International Council of Jewish Women, more than one hundred years old, is an umbrella organisation incorporating Jewish women’s organisations and members from thirty five countries. ICJW’s wide span covers five regional areas, from Europe and North America to South America, Asia Pacific, Israel and South Africa.
Several affiliates of ICJW are themselves umbrella organisations, thus in Israel the international organisation includes eight organisations, up to one million women; there are over thirty organisations in Germany, and a handful of organisations in Belgium .
Many ICJW affiliate organisations have multiple branches of their organisation , as does NCJWA, in various cities around their country. A number similarly call themselves NATIONAL COUNCIL OF JEWISH WOMEN such as NCJW USA which has more than fifty thousand members and NCJW Canada which in October will celebrate its 120th anniversary. The organisation in U.K. Is called the League of Jewish Women and in South Africa the Union of Jewish Women – each supports branches in different cities in their country.
At the other end of the scale, there are in ICJW many tiny organisations of Jewish women , generally resultant of the scourge of Jews throughout Europe from 1930s. These brave little organisations such as in Hungary, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Georgia , Slovakia and Poland , make strong representations to their secular communities, their interfaith bodies and often to their governments on behalf of all Jews in their communities. ICJW has the greatest respect for our affiliates and their staunch leaders in such countries where again we see the rise of antisemitism, unfortunately sometimes at the governmental level.
I was delighted that at my recent Executive meeting in Israel we were able to hear leaders from each of these organisations speak about their work in their Jewish community.
Within ICJW there are affiliates from post – communist countries – so in Russia we have a strong organisation called HAVA which flourishes in 35 cities – this typifies the young, or new, Jewish communities which have been able to arise only after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Similarly with our affiliate in Ukraine.
Jewish women being, as you would agree, resourceful and energetic, have grown and maintained organisations within Jewish communities in South American countries and in Cuba and Mexico. Our affiliate organisations there are Spanish – speaking , thus ICJW produces its documents in Spanish as well as in English and Russian. In my visits to twenty four different affiliates over the past three years I have included Panama, Colombia, Mexico, and Cuba from that region .
As well as the maintenance of our affiliate organisations, International Council of Jewish Women has a broader , political side . When I began my presidency three years ago I made an effort to educate myself in this area, beginning with attending sessions of the Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2014 – it was a worthwhile and edifying experience. Since then I have attended the Commission on the Status of Women at the UN in New York in 2015 and 2017. CSW is held in and around NY UN for two weeks each March, attracting hundreds of NGOs and around eight thousand delegates, mostly women. Sessions run from early morning to night, with 8 or ten sessions held simultaneously throughout the day. I am certain that there is no greater concentration on rights for women anywhere than at the Commission on the Status of Women.
Thus I have briefly experienced the work that ICJW’s UN NGO accredited representatives do all year round. We have five UN representatives in New York, two in Geneva, two in Vienna and four at UNESCO in Paris. Each is a member of ICJW Executive and sends full reports of her attendance at the many meetings which NGO organisations can attend and contribute to. Some of our representatives are also part of the UN NGO committees and thus extra effective in their work. In every case our ICJW representatives work in support of all women globally, as well as standing up for Jewish causes and Israel. They have said to me that ICJW is the only Jewish organisation which maintains this broad cover on behalf of all women – WIZO and Bnai Brith will turn up in defence of Israel but have a much less broad portfolio.
So having spoken about ICJW in a general way I will now speak about the organisation’s events and meetings.
Most recent was the Jewish women’s Education Seminar known as the ICJW Herczeg Seminar, named for its benefactors Rosita and Esteban de Herczeg of blessed memory. Held in Israel every four years – this time Tel Aviv – the purpose of the Herczeg Seminar is to broaden our knowledge of Judaism . As Chair of this Herczeg I decided we would learn more about Israel itself , and explore best practice in several of Israel’s policies – thus the title STRIVING FOR THE HIGHEST – FROM IDEALS TO REALITY IN ISRAEL. The sub theme was JEWISH WISDOM AND WOMEN’S PERSPECTIVES CREATING NEW POSSIBILITIES.
70 women attended the seminar which ran for four days . Centred in Tel Aviv , with one day in Haifa , delegates from fifteen countries heard high level speakers on a number of topics related to ICJW’s Program policies – which to some extent are also the policies of NCJWA.
In designing this seminar I was fortunate to have assistance from a couple of capable ICJW Executive members , Anne Morris and Mary Liling – Mary and her son Jean – Marc seem to have personal relationships with many outstanding Israelis and helpfully introduced them to ICJW, thus enabling the seminar to present some excellent speakers .
The focus of the seminar, as its title suggests, was to learn about the inspirational ideas and actions which Israel can deliver to the world. And it certainly highlighted a number of Israel’s world class organisations, both governmental and community – led. In this way we deepened our knowledge of the concepts that ICJW policies are based on , locating their foundation in Jewish wisdom.
Summing up the content of this seminar is not an easy matter but here are a few comments from my notes:
FAMILY LAW AND THE GENDER WAR
Professor Daphne Hacker spoke about the growing imbalance of rights between the sexes in Israel , with the alarming rise of manipulative men’s organisations. Active right up to the Knesset and the UN , with groups established there to lobby and to speak to the media, these groups are frequently dishonest in their claims . They have terrorised Israeli family court judges and forced women to endure bad marriages rather than divorce – as often men are getting the children. They dominate the internet – Prof Hacker described the situation as LEGAL TERRORISM
WOMEN’s CONTRIBUTION AND INFLUENCE WITHIN THE PEACE PROCESS –
Unsurprisingly PEACE is a major concern to women in Israel. Jewish women see their daughters as well as their sons serving in the army – there are a number of organisations of women working towards peace. At the seminar we had three women representing three different Peace organisations, including Arab women as well as Jewish women.
One of the organisations goes by the name 1325. 1325 is the number of an important UN Security Council Resolution passed in year 2000 and adopted by Israel five years later. 1325 was the first UN Security Council decision regarding women. It’s platform :
*Women’s participation in Decision Making
*Women’s need for Protection against violence in armed conflict zones
*The inclusion of Gender Perspectives
ISRAEL AND THE UNITED NATIONS
THE SCOURGE OF INTERNATIONAL TRAFFICKING
TODAY’S GLOBAL REFUGEE CRISIS
Rather than comment on every session I will just say that some outstanding speakers addressed us – you can read a report on ICJW Website
ICJW holds an Executive meeting every six months, hosted by a different affiliate in various countries. It is the president’s task to organise each meeting, ideally scattered globally so that Executive members can attend a meeting in their region. Thus in my term of office I have held meetings in New York, Antwerp, Mexico, Nashville, Madrid and Tel Aviv. Later this year we will meet in London and next May in Sydney!
I have pleasure in inviting you , May 2018, to the Quadrennial Convention of International Council of Jewish Women in Sydney at which the new Executive is installed. In the next administration NCJWAustralia will retain a number of Australians on ICJW Executive, the incoming president is from the League of Jewish Women in Britain. I know that you will be interested to meet Jewish women from many countries and as leaders of National Council, to help host them in our country.
Here today at this plenary meeting we have the Coordinators for the ICJW Convention : Di Hirsh and Eva Robey, the NCJWA National Board principals Sylvia Deutsch and Viki Nadel, the NCJWA NSW host team Miri Orden and Anne Reid , ICJW Headquarters Secretary Sunny Gold and the Program organiser, myself. I think it will be a great event – please diarise May 27 – 30 2018.