(This article appears in the January 2016 print-only edition of the World WIZO Lapid newsletter)
‘Individually we are just one drop, but together we are an ocean,’ these words by Japanese writer Ryunosuke Satoro, are the very essence of the WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) movement. WIZO transcends oceans in an ingathering of Jewish women from all over the world who proudly wear her badge and for whom WIZO is their vehicle of choice, in which they steer with steadfast determination towards Israel, towards her people. WIZO women all over the world know that by strengthening the people, the State of Israel itself is fortified.
And so it is with WIZO. Her strength is in the sheer numbers of her volunteer/fundraising force scattered over continents, poles apart and yet simultaneously together. This passionately Zionist sisterhood sings from the same song sheet at full throttle in a unified voice, as she stands shoulder to shoulder with not only her Israeli counterparts but also every man, woman and child, who comes under the protection of WIZO’s vast welfare umbrella in Israel through its 800 welfare projects.
The WIZO chavera, whether she lives just around the corner in Tel Aviv or down under in Sydney or any place in between, knows that she is an integral part of something much larger than herself and that her inclusion and unity is as crucial to WIZO’s success as that of any other woman who serves the movement. It is only in the collective strength of unity under the WIZO banner that WIZO maintains its edge in answering the calls from an increasingly needy Israeli society whose challenges are great.
The WIZO chavera is, bar none, an ambassador for the State of Israel. She is an agent for social change in Israel. By her membership to WIZO she has pledged loyalty to the people of Israel, by wearing a WIZO badge she holds the megaphone and articulating loudly and proudly that she is one of many who care enough to belong, who care enough to volunteer and who care enough to be visual, audible and, above all, credible in her passion for this worthiest of causes. For who are we, if we are not for our own people?
WIZO is a collective, a global community comprised of Jewish women from all walks of life, of all ages and cultural backgrounds. Some 95 years after her inception, she continues to realize the ideology of her founding mothers but at the same time, WIZO has evolved to address the issues, and provide effective, manageable solutions for a growing and diverse population. The weight of such a huge burden on her shoulders is distributed evenly throughout the entire WIZO world; some 50 federations, comprising of around 250,000 volunteers each with their commitment and fair share of the load.
The largest federation, WIZO Israel, works directly with and on behalf of the local population, including those of minority communities. Her aims are to advance the status of women, defend their rights and achieve gender equality in all fields; to combat domestic violence; to assist in the absorption of new immigrants and to contribute to family and community welfare, with special emphasis on single parent families, women, children, and the elderly. Elevating the status of women has always been a priority of the Israel federation. The Equal Rights for Women Law of 1952 was passed on the initiative of then WIZO Israel chairman Rachel Kagan, who represented the organization in Israel’s first Knesset. Today, WIZO remains active in this field.
Together with WIZO Israel, under the World WIZO umbrella, worldwide federations strive to donate much-needed revenue for the movement, both for the provision of crucial benefits to Israeli society and in the support of their own sponsored projects. The engagement of the Jewish heart into giving is reinforced by identity with the people of Israel. WIZO is the embodiment of the Jewish mother looking after her brood. These days, as anti-Israel sentiment rages and anti-Semitism rears its ugly head in frightening proportions around the world, the defence of Israel’s integrity is a crucial precursor and it is important that WIZO chaverot are active in their Zionism in order to educate and enlighten and bring value to the WIZO table – not just as a fundraising organization but as a movement proud of its underlying principles. Constant regeneration of commitment, of passion and ultimately of membership, is key to preserving WIZO as the powerhouse that she is today. World federations actively network with local Jewish and non-Jewish members of their communities in social and fundraising events, thereby increasing exposure to WIZO’s endeavours both on the ground and on social media platforms.
On the world’s stage WIZO is recognized by the United Nations as a non-governmental organization with consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council and the International Children’s Emergency Fund. She is a member of the World Zionist Organization and has the power to influence decisions crucial to the wellbeing of all sectors of the population of the Jewish State.
WIZO is a peoples movement, she cares deeply for the baby, the child, the adolescent, the young parents, the unmarried mother, the abused woman, the great grandmother – her family. She cares for all the people, without prejudice towards creed or colour, providing in equal parts, wherever the need arises. WIZO’s strength lies in her emotional appeal to every Jewish woman, everywhere. She is the win-win, go-to movement for any woman who cares about her family, who cares about Israel. It is easy to identify with WIZO’s ethos. It is the ethos of every Jewish mother who treats her children equally while striving to strengthen the weakest and nurture the neediest.
As relevant as ever, and needed even more so, as spirited and as forceful, WIZO constantly looks to the future with the engagement of young Jewish women to take up the gauntlet to become the leaders of tomorrow and on whose shoulders the weight of responsibility for the world’s largest women’s Zionist organization can, and will, rest easily. The State of Israel and her people deserve no less than that.