On the eve of WIZO’s 96th anniversary, I write a letter to WIZO’s founding mother, Rebecca Sieff z”l in which I ask the question, “how are we doing?” An earlier version of this letter appeared in the WIZO Review in 2010.
It is human nature to seek the approval of our elders. From that very first crayon drawing that we thrust wide-eyed into our mothers’ hands when we skipped out of nursery school as children to be met with a “well done, darling – how clever you are!” Such affirmation spurs us on to do more, to reach further and to aim higher. So, indulge us, dear Becky, when we ask you, “how are we doing?”
Through your vision and steadfastness, you bequeathed a legacy of incalculable worth to the women and children of the State of Israel and in so doing, you placed upon the shoulders of your WIZO daughters and granddaughters the enormous responsibility of safe keeping such a precious gift. You entrusted us with the wellbeing of a nation.
Ninety-six years ago, when you stood up at the International Women’s Zionist Conference at the Russell Hotel in London and brought your brainchild into being, could you have known how that first seed would take root and grow?
When you rolled up your sleeves and said, “Let the men get on with it and we’ll do the real work,” did you ever stop to analyse the weight of that declaration? No. You just got down and did it.
The Irish dramatist of the 17th century, George Fabricius said, “Death comes to all, but great achievements raise a monument, which shall endure until the sun grows old.” But, dear Becky, the sun will never grow old, and like 250,000 WIZO chaverot in 50 federations around the world, the sun rises each morning and shines on the State of Israel.
Your legacy in our hands and those of our daughters and granddaughters places rainbows over every child attending WIZO day care centres, schools and youth villages – nurturing and educating them. Through a network of some 800 projects and services, WIZO supports, guides, protects and empowers. WIZO affords mothers the opportunity to work, knowing that their children are in the safest of hands – WIZO hands. WIZO gives those women the confidence and tools to retrain and make their difference in this world.
In your image, and that of all who walked with you in those pioneering days of pre-state Israel, thousands of women no longer take ‘no’ for an answer in the home and workplace. WIZO throws its full weight into the fight for women’s rights. It stands strong and defiant in the face of domestic violence and provides sanctuary and therapy to victims of abuse and their children. WIZO campaigns tirelessly on both the national and global stage against the discrimination of women in all its forms.
As pertinent as Fabricius’s words are, to call WIZO a monument conjures up visions of an immobile structure. Nothing could be further from the truth. Time and terrors, wars and circumstances have left scars on the face of Israel that WIZO strives to erase. The changing and ever-increasing needs of society, economic factors, the cost of terror and a widening poverty gap all command a hefty price, which WIZO pays every day, in every way.
WIZO mobilises, renovates, modernises and re-establishes itself to address new and different challenges, spearheading social activism and shaping society.
Becky, we do not rest on our laurels. You would not have approved of that. The organisation that you founded 96 years ago moves forever forward, keeping up the momentum with an evolving Israel and a changing world, and it is no easy task. Just as we, here in Israel, invest heavily in the security of the people, the phenomenon of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment rises in the Diaspora. Jewish communities across the globe have become all too familiar with campaigns to smear Israel’s name, to ignore her excellent record of Tikkun Olam and life-saving innovations and to paint her in a less than flattering light. We must work ever harder to raise the profile of our beloved State of Israel, to spread truth where lies permeate and to advocate and support her as best we can.
And we do our best because first and foremost, we care for the people of Israel. We are a sisterhood of women gathered under the WIZO banner in their service. The strength of the people determines the strength of the nation. The strength of WIZO depends on all our endeavours.
Waiting to take up the gauntlet are the young and focused Aviv members, committed Zionists whose passion for the State of Israel match their desire to take WIZO into the future, to further evolve and perpetuate. Women all over the world join hearts with their mothers, daughters and sisters in Israel to close the generation gap and volunteer for WIZO, and they do it, as we all do because Israel is central to our Jewish soul – and WIZO is the Zionism of the Jewish mother.
So, Becky, as we gaze upon your portrait hanging in WIZO Federations all over the world, can we assume that behind that resolute and stern persona, there lies a smile of approval? I do hope so.
With deepest respect and affection.
A WIZO Chavera
Tricia Schwitzer serves on both the World WIZO Executive and the Executive of Friends of WIZO. Tricia also serves 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.