The collective power of WIZO

(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.

Lapid Dec 2015Together 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.


Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

Advocate IsraelClowns to the left of me,  jokers to the right,  here I am stuck in the middle with you, crooned Stealer’s Wheel in 1972. And here I am, in Israel in the year 2016 – and all the jokers and all the clowns are busy blogging, posting and tweeting their political differences when, in fact, what is really needed around these parts is, dare I say it, more unity and less bitching about the political leanings of the other.

Don’t get me wrong. Free speech is good, actually, it’s great and it is the very underpinning of  democracy, one of the principles upon which the State of Israel stands. Political persuasion is a matter of free choice and not forced upon us by dictatorial regimes, as practiced by the near neighbours. Here in Israel,  we listen to the political jargon of would-be leaders, we evaluate promises, false or far reaching, we watch party political broadcasts and we make our own informed conclusions, whether rightly or leftly and echoing the mantra of whichever party we happen to trust at that crucial moment of the polls. And then,  we go into the booth and cast our vote.

And that is as it should be. The criticisms and rants that ensue when one or the other politician says something remotely daring are to be expected. Below the belt jibes make for entertaining TV viewing and the more ambiguous a remark the better for the popular press that love to jump on a ‘he said, she said’ bandwagon. Sensationalism sells and  a good old rummage through the dustbins of power to see what naughty bits can be unearthed is the stuff that copywriters dreams are made of. Any Brit who ever watched Prime Minister’s Question Time is used to the slings and arrows of the game, set and match of the liberals, left wing and  right wing.

But you know what? Now is just not the time for heated exchanges on everything that is wrong with us as a nation. Not here in Israel, when we are all bleeding from the same wound. Now is the time when the Israeli nation needs to chuck its political differences out of the window and stand united against terror. In its fight for survival, Israel needs to put her best foot forward and practice some good old fashioned unity.

With the exception of the January 1st atrocity when two young men were murdered and seven others were injured in a little pub on Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Street and many of us changed our Facebook status to ‘We are all Tel Aviv’ and ran to light memorial candles at the scene of the crime in an outpouring of sympathy, we no longer wring our hands in despair when yet another attack is reported. No. Some of those among us give credence to the perpetrators citing human rights issues – as if we Israelis are not deserving of the most basic human right – to actually be alive.

In the past three months, Israel has suffered the most horrific terror attacks imaginable. Horrific in their sporadic frequency, their simple brutality  and almost effortless execution. This wave of terror that has taken the lives of 30 people and rising, that has ruined the lives of scores more and that threatens every Israeli everywhere, escalates – and with it so does our immunity.

Are we, as a nation, so naive to think that criticism of political figures, of blaming the government, of  pointing the finger at our leaders will actually put an end to this terror? Are we really so foolish that  we effectively anaesthetize our own pain and our own fears and yet deal with great sensitivity those who openly and brazenly call for our destruction?

Oh I see, you’ve raised your eyebrows. How dare I say that? Doesn’t every Israeli bleed when another Israeli is mowed down, stabbed, run over or shot? Don’t we wring our hands, look up to the skies and plead with God to make this torment stop? Well, yes we do but with each passing  attack,  we reinforce our own personal defence mechanism of detachment and thank our lucky stars that we were not there, at that time in that place, because we could have been and will be again.  And as the frequency of these evil attacks peaks, our reaction reaches new troughs.  And by that fact, we are as  guilty as the world’s media for ignoring Israel’s reality. And why? Because as much as we try, and we have tried, we just cannot fathom it. To our Western values, to our moral compass, it is beyond our power of reason. It is incomprehensible, as inconceivable as  Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s credibility as a partner for peace when he quite openly states that stabbing and mowing down Jews in Israel is justified, and who incites terror with every word he utters and as incomprehensible as the apologists amongst us who make feeble excuses for the perpetrators of this terror based on some misguided belief that somehow it can be avoided if we appease the dragon.

So, without answers to the real issues, we resort to playing the blasphemy game –  defaming the politicians that we did not vote for and besmirching their policies, their ethics and in doing so, we invite the contempt of an already fuming world, frustrated by its own shortcomings in dealing with a peril so much larger than we are.  We invite them to look into our transparent world of democracy and find us wanting.

As we with one hand  sift through the dustbins of those who swear allegiance to the state,  and with the other hand we hold out an olive branch to those who spit in our faces time after time, isn’t it time we looked in the mirror and saw the Jew staring us back in the face?  And as Jews, shouldn’t we march proudly shoulder to shoulder into the fray instead of bickering between ourselves on political technicalities?

As history has proved, as Jews we will not be judged by our political affiliations When we are marched, we are marched as Jews. As one.

Tricia Schwitzer serves on both the World WIZO Executive and the Executive of Friends of WIZO. Prior to joining the executive, Tricia is also on the committee of Truth Be Told, an advocacy group countering misinformation relating to Israel. Special projects undertaken for World WIZO include Israel advocacy, social media marketing material and promotional writing.