Raya Jaglom, ex-WIZO president for 26 years, dies at 98

The Romanian-born fundraiser championed kindness.

Former WIZO president Raya Janglom (photo credit: Courtesy)
Former WIZO president Raya Janglom
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The progeny of Joseph and Raya Jaglom have a very good chance of living to a triple- digit age. Joseph died just under a decade ago at age 104, and Raya died on Wednesday of this week at age 98.
Though best known for her long association with WIZO, which spanned close to three quarters of a century, Raya Jaglom was a woman of many interests and achievements with an extraordinary ability to get things done both on an organizational and a personal level.
Though one of Tel Aviv’s leading socialites and a well known figure in international Jewish circles, she was not a snob, and did many individual kindnesses for people who were far removed from her economic status, including for the writer of this memoir.
Jaglom was greatly concerned that I traveled around the country at night on public transport, and when I was in Tel Aviv, she frequently took me in her luxury car from one function to the next. On the rare occasions that we met someone she didn’t know, she didn’t wait for me to introduce her, but with a grin on her face announced, “I’m her driver.”
When going to a destination where she couldn’t park her car, Jaglom sometimes used the services of a taxi driver. She did occasionally go by cab, but she preferred that he would drive her car, rather than she sit in his.
In June 2001, when Hamas mounted a terrorist attack on the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium, a popular meeting place for young men and women, 21 people were killed, 16 of them teenagers, most of them sons and daughters of recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Jaglom, who spoke several languages including Russian, stuffed envelopes with bank notes, secured the addresses of the shocked and grieving families, called her taxi driver friend and had him take her to the homes of each of the families where she spoke to them in Russian, offered her condolences and any help they might need, and left one of the envelopes on a table.
Four years earlier, when her good friend fashion designer Lola Beer Ebner was seriously ill, Jaglom sat by her bedside and literally held her hand until she died.
Lola Beer was a couture designer and Jaglom loved to tell the story about the time when at the height of Israel’s austerity period, it was virtually impossible to get decent fabric from which to fashion clothing. But Beer was determined to create a new outfit for Jaglom, and so she bought curtain fabric, which she lined with whatever was available.
The result, as Jaglom recalled it, was stunning. The irony is that the lace so prevalent in today’s fashions looks exactly like curtain fabric. Both Beer and Jaglom would have had a good laugh.
If Jaglom was aware that someone she knew didn’t have sufficient funds to put food on the table, Jaglom found a way of providing the food without hurting the dignity of the recipient.
Likewise, if someone she worked with in WIZO, or one of the many other organizations in which she was active, was in need of surgery but could not have it done immediately unless she went to a private doctor, Jaglom came to the rescue and paid the bill, and never asked to be repaid.
In her younger years, Jaglom liked to dance, swim, ski and go horse riding. Until she was in her mid-80s, her walk was brisk, and she looked younger than her age. After that she began to slow down until eventually she had to use a wheelchair because she could no longer control her balance. Even though her body betrayed her, her head still worked very well, and among the legacies that she left to the country is the Joseph and Raya Jaglom Auditorium, which was inaugurated in the Senate Building of Tel Aviv University in May 2015.
In April the following year, she almost stole the show from former ambassador to the US Zalman Shoval, her friend and neighbor, when she showed up at the launch of his book Diplomat at the Tel Aviv Museum. Exquisitely groomed and dressed, she drew the attention of many of the other invitees, who had not seen her in a while and were delighted to see how well she looked.
Other than Rebecca Sieff, who was the founding president of WIZO and remained in office for 43 years, Jaglom was the longest-serving president of World WIZO. As Sieff’s protégé she became just as passionate about WIZO, and held a number of executive positions prior to her election in 1970. She remained in office until 1996.
After that she was made an honorary president and retained her interest in WIZO until the end of her days.
She traveled tirelessly around the world to raise money for the building of WIZO daycare centers, schools and a home for senior citizens. She also encouraged Jewish communities abroad to become more involved in Israel-oriented activities and helped to establish many more WIZO branches abroad.
At the invitation of the Soviet government, she led a women’s delegation to the Soviet Union in 1964, and in clandestine meetings with Jews learned of the dire situations in which they found themselves. She later became an ardent activist in the Struggle for Soviet Jewry, serving in a high-ranking capacity in several organizations dedicated to liberating Soviet Jews and allowing them to migrate to Israel and other parts of the free world. She served on the Boards of Governors of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Tel Aviv and was a member of the International Boards of the Israel Museum and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
She was chairwoman of the Israel-America Friendship Society. She held executive positions in the World Zionist Organization, the Board of Governors of the Jewish Agency, and the World Jewish Congress. She was also extremely active in the Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra and the Friends of Tel Aviv University.
She was renowned as a hostess, entertaining not only the who’s who of Israel but the who’s who of the Jewish world and even some from the non-Jewish world in her exquisitely furnished penthouse apartment in Tel Aviv.
She received many prizes and decorations including honorary doctorates from both the Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University. She was an honorary fellow of the Tel Aviv Museum. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor and there were many other awards.
Jaglom was an incredible fund-raiser, having been told by one of Rebecca Sieff’s siblings that if you have money, give it yourself, before you ask anyone else to contribute.
The lesson remained with her, and because she was always able to prove that she had given the first substantial contribution to a project, other contributions followed.
Although she always looked as if she had just stepped out of a copy of Vogue magazine, during the War of Independence, Jaglom, locked the key on her fashionable wardrobe, joined the Hagana as a driver and wore fatigues.
Born in Romania, she experienced antisemitism in her first year at university and told her father that she did not want to stay in Europe.
She managed to get a certificate that enabled her to enroll at the Hebrew University, but soon after her arrival in Israel in 1940, she met Joseph, and after a whirlwind courtship, they married on July 4 of that year.
She will be laid to rest alongside him at 11 a.m. Friday at Trumpeldor Cemetery in Tel Aviv, surrounded by the early Zionist activists who built the first Hebrew city in modern Israel. It is truly a fitting place for her.
She is survived by her daughter, Nurit, her son, Elan, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.