Emunah: Zionist women providing support in Israel for over 80 years

The Zionist religious women’s organization’s accomplishments in Israel have taken many forms over the years, since it was established over 80 years ago.

 AMONG THE students who graduate from the Emunah high schools are girls from the Ethiopian Israeli community. (photo credit: Courtesy Emunah)
AMONG THE students who graduate from the Emunah high schools are girls from the Ethiopian Israeli community.
(photo credit: Courtesy Emunah)

Almost a year ago, I began working for an organization I knew very little about. I had always heard of Hadassah and the Hadassah ladies but never about Emunah. The more I learned about this incredible organization, the more proud I became to be a part of it, responsible for all the English-speaking volunteers of Greater Jerusalem. 

A couple of the women who have been involved in the organization for many years spoke of how it all got started and its impact on the Jewish people of Israel today. Let us begin with Nili Eisen’s story of her remarkable mother, who in essence laid the foundation of today’s Emunah organization.

The origins of Emunah among Zionist religious women in the 1930s

“In the early 1930s Zionist religious women were at the bottom of the ladder. The Zionist movement encouraged pioneers to get agricultural training in rural areas in Poland so as to move to Palestine and assist in building up the Jewish state. After living in a community for two or three years, some of them received certificates and were able to immigrate to Palestine. The British Mandate released only a few thousand certificates, while the demand was enormous. Religious Zionist women had no chance of receiving any of them.

“My mother, Gitle Ruchel, decided to change the situation,” explains Eisen. “She was a member of a young Zionist religious women’s organization called Bruria. Their purpose was to give women the opportunity to be independent and control their own lives. They believed that women could be active leaders in the Zionist movement and share the same rights and duties as men. Henceforth, she wanted to get certificates for young religious women to make aliyah. She was told by the Mizrachi movement in Poland that they weren’t going to waste certificates on women. They needed them for strong young religious Zionists who could work on the land. She asked, ‘But who will they marry?’”

 A COUNSELOR embraces a child in a crisis center. (credit: Courtesy Emunah) A COUNSELOR embraces a child in a crisis center. (credit: Courtesy Emunah)

The men in charge claimed that women could immigrate on fake marriage certificates. “My mother refused to accept it,” Eisen says. “Her father would never allow it. She couldn’t even join the Zionist communities in the agricultural training centers because Orthodox parents wouldn’t let their daughters be far from home before they got married.” 

Eisen continues, “Finally, she decided to establish an urban kibbutz in Poland for Zionist religious women. She claimed that the Land of Israel needed professionals and not only farmers. She convinced eight girls to join her. She rented a house in her shtetl, Rembertow, bought eight sewing machines, eight beds, tables and chairs, and they got started. All the girls had graduated from a vocational school, so they could sew very well. My mother could run the place financially, as she had previously worked in a bank. They worked from morning till evening. At night they studied Hebrew, religious philosophy, Jewish history, the Bible and the press.

“After a year and a half, when she still received no recognition, she decided to solve the problem in an unconventional way. She called a press conference in the ‘kibbutz’ in Rembertow. She invited the journalists of the leading Jewish newspapers in Warsaw, as well as the representatives of the various Zionist organizations. They all arrived and were deeply impressed by the thorough training the girls received. She brought nine more girls from Warsaw to show that the kibbutz was bigger. Her slogan was ‘You leave a home to build a home in Eretz Yisrael.’ In the end, she succeeded in receiving 17 certificates, and all the girls came on aliyah.

“They arrived in Tel Aviv, where they continued the urban kibbutz. This organization of women workers was called Hapoel Hamizrachi. This was the organization that later united with the women of the Mizrachi and formed the organization of Emunah.” 

"This organization of women workers was called Hapoel Hamizrachi. This was the organization that later united with the women of the Mizrachi and formed the organization of Emunah."

Nili Eisen

Deena Sattler, another active member of Emunah for over 20 years, explains that the credo of Emunah is to help the people of Israel to settle, live, learn, earn and be a successful part of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. 

