Moda’i, World WIZO honorary president, dies at 81

Michal Moda’i, a seventh generation Jerusalemite, was buried on Sunday in the Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv.

Michal Modai 390 (photo credit:
Michal Modai 390
(photo credit:
Michal Moda’i, one of three honorary life presidents of World WIZO, the Women’s International Zionist Organization, died on Friday at age 81.
She was buried on Sunday in the Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv.
A seventh generation Jerusalemite, who was a member of the family of Yoel Moshe Salomon, one of the founders of the city’s Nahalat Shiva neighborhood, and later one of the pioneers of Petah Tikva, Moda’i was the second ever Miss Israel. She was crowned in 1951.
The first Miss Israel was Miriam Yaron, who was crowned in 1950. Because prime minister David Ben-Gurion insisted that representatives of the nascent state had to have Hebrew surnames, both women had to change their names. Moda’i, who was one of several children born to Zipporah (née Salomon) and Osher Shmuel Herison, became Michal Har’el.
Like every Miss Israel, she was sent out into the world to carry her nation’s message, and to prove that its focus was not only on military matters.
Among the countries on her itinerary was England.
While in London, she met Israel’s military attaché Yitzhak Moda’i. They fell in love and were married.
In later years, Yitzhak Moda’i became a prominent politician who held several government portfolios including that of finance ministry.
The Moda’is had three children. Harela, the eldest, who worked for Army Radio, was killed in a car accident when she was 22 years old. The Moda’is established an annual memorial prize in her name at Army Radio.
Their son Boaz Moda’i followed his parents into public service. He is currently ambassador to Ireland.
A kindergarten teacher by profession, Michal Moda’i attended Jerusalem’s famed Evelina de Rothschild School and continued to the David Yellin Teachers College. Later she worked for several years with immigrant children in transit camps.
She joined WIZO Herzliya Pituah in 1968, and soon was elected chairwoman of the branch. In this capacity, she made it her mission to recruit volunteers to work with people in the poorer neighborhoods of Herzliya.
Many residents of poor neighborhoods were recent immigrants who had little or no command of Hebrew and almost no understanding of Israel’s bureaucracy. Few veteran Israelis spoke their languages.
Moda’i moved up through the ranks of WIZO, and in 1979 was elected chairwoman of WIZO Israel. She was particularly concerned about WIZO branches in border areas, and made a point of visiting all of them.
She was also concerned that domestic violence was on the rise and that its victims had minimal recourse for escape. This prompted her to establish the first of WIZO’s shelters for battered women, which was opened in 1983.
Moda’i was extremely keen to upgrade WIZO’s schools and youth villages and persuaded the Ministries of Education and Finance to contribute 50 percent of the operating costs of these facilities.
In 1984, after having served for several years on the World WIZO Executive, she was elected as its chairwoman, and in 1996 became the president of World WIZO, a position that she held until 2004, when she became chairwoman of the Council of Women’s Organizations and was part of the Israeli delegation to the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations in New York.
Before that, she was also a member of the Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors and a member of the World Jewish Congress. In 1999, she received the Prime Minister’s Award for volunteerism, one of numerous awards that she received over the years.
Illness precluded her from attending the annual World WIZO conference in Tel Aviv last January. She had been in poor health for a long time.