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International Women’s Day 2015

In Honor of International Women’s Day, WIZO Salutes Four WIZO Volunteers

March 08, 2015

Written by: Zohar Friedman

WIZO works tirelessly to advance the status of women, reduce social disparities and create equal opportunities for teenagers and children at-risk. This vital work is made possible by a large network of devoted volunteers around the world. Especially in the era of ‘Generation Y,’ where the value and culture of volunteerism is gradually disappearing, we asked four WIZO volunteers from Israel and abroad to tell us about their personal backgrounds, what motivates them to contribute, and what volunteerism means to them.

Jenny Weisz, Chairperson, WIZO Nahariya, WIZO volunteer for eight years

Jenny sAge: 68

Marital Status: Married with two daughters and four grandchildren

Jenny has a BAin Music and MA in English. “I taught piano for 35 years at a conservatory and nearing my retirement I entered politics almost accidentally after I sent a letter to one of the political party heads. He immediately recruited me to become active, and through his recommendation I became a member of the regional council of Nahariya where I was responsible for education and culture, and I even ran for mayor.”

WIZO and Me - how did it all begin?   
One day I went out to the country club in Nahariya and a friend told me that there were lectures and trips at WIZO, so I decided to go along and find out more. On that first visit they already suggested I volunteer at the legal bureau, and a month later they offered me the position of chairperson of the branch. Of course I agreed and left my position at the municipality. It was a huge challenge for me, and while I didn’t understand exactly where I was headed, I decided to step up to the plate and since then I’ve fallen in love with the work. Today, there are more than 100 volunteers donating their time to the branch and I am finishing my second term as chairperson. At the beginning of the year, WIZO Israel approached me and asked me to continue as chairperson for another two years, and of course I agreed. I see a big responsibility in finding the right person to replace me, and to make sure everything we have worked for isn’t lost.

I’ve come a long way in learning what "WIZOlogy" is - belonging to an organization with which I very much identify and trying to pass my love for the organization in all ways possible, either through our activities or through various kinds of publicity, including developing partnerships with other organizations in the city, and using any opportunity I have to talk about WIZO and how important it is to volunteer - both generally and at WIZO specifically. Today, we’ve become so famous in Nahariya as an educational and cultural center, that we were offered the opportunity to participate in a project called "Partnership 2000" - a national initiative run in cooperation with the United States. In Nahariya, they are opening a new department for women’s health, and the hospital management suggested we take part, and because the subject is close to our hearts we agreed.

What does volunteerism mean to me?
I have been active all my life - since I was a girl. As someone who was denied aliya from the Soviet Union, I was very active on the issue of Zionism and I was always surrounded by people who needed me, and it gave me satisfaction and confidence. Apparently, my age hasn’t caught up with me because I’m still looking for challenges. While I still have this energy, I hope that I can continue to contribute and enjoy contributing.

We are people who have academic degrees, people who have accomplished a lot in our lives, and when we look around us and see people that need help, we want to provide that help. The drive comes from unexpected places, from coincidences, that's fate and the chance happenings that brought me here.  

My happiest WIZO memory
There are so many happy moments – here are just two of them. One of them is the time we opened our doors to special-needs children who wanted to volunteer at the branch, and they came and hugged me and said that they loved me and WIZO. That was an especially moving moment. The second moment was two years ago: we had a group of young female leaders and when they finished their course, the girls, together with their coach, each wrote a note about their personal expectations and where they saw themselves in another 20 years. They put the notes into a bottle and buried it in the yard of the branch; we put a sign over it with their signatures and a few words that said each girl was responsible for her text and also for a ceremony in 20 years' time when they’ll open the bottle. That was extremely moving.

Rachel Shpigel, Chairperson, WIZO Eilat, WIZO volunteer for three years

RachelShpigel sAge: 65

Marital Status: Married with 3 children and 2 grandchildren

I came from the world of education, where I managed two schools, one for special education and an elementary school. I retired after 35 years. I have an MA in educational management and education, and over the years I did enrichment courses on innovative education programs and pedagogical developments.

WIZO and me - how did it all begin?
About three years ago, a year after I retired, the deputy of the WIZO Eilat Branch, Mrs. Esther Bloch, who was my children’s day care teacher and I knew from the past, called me and asked me if I would take on the position of chairperson of WIZO Eilat. After a number of phone conversations and explanations, and a meeting with Gila Oshrat, Chairperson of WIZO Israel, I agreed. I was educated in a home to value giving and volunteerism, and as we have inherited these values, we pass them onto our children. Throughout my entire life, volunteerism has been one of my highest values and I believe that only someone who rates volunteering at such a high level, can be part of WIZO.

What does volunteering mean to me?
My wish for all of us is to be on the giving end - and more than that, volunteering is interesting and creates new connections, and it’s a wonderful example for my children.

My happiest WIZO memory
One of my happiest moments was when we received the award for the year's most Outstanding Volunteer Organization in Eilat from Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevi and the Miller family, who hold the ceremony every year in the name of their daughter, who passed away. This is recognition and appreciation for our work in the community and helps publicize WIZO Eilat's diverse work. It was good for everyone.

