The WIZO Israel 25th Quadrennial Conference opened this month at the Kfar Maccabiah Conference Center in the city of Ramat Gan. Hundreds of WIZO members and volunteers from the 55 local branches throughout Israel gathered for two days of discussions and presentations dealing with the promotion of gender equality in Israel and the strengthening of underprivileged and at-risk communities – issues that WIZO Israel deals with through hundreds of programs and services, including boarding schools, foster homes, women's shelters and many more.
The purpose of the conference, every four years, is to establish official WIZO Israel policies and goals for the upcoming four years as well as to make collective decisions and establish new projects in the fields of women's empowerment, the protection of women at risk, underprivileged youth, among others. Furthermore, one of the main goals of the conference is to give recognition to the invaluable work of the WIZO volunteers - the ones who, on the ground level, answer the needs of all of the communities that WIZO caters to.
Before the conference's official opening ceremony, hundreds of old and new friends caught up over coffee. The morning's events included speeches delivered by some of WIZO's greatest leaders. Ninety-six-year-old Raya Jaglom, the Honorary Life President of World WIZO, told the story of how she joined WIZO in 1941, signing up at Tel Aviv Branch #2 and subsequently spent her greatest years as a part of the organization. "I learned a lot at WIZO," said Jaglom. "I would like the strength of WIZO to be recognized around the world. I hope that whoever comes after me will accomplish a lot more than I did and continue on the path."
Honorary Life President of World WIZO, Helena Glaser, opened her comments with a heart-warming observation, "I see a lot of new faces that I don't recognize – and that's great. It means that new people are joining the organization and that WIZO is growing." She also addressed the fact that WIZO chaverot have managed to open up the discussion about gender equality in Israel, which is light years ahead of the dismal situation of women in many neighboring countries and around the world. Tova Ben Dov, the current President of World WIZO Executive, opened her remarks by sending condolences to the families of individuals killed during recent terror attacks in Jerusalem and around the country and adding that WIZO is "an island of sanity in a crazy world. The women of WIZO, need to stay strong and continue working." She went on to declare that WIZO is, in her opinion, Israel's first "startup" and one of its greatest change agents. "We cannot forget that until now, Israel certainly did not grow and develop because of its natural resources. Its human resources made it great, and WIZO has always been a part of that."
Professor Rivka Lazovsky, Chairperson of the World WIZO Executive, spoke one day ahead of a mission to Brazil to meet with and support, inform and encourage the great work of the chaverot of local WIZO chapters in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Porto Alegre, told the audience that she was "born into WIZO," the third generation of WIZO leadership in her own family, having ben preceded by both her mother and grandmother, in South America and pre-war Europe. She touchingly shared her view that "The role of a leader is to leave behind her a generation of leaders." She went on to share her view that WIZO is a sisterhood of women who love, support and cooperate, as well as the best PR Israel could ask for. "You, the WIZO chaverot in Israel, practically implement WIZO's vision." Prof. Lazovsky added that, with its work on behalf of Israeli society, WIZO strengthens Israel and the Jewish people. "A strong nation represents security for Jews living in the Diaspora, who currently suffer from rising anti-Semitism. "Since starting my work at WIZO, I have tried to grow the organization into the leading social movement in Israel – both efficient and adhering to according to a strict code of ethics." She emphasized that WIZO's volunteers are "the beating heart of the organization" that she wants to continue to grow into the most significant in Israel.
Gila Oshrat, Chairperson of WIZO Israel, presented her report summarizing the work and accomplishments of WIZO Israel during the last four years of her guidance. She made clear how WIZO had indeed been tied to the milestones of the tumultuous time period, from the social justice protests of 2011 to the very recent sexual assault of a woman at the "Allenby 40" nightclub in Tel Aviv. After a detailed report on the wide array of WIZO projects throughout Israel, she concluded by stating that WIZO Israel's goals for the next four years were to lobby for surrogacy rights, open special courts to deal with family violence, obtain government subsidized daycare for children aged three and up, and to continue to promote gender equality in the education system.
Brigadier General Racheli Tevet-Wiesel, the IDF Chief of Staff's Advisor on Women's Issues, was one of the keynote speakers at the event. She discussed the empowerment of female soldiers throughout all branches of the Israel Defense Forces, and the fact that the military is constantly trying to better tap the potential of female soldiers, which remains a challenge, as well as to increase the representation of women in technological and combat fields. "The primary goal of the IDF is to win wars. I believe, however, that the goal can be better achieved with gender equality," said Tevet-Wiesel.
After the moving opening speeches, the day continued with panel discussions honored by the participation of Israeli mayors, WIZO Israel branch chairs, and representatives from WIZO's many partner organizations. Subjects included WIZO's contribution to Israeli society and strengthening Israel's weaker communities.
Following a long day of discussions and the official approvals of work plans for each WIZO department, WIZO members gathered for an exciting evening gala event. The evening opened with a the words of Haim Katz, Israel's Minister of Welfare, who moved the audience with his speech about the power of the feminine spirit, the great contribution of WIZO to the betterment of many levels of Israeli society and the significance of WIZO's volunteers and members within the framework of its efforts, in Israel and abroad.
The evening's highlights were the screening of several touching films portraying the activity of WIZO Israel as well as performances by Israeli musicians. Perhaps the most moving moment of the event was the giving of a life achievement award to the Director of the WIZO Pardes Katz Branch, Racheli Mangoli, in appreciation of her work to improve the lives of local children, including many children of Ethiopian immigrant families. Ms. Mangoli has managed the local branch for many years with determination and consistency, making the neighborhood's Ethiopian children her whole world. In the course of her career she has managed to create many collaborations with local government and other organizations in order to increase the childrens' educational, social and personal opportunities.
WIZO members and volunteers came away from the conference moved, excited and filled with energy for four more years of effort on behalf on Israeli society. We wish good luck to them and to WIZO!