The Women’s International Zionist Organization held an international conference
in Tel Aviv last week for its younger “Aviv” branch, aimed at promoting and
cultivating young Jewish women’s leadership abroad.
WIZO, which works for
the advancement of the status of women in Israeli society, held the week-long
seminar for 42 participants, who came from Jewish communities in 10 different
countries including Australia, Brazil, Finland, India, Mexico, Panama, South
Africa, Sweden, the UK and the US.
Discussions involved community
organizing, fund-raising and advocacy for Israel and the Jewish
“You are strong capable women who are doing something for
something they believe in. You can use your network to spread information in a
positive way. You can reach people in your countries that the embassy can’t,”
said a Foreign Ministry representative in a lecture about Israel advocacy given
on Thursday, the conference’s last day.
In the room among the attendees
sat Laurienne Baitz of South Africa, who joined WIZO six years ago after a
friend had introduced her to its activities. Today, she is cochairwoman of the
Aviv chapter abroad.
Like her, women who are members of the Aviv branch
work in their respective countries to raise money for women and children in
Israel as well as to advocate for the country.
Baitz explained that she
deeply enjoys attending the organization’s gathering in Israel. “It’s so
empowering to come and see where the money goes, who are the recipients of the
hard work that we do,” she said.
“It’s an important thing to see and be
moved by the stories, to see with our own eyes.
We’re women, we’re
emotional, we want to feel the connection.
The only return we want is to
have tears rolling down our cheeks with joy and see that we doing something,
that we are fixing people’s lives,” Baitz added with passion.
Back in her
home of Durban, some of her fund-raising activities include golf challenges,
gambling nights and entertainment nights in support of Israel.
“I try to
put the ‘fun’ back into fund-raising,” she said enthusiastically. “It’s very
important for people to have fun in order to be a sponsor or a
“We also make friends and feel part of something. It’s
fund-raising and ‘friend-raising,’ like social networking.
think Jews should be credited as the original networkers.
doing it forever!” she continued.
As for advocating for Israel, Baitz
explains she came to the seminar to “share ideas and learn tools in order to
impact their communities.”
“We not only live in the Diaspora and
sometimes encounter anti-Semitism in our countries, but we also watch our
children be less and less connected to Israel.”
Tova Ben-Dov, president
of WIZO in Israel, told The Jerusalem Post she feels proud of the Aviv women’s
dedication to the country. “It gives me a lot of hope. They are the future and
the future is now,” she said. “Our job is to strengthen them, empower them and
give them the tools and confidence to deal with what goes on out there in the
world regarding Israel.”
Ben-Dov has been working voluntarily with WIZO
for 47 years and calls the organization “the factory of life.”
still building this country, it’s not done yet.
There is a lot more to
do,” she said.
The organization, which generates about NIS 700 million
each year, operates hundreds of education and welfare projects and services
Ben-Dov strongly believes in women’s ability to bring
about positive change: “I always say: give a man education, you educated one
individual; give education to a woman, you educate a whole family. She
“I think that the combination of logic and emotion
is a winning combination,” she said, “Women would had made world peace much
faster, if you ask me.”
Throughout her journey with WIZO, Baitz has
developed friendships with the other Aviv women: “We’re a
It’s beautiful to meet sisters from around the world. I feel
that in growing our bond, we grow our connection to Israel.”
had been booked to visit Ashdod and Beersheba last Wednesday, but in light of
the escalation in the region, had to cancel the trip and go on with the
“If we weren’t here these days, we’d be sitting at home thinking
‘Oh my God, is everybody alright?’ But being here and getting on with our lives,
we feel like we are part of Israel,” Baitz said.