion Wiesel (1931– ), Austria, Belgium, France, Switzerland, U.S.A.: Holocaust survivor; journalist, translator, film maker.
  4. Rita Arditti (1934–2009), Argentina: scientist, author.
  5. Marika Gidali (1937– ), Hungary, Brazil: dancer, choreographer.
  6. Judy Feld Carr (1938– ), Canada: music teacher, rescuer of Syrian Jews.
  7. Rosalie Silberman Abella (1946– ), Germany, Canada: lawyer, justice of the Supreme Court of Canada.
  8. Pauline Bebe (1964– ), France: first female rabbi in France; interfaith dialogue.
  9. Yavilah McCoy (1972– ), U.S.A.: African-American educator and activist.
  10. Jessica Posner Odede (1986– ), U.S.A., Kenya: theater arts.

How did you select them? What was your criteria?

ANNE: Because my book is part of the “Do You Know My Name?” series for middle-grade readers published by Second Story Press, I followed the criteria of the series: women from all over the world and born in the twentieth century; women who went beyond their field of work to make the world a better place. That is, every woman in my book is or was an activist.

RACHELLE & ALANA: First and foremost, each woman had to be more than just a success in her field; she had to truly be a mensch—a fine human being.

Second, we tried to highlight women who connected to their Judaism, even though it was not necessary for them to be religious. For example, Nalini Nadkarni, a scientist who studies the rainforest canopy, has discussed how powerful it is that trees are mentioned in the Torah 328 times. And astronaut Jessica Meir celebrated Hanukkah in space.

Finally, we wanted an eclectic selection both in terms of their fields and general diversity. The women profiled also span a timeline from the late 1800s to today.

Among the women in your book, who's your favorite and why?

ANNE: That’s like asking who is my favorite child—an impossible task! All I can say is that, while I was researching and writing about these women, I could relate to each one in a personal way through my own life experiences. I believe that, when one writes a biography, it’s important to feel some kind of connection to the person about whom one is writing.

For example, I studied dance in my younger days and Marika Gidali’s work as a dancer and choreographer touched me deeply. Another example: Rosalie Abella and I were both born in a displaced persons camp and came to Toronto when we were very young.

RACHELLE & ALANA: It's difficult to choose a favorite woman! However, the most fun bios to write were the ones in which we could really play with the language in our rhyming stanzas, using puns and alliteration. In that sense, our favorite would have to be chess champion Judit Polgár:

With passion, practice, perseverance,
Judit found success.
She knocked out knights and conquered kings…
Long live the Queen of Chess!

Then there were the most exciting ones to research. Marthe Cohn tops that list! We were thrilled to interview this extraordinary 103-year-old woman who was a World War II spy. We also felt a connection with Cheryl and Nikki Bart, who climbed the Seven Summits and celebrated Passover on Mount Everest. We love them because, like us, they are a mother-daughter team bonding over something they love to do together. And it was an honor to communicate with Mallory Lewis about her mother, puppeteer/ventriloquist Shari Lewis. The bio of Shari and her famous puppet Lamb Chop was another favorite to write!

Who did you have to leave out, that you'd like to mention now?

ANNE: That’s such a great question! When I was researching the book, one of my first steps was to sift through the many remarkable women on the Jewish Women’s Archive website. A few of the women I would have liked to write about (but couldn’t) are Beyle Schaechter-Gottesman, Pnina Tamano-Shata, Charlotte Knobloch, Helen Lieberman, Fay Ajzenberg-Selove, and Sabina Berman.

Perhaps one day in the future, I’ll write volume 2 of She’s a Mensch!

We learned about so many awesome Jewish women that we decided to include an additional two-page spread of 18 “Honorable Menschen” (menschen is actually the plural of mensch!). Among others, it includes an Olympic champion, famous fashion designer, opera star, disabled professional dancer, mathematician, dogsledder, and…Wonder Woman (the actor who plays her, at least).

But there are other exciting women we considered who didn't make the book: sisters Ann Landers and Dear Abby (advice columnists), Rosalind Franklin (scientist), Gloria Steinem (feminist activist), Bess Myerson (the only Jewish Miss America in history), and Regina Jonas (the first woman ordained as a rabbi). We could have filled several volumes!

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

ANNE: I believe that, by learning about the lives of great Jewish women, we can understand the importance of fighting for human rights and dignity for all. I hope the lives of the women in my book will inspire young people to make their own positive impact on the world.

RACHELLE & ALANA: We want children to find their inner mensch! That's why each biography spread includes a related discussion question. For example, within the bio for Emma Lazarus (who wrote the poem on the Statue of Liberty, “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...”), the young reader is asked to consider the question, How could you welcome a stranger to your country?

Most of all, we want kids to be inspired by the great Jewish women in this book. And so the collection ends with a final thought question: “How will YOU be a mensch?”


ANNE DUBLIN has won or been nominated for numerous awards, including the Canadian Jewish Literary Award (Youth) for her last two historical novels: 44 Hours or Strike! and A Cage Without Bars. Anne has reviewed books for young people for the Association of Jewish Libraries for many years. She’s also on the Executive of AJL-Canada. Anne enjoys swimming, singing in her synagogue choir, playing alto recorder, and getting together with friends and family. Anne lives in Toronto. Visit her at

RACHELLE BURK writes fiction and nonfiction books for children ages 2-12, and presents at schools around the country. She is a retired social worker who enjoys traveling, hiking, scuba diving and making mosaic art. Rachelle is incredibly proud to have co-authored this book with her daughter Alana. Visit her at

ALANA BAROUCH is a registered nurse in New Jersey specializing as a clinical organ donation coordinator. Alana enjoys travel, rock climbing, acrobatics, and singing. She's a Mensch is her first book.