Of course, there are also smaller moments that are extremely meaningful - when a woman stands in front of you and you feel you’ve helped her, that she started in one place and reached another place, that she made the right choices and got the right tools in order to improve her life. On the bottom line, that’s what we’re here for and that gives enormous satisfaction.

Rachel Shnay, WIZO NY Board member, Social Media Chair

RachelShnay sAge: 25

Marital Status: Single

I am also a life coach and private Hebrew/Torah teacher in New York City. I have been involved with WIZO my whole life but have taken leadership roles in the past few years.

WIZO and me – how did it all begin?
I grew up in a very Zionistic home. My grandparents are all Holocaust survivors and after surviving Auschwitz, my grandfather was in the Hagana and eventually a founder of the Israeli Air Force. My parents have always instilled a strong love for Israel and passion for Jewish values in our everyday life. Ever since I can remember, WIZO has served as a common theme in my life and has helped to ensure my involvement in not only the welfare of Israeli women, children and families but in my own community as well. A last minute, spontaneous phone call to WIZO USA Co-President, Gail Perl, got me on a beshert WIZO trip to Budapest which catapulted me into a sea of WIZO wonder women which led to fun projects, a new Instagram account (follow @wizonyc), a constant feeling of fulfilment, a network of like-minded Zionists around the world and most importantly a group of amazing, talented and supportive women available right here in my backyard.

What does volunteering mean to me?
I have absolutely loved every minute of being involved with WIZO. The Torah says, Emor me'at ve'ose harbeh- "say little and do much." I have tried to make this a way of life, I am always trying to do more, inspire more, help more, and WIZO allows me to channel my energy into something great. Whether it be teaching a challah class, coordinating volunteers in WIZO centers or traveling across the world, WIZO has something to offer for everyone. I feel that I have experienced countless and unforgettable moments and trips simply because I am a WIZO woman. I give back because it makes me happy but most importantly, I give back because doing mitzvahs gives me infinitely more in return. Offering my time to help others allows me to find clarity and fulfilment that may be lost in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

WIZO has also helped me forge the path to my current career. It is because of the WIZO women that I was able to build the confidence to combine my love for Israel, Judaism, Torah and education, fill a much-needed niche and build a business. Although our lives constantly remain a work in progress, I thank Hashem that I am now an educator and I am dedicating my career to instilling Jewish values, embracing Jewish identities and ensuring Jewish continuity. Volunteering at WIZO has been the main path that has guided me through all of my life endeavors.

My happiest WIZO memory
My happiest WIZO memory would have to be our recent trip to Poland to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. "Happy" may not be the right word, rather truly unbelievable, awe-inspiring and life changing. I feel so honored and fortunate to have arranged the trip in which we took 60 WIZO delegates from New York, including my family and my grandfather, a survivor of Auschwitz, who was honored at the ceremony. Attending the trip with 102 survivors from around the world has left an everlasting mark on my heart and soul, one in which I know will serve as a constant reminder of the horrors we experienced and that we have overcome. My hands will forever be willing and grateful, my eyes will forever acknowledge the beauty even in the most mundane, my ears will forever sing to the sound of freedom, my mouth will forever speak words of gratitude and I will always appreciate every breath and every step. Whether in NY, Australia, Venezuela, England or Israel, WIZO women have a common thread and unique bond of sisterhood that spans generations and oceans; I feel so thankful, lucky and blessed to be a part of this movement.

Helena Kelner, President WIZO Brazil, WIZO member 50 years

HelenaKelner1 sAge: 70

Marital Status: Married

Profession: I work professionally as a hospital materials saleswoman.  My professional job runs in parallel with my voluntary work in WIZO. I started as an Aviv volunteer in a local group in the Ramat Aviv Chapter in Rio de Janeiro.,

WIZO and me – how did it all begin?

I started at WIZO when I was 20-years-old. At that time, I had lost my newborn baby and was extremely unhappy. I discovered, through WIZO’s work, the happiness of helping children and people less fortunate than myself. Since then, WIZO has always been a part of my life. Throughout all this time, I have worked actively and enjoyed every minute of it.

What does volunteering mean to me?

I was raised in a traditional, Zionist home. Since my childhood, I’ve built my Zionist identity. Volunteer work was always meaningful for my family. I was educated hearing about the basis of Zionism and the core of helping others.

Volunteering my time to WIZO is important to me because the work is connected to Israel, providing welfare for women, children and the elderly, as well as strengthening the ties between Israel and the Diaspora

Volunteerism is also extremely important in my family. My mother was an activist for Na’amat and helped the Jewish home for elderly people. My husband, Sylvio, was vice-president of FIERJ, the Jewish Federation of the State of Rio de Janeiro, lawyer to the Israeli Embassy in Brazil, and an advocate for several other Jewish institutions. All my three children work for Jewish causes. They followed the example they had at home. Volunteerism is important as it allows us to both give and receive. It fulfils our lives.

My happiest WIZO memory

My happiest WIZO moment was being elected WIZO Brazil Federation president, allowing me to work towards achieving WIZO’s goals even more than before.