In the beginning, over 80 years ago, Emunah women realized that there would be orphans who survived the Holocaust arriving in Palestine. Immigrant children, arriving before or without their parents, in addition to children from dysfunctional homes, were all sent to the Emunah residential homes. These homes were run by families, including young married couples with children, in order to provide family settings for these children. Later, Emunah began its collaboration with the Welfare Ministry. The children were provided with every opportunity to succeed. And succeed they did! Food, clothing, medical and dental care, psychological care, if necessary, after-school tutoring, and activities such as animal therapy, plant therapy, art and music therapy were all provided by Emunah.

Adult Holocaust survivors, young women and men were assisted by being provided with free kosher food and respectable work opportunities for them to earn a living. When they realized that the women couldn’t work unless their children were taken care of, Emunah opened the first daycare centers in Palestine, providing a Jewish educational environment. This developed into a network of daycare centers for the children who could live at home.

Emunah’s five residential schools are seeing the results when their children graduate and go on to the army or National Service. A few have even come back to the home they grew up in to do their National Service and thus give back.

Emunah is helping to make good Israeli citizens out of children who otherwise would likely have ended up on the edge of, or even outside of, normative Israeli society.

What is Emunah doing in Israel today?

Today, Emunah Israel runs five residential homes for children who have been removed from their families by court order due to physical, mental and/or sexual abuse, major familial dysfunction or the illness and/or death of a parent(s). These facilities offer a safe and loving home to more than 800 children, ranging in age from six to 18. Each child is given extensive support services, including counseling and therapy, to help break the cycle of dysfunction and trauma they have experienced. Here is a link to a film about one of the children’s homes, Neveh Landy: https://youtu.be/cEt6e65MiJE

Emunah supports 11 family therapy and emergency crisis counseling centers, serving individuals and families undergoing emotional and mental distress, including one in Sderot dealing with the trauma of frequent rocket attacks. In addition, Emunah maintains one of Israel’s largest networks of subsidized childcare centers, with over 8,000 children attending 125 centers. Recently, Emunah opened a domestic violence shelter for mothers and their children. 

Emunah finances 11 specialized “multipurpose” daycare centers. These centers provide extended services, such as family counseling, parenting workshops and specialized enrichment programs for at-risk children from economically disadvantaged single-parent homes.

Aware of the need for quality religious and secular education, Emunah subsidizes four all-female high schools and a liberal arts college. More than 1,100 students attend, many from poverty-stricken, immigrant and refugee homes. Emunah also maintains a senior-friendly eating-together program, providing social engagement and meals for Holocaust survivors and the elderly. ❖

For more information on how you can get involved with Emunah, join us for our upcoming events. Contact me at (02) 563-9963 ext. 4 or [email protected]/. Learn more about Emunah: www.worldemunah.org

Upcoming events

Here are some of the upcoming events that members of the Jerusalem community are invited to attend:

  • On Sunday, September 11, at 7:30 p.m., in “An Interactive Conversation with Greer Fay Cashman,” The Jerusalem Post’s longtime writer will speak about her career and some of the fascinating people she’s interviewed, and then will open the program to questions from the audience. The talk will take place at Emunah Jerusalem, 6 Arlosoroff Street, Rehavia. 
  • On Thursday, September 29, an Ethiopian Cultural Fair will focus on the beauty of the unique Ethiopian culture that this community has brought to Israel.

When Operation Moshe and Operation Solomon took place, bringing thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, Emunah provided the boots on the ground. The children were absorbed into daycare centers and, for those in need, residential homes. Parents were given support with much-needed supplies, as well as emotional support through family visits and counseling.

One famous story is of Rabbi Sharon Shalom, Israel’s first ordained Ethiopian Orthodox rabbi, who was among the children taken in by one of the Emunah homes. Years later, when it was discovered that his parents were in fact alive, Emunah facilitated the reunification. 

For a short clip of this incredible story: 

Showcasing this remarkable community and Emunah’s connection to it, the event will feature traditional Ethiopian food, dance, theater, art, music and film, all focused on Ethiopian culture and Jewish history. 

  • Emunah will be on the receiving end of entertainment from my annual Woodstock Festival, this one taking place on September 15 at the Silo Café adjacent to the First Station. The lineup includes Libi and the Flashback – the first rock band in Israel to feature a female singer – and a Santana and Grateful Dead tribute band. 
  • Emunah will turn its “Good As New Clothing” sale into a fair at the Silo Café on November 8, with an exciting day lined up.