First Jewish Congresswoman Bella Abzug Is Born

July 24, 1920

Bella Abzug was born in the Bronx, New York to an Orthodox Jewish immigrant family from Russia.  Her father, a butcher, passed away when Bella was thirteen.  As a teenager, she learned Hebrew and joined the Zionist youth group Hashomer Hatzir (“The Young Guard”).  To earn money for her family while she was a student at Hunter College, she taught Hebrew and Jewish history classes at a Bronx Jewish Community Center.

Abzug and her fellow members of Hashomer Hatzair participated in cultural programs, hikes and field trips.  Together they raised money to build a Jewish homeland in the Palestine.  One of their most effective fundraising tactics was for Abzug to lecture about Zionism at New York City subway stops.  She later commented that these first public addresses prepared her for a life in politics.

After graduating from Columbia Law School, Abzug opened a law practice in New York focusing on labor union workers and civil liberty work.  Beginning in 1970, she served three terms in Congress.  She was the first Jewish woman to be elected to the House of Representatives. Best known for championing women’s rights and for her social justice work, Abzug also introduced and advocated for legislation regarding economic and military aid to Israel.  She was at the forefront of the battle to reverse the 1975 UN resolution equating Zionism with racism.

In the photo, Bella Abzug (third from left) joins politicians and dignitaries including Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban (to the left of the speaker in dark suit) at a rally for Israel at New York City Hall in October 1973.