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It gives me a great deal of pleasure and much pride to stand here before you this evening as we celebrate 90 years since Dr Fanny Reading established the Council of Jewish Women in Sydney.
Dr Fanny, as she was affectionately known, was an amazing woman. She was a staunch Zionist and great visionary who aimed to establish a national organisation with branches in every city in Australia. It is fitting that we look back at this time to the life of this remarkable woman.
Born in Russia in 1884, Fanny Rubinowich arrived in Australia as a young girl and lived in Ballarat with her family. She never forgot the loneliness she felt as a new migrant, especially without knowledge of the language. She was an accomplished musician, studying Music and later Medicine at the University of Melbourne, before moving to Sydney and establishing a medical practice firstly with her brother and then on her own. By day she would work in her busy Kings Cross surgery and then organise meetings and events by night from her home next door.
Dr Fanny established the Council of Jewish Women in July 1923. When on holiday in Melbourne 4 years later she was approached by a group of women, which resulted in a meeting being convened and a Victorian section was established. A section here in Brisbane was established later that same year, 1927, with Mrs E R Isaacs as the President.
The first Conference of Jewish Women of Australasia was held in Sydney in May 1929, at which time the organisation became known as the National Council of Jewish Women. 115 delegates attended this conference, including women from New Zealand. Many women from interstate returned home eager to establish sections themselves. That year sections were established in South Australia, Western Australia, Ballarat, Geelong, South Brisbane, Newcastle and Kalgoorlie.
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So although the 90th anniversary of our national organisation will not really be for another 6 years, we pay tribute this year to the outstanding foresight of our founder, who in 1923 aimed to establish a national organisation, to open the hearts and minds of Jewish women around Australia to service in the community. Dr Fanny organised Jewish women in community service, education and fundraising for projects locally and in Israel, Jewish and non-Jewish.
She also made the very first international connections for Australian Jewry when she attended the International Council of Jewish Women Convention in Washington in 1925 and the Council of Jewish Women became an affiliate.
Dr Fanny Reading was awarded the George V Jubilee Medal and the George VI Coronation Medal. She was made a Life Governor of Crown St Women’s Hospital in Sydney and of the Benevolent Society of NSW. In 1961 she was awarded the MBE for her many services to the Australian community.
I am greatly looking forward to further celebrations in Sydney in August, when the NSW Division celebrates its 90th.
Today Dr Fanny’s spirit lives on in the wonderful women I work with in NCJWA. Today we have 7 sections around Australia: in Brisbane, Gold Coast, NSW, Canberra, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. Each has their own flavour and their own emphases, yet all sections are involved in community service, in empowering women and in raising much-needed funds for local causes and programs as well as projects in Israel.
Our community service activities are very varied and include senior citizen clubs, volunteering in various communal organisations such as the Maurice Zeffert Homes in Perth, reading to seniors in aged-care facilities and packing birthing kits, to name just a few. Our Mum for Mum program is run in 2 sections and involves volunteers trained by a social worker to offer support to new mothers who are isolated from their own support system. These mums are referred to us by hospitals, health centres and doctors. The program is extremely successful with many women wanting to volunteer and a large number of mothers who are being helped in this way. Just 2 days ago the social worker in Melbourne told me it is the best program she has ever been involved in. The program is for mums of all backgrounds, not only from the Jewish community. I think Dr Fanny would be particularly proud of the programs such as this that we run. It connects closely with her own work in Kings Cross all those years ago.
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Our Status of Women portfolio is a key plank of our platform. This includes our involvement with the National Women’s alliances that work closely with the Australian Federal Office for women: ERA, Equality Rights Alliance; and AWAVA, Women Against Violence Alliance. We are also involved with Stop the Traffik, an organisation that works against trafficking around the world. They have had some recent successes as you may have heard in the news.
The status of Jewish women is an important part of this also. The plight of the agunah, the Jewish woman who is unable to obtain a Jewish divorce from her husband, is a cause that has been championed for many years by NCJWA.
Our interfaith and intercultural involvement is strong in our 7sections around Australia. This is an area of our activities that is very dear to my heart and one that I am pleased to say is making a name for NCJWA. It is vital for all of us to reach out to people of other cultures and backgrounds, to help them understand our customs and traditions, as well as giving us the opportunity to learn more about them.
We have very close connections with Jewish women around the world through our active involvement in ICJW, with 9 of our members on the International Executive. Through ICJW we are represented at the United Nations in New York, Paris, Vienna and Geneva as well as at the Council of Europe. At the most recent ICJW meeting in Jerusalem a few weeks ago Robyn Lenn, a past National President, was elected to be the next ICJW President from May next year.
Some of us have just returned from Israel where we attended the ICJW meeting and Jewish Education Seminar. We organised a tour of our Israel projects to lead into these events. Our projects include ILAN, the Israel Foundation for Children and Young Adults with Handicaps, where we dedicated plaques in memory of Diana Gelfand z”l and Ray Ginsburg z”l. We visited MICHA, where they have dedicated a plaque to NCJWA for our support of the Hearing Aid Loan program. We visited Haifa University where we dedicated a plaque in memory of Dr Geulah Solomon z”l, who established the Ethiopian Women’s Fund and we met many of the young women who benefitted from our support. We also visited the Haifa Rape Crisis Centre and spent 2 days with JNF looking at possible future projects and we dedicated our latest JNF project, a playground at Golda Park in the Negev. This is part of the Anzac Trail that follows the route the Anzacs took in World War I. Golda Park was their last stop before their charge on Beersheba which they took from the Turks. This dedication took place on Anzac Day, which was a very fitting way to commemorate the day.
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We were also invited to a reception at the Australian Ambassador, Andrea Faulkner’s residence, which was a wonderful experience. All tour participants found the visits to our projects gave us the ideal opportunity to meet our project partners and the people we are working so hard to support. It gave us a clearer understanding of where our fundraising goes and a tangible connection to Israel and our projects.
Earlier this week we were thrilled to find that two of our National members have been awarded Medals in the Order of Australia in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. They join a large group of NCJWA women who have been honoured in this way. If I may boast about our achievements, all of our 11 National Presidents and a further 9 members of our National executive have been recognised with Australian Honours for their contributions to the community. This is a very impressive record and one that I don’t think would be equalled by many, if any, organisations.
As our founder Dr Fanny Reading said:
[quotes]Women Working Together Can Achieve Anything[/quotes]