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WIZO holds international conference in Israel
By DANIELLE ZIRI
11/18/2012
Tel Aviv seminar for group's younger branch aims to promote and cultivate young Jewish women’s leadership abroad.
 
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 world.

“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 donor.”

“We also make friends and feel part of something. It’s fund-raising and ‘friend-raising,’ like social networking.

Actually, I think Jews should be credited as the original networkers.

We’ve been 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.”

“We’re 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 across Israel.

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 influences everyone.”

“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 sisterhood.

It’s beautiful to meet sisters from around the world. I feel that in growing our bond, we grow our connection to Israel.”

The group 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 seminar.

“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.
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