This Jerusalem Day, we celebrate the liberation of Jerusalem by remembering the pioneering WIZO women's important social welfare work in Jerusalem.
Their work began as early as the 1920s and continued as Jewish refugees and olim (Jewish immigrants) from North Africa, the Holocaust and the Arab world slowly began to pour into what was then Palestine. In this challenging climate of migration and displacement, abandoned babies and infants made up a large percentage of the victims and casualties of this turbulent time. Thus, the work of these WIZO pioneers took shape in the form of the Baby Home.
The original Jerusalem Baby Home [the forerunner of today's Rebecca Sieff Center for the Family] was established in 1924 in Sha'arei Chesed by the famous WIZO woman and legendary physician Dr. Helena Kagan. An Israel Prize winner in 1965 for her “special contribution to the welfare of the state and society," Dr. Kagan's life's work included providing medical training to both Arab and Jewish nurses, providing pediatric services to children of all religions, and generally expanding health care in Israel. The Baby Home was one of Dr. Kagan's major pre-state initiatives, and with the aid of other WIZO women, she succeeded in impacting and saving the lives of thousands of children.
Today, the Rebecca Sieff Center for the Family provides the Jerusalem community with a variety of important services. These include a day care center with over 300 toddlers and children and the Beit Hakerem Vocational School, where teenagers train in hairdressing, carpentry, cookery and childcare. The center also provides services for the prevention and treatment of domestic violence.
The following are three stories of children who were cared for by the home, written by Rosa Wollstein, the matron of the WIZO Baby Home, from the Jewish Woman's Review [UK, December 1949].
A few short but typical cases illustrate aptly my twenty-five years' work.
Twenty-two years ago, Rabbi Kuk found a tiny new-born baby on his doorstep and he brought her to our home. Little Shulamith's mother, terrified lest she should be ostracized by her orthodox neighbors, had abandoned her illegitimate child a few days after its birth. It was with the greatest difficulty that we reared the child and yet when we handed her over to her foster parents who adopted her at the age of 18 months and took her to live in their comfortable home in Tel Aviv, she was a normal healthy baby. Two years ago, the girl came to me with her fiancé. Her foster parents had told her, as she now wished to marry, about her origin. The two young people, both of them strong, healthy and extremely good looking, came to ask me if Shulamith's parent's had been healthy. Fortunately, we were able to give them a satisfactory answer and now they are happily married.
Lulu was another interesting case. She was a tiny motherless infant, when she came to us. She was brought to Palestine from Persia by her grandparents and remained in our care for four years. We were then fortunate enough to get her admitted to a children's village, where she remained until she was 18 years of age, when she went to the WIZO Agricultural School at Nahalal. After she left Nahalal, she married a very charming young man who unfortunately was killed during the war against the Arabs. Their baby boy, "our grandchild," is now in our home.
The last baby about whom I want to tell you is Eli, who came to Palestine from Algiers with his parents and older sister in 1929. His parents, decent hard-working people, were unable to find work in this country and his mother in despair committed suicide, leaving a letter in which she expressed her conviction that orphans in Palestine would not be left to want. Eli's father brought the young baby to us and took his little daughter to an orphanage. When he was four years old, we succeeded in sending him to Ben Shemen. He proved to be so intelligent that he was later granted a free place at the Kadoorie School. Now he is in the army and he visits his foster mother Rosa whenever he is on leave.