To think of others is as natural to the Jewish woman as to breathe.
– Belle Lindner Israels Moskowitz, 1917
I stood for Jewish interests, Jewish thought, Jewish feeling quite as
much as I stood for the broader and more universal outlook on life.
– Maude Nathan, 1933
As we pause on our twenty – fifth anniversary to consider our work
on behalf of our people and of the communities of which they are a
part, we can see clearly that we may look forward to the future, more
conscious of our strength and more alert to the call of unselfish and
devoted service. This we do with a regenerated faith in the value and
power of our cause.
– Rose Rady, Winnipeg, 1950
In October 1950, the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW)held its 6th Biennial Conference in Winnipeg. The proceedings also included recognition of the 25th anniversary of the Winnipeg chapter. In the aforementioned quote, Rose Rady, a formidable force in the development of the local branch, summed up the enthusiasm, commitment and dedication of its membership. She likened the aims and objectives of the organization to a “necklace of pearls – ‘P’ for Peace, ‘E’ for Education, ‘A’ for Aliens in our midst, ‘R’ for Religion. ‘L’ for Legislation, ‘S’ for Social Welfare.”
What has made the Council such a compelling and essential element in the history and evolution of Jewish community life is its integration of a kaleidoscope of social and cultural forces that shaped and inspired an agenda of progressive change and reform.
Since its formation in the United States in 1893, the NCJW helped redefine womanhood as an important ingredient of community activism and did so while merging its commitment to espousing and crafting a Jewish identity with what the American Jewish activist Maude Nathan defined as a “broader and more universal outlook on life.” This unity of Jewish sensibilities with appeals to a common humanity enriched both sides of the equation and unleashed an unbridled confidence in addressing and resolving important social issues and humanitarian concerns.
This was as Melissa Kapler aptly coined in her study on American Jewish female activism a gendered focus on the essence of Jewishness, a Jewishness cast in the language of universal justice and the common good. It was, however, a gendered focus guided by a largely middle class and upwardly mobile leadership. But the reforms they advocated, the social legislation they espoused resonated with working class Jews and non-Jews alike and pushed the boundaries of what it meant to be mainstream.
The NCJW viewed acculturation to Canadian society and the rights and duties of citizenship as key ingredients in the struggle for a more just and progressive society. They had at their disposal an array of tools including a treasure trove of Jewish customs and traditions.
To attempt to identify the gamut of activities and programs that the NCJW brough to the fore in its first quarter century as constituent elements of Rose Rady’s “necklace of pearls” would be an exercise in futility and frankly a disservice to their breadth, quality and magnanimity. But a failure to at least highlight some of these would result in an analysis that would fall purely in the realm of the theoretical and devoid of the concrete, practical examples that defined the spirit and intent of the NCJW.
In her history of the NCJW, Ethel Vineberg noted that following its inception, the NCJW raised funds for the social service department of the Winnipeg General Hospital to provide eye – glasses, surgical and other medical appliances, recruited volunteers to act as interpreters for the Jewish patients and established a Jewish Library. The NCJW also supported pre-natal and post-natal care, offered English language and citizenship classes to newcomers and distributed financial aid to the Jewish Orphanage, the Jewish Old Folks’ Home, the Winnipeg Hebrew Free School, the Mount Carmel Clinic and the United Hebrew Relief, which used NCJW funds to hire a social worker. Its commitment to the well-being of all Canadians was reflected in its support for agencies such as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the Good Neighbours’ Club, Big Sister, the Canadian Red Cross Society, the St. John’s Ambulance Brigade, and the Manitoba Flood Relief Fund in the wake of the disastrous 1950 flood, to name a few. By the 1930s the NCJW had created an array of fundraising strategies that included teas, dances, raffles, rummage sales and concerts. The organization also sponsored a thrift shop.
In 1929 the NCJW established a junior council to ensure future generations of women activists. The junior group provided assistance to the United Hebrew Relief, the Children’s Hospital, Jewish Orphanage and created a Friendship Club which planned physical, cultural and recreational activities for underprivileged girls of four to fourteen.
An educational program was an integral and focal aspect of the NCJW. The following committees were of especial importance in this area: International Affairs, Social Legislation, and Contemporary Jewish Affairs. The NCJW advocated world peace and to this end organized study groups and worked with peace activists in disseminating information on this noteworthy objective.
During the Second World War the NCJW supported Canadian armed forces through a range of activities. This included gifting Blood Donor Clinics to the Canadian Red Cross Society, establishing a “library hut” at Camp Shilo, and supplying comfort boxes and cigarettes for overseas troops. Following the war the NCJW played an important role in orientating refugees and Holocaust survivors to life in Canada and refurnishing a sun room in the Deer Lodge Hospital for returning service men.
The NCJW was unswerving in its support for the state of Israel. To this end the organization instituted a Ship-a-box project where boxes of food, clothing and other items were sent to Israel. Scholarships were established at the Teachers’ College at Hebrew University, and blood plasma equipment was dispatched to help save the lives of Israeli soldiers.
In 1949, the NCJW created the Golden Age Club. Its principal objective was to provide companionship and social contacts for elderly Jews.
By 1950, the NCJW was organized into several groups: the Service Group, Evening Group, Brides’ Group, Business and Professional Girls, Juniors, and Councilettes. These were established to instill the importance of civic responsibility and social activism and to empower girls and women by nurturing their intellectual, moral and emotional capabilities. These groups along with the senior membership counted a total enrolment of six hundred and thirty members.
Klapper, Melissa R. Ballots, Babies and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women’s Activism
1890 – 1940. New York: New York University Press, 2013.
Rady, Rose. “Twenty-Five Years of Service.” 6th National Conference of the National Council of
Jewish Women. Winnipeg, October 22-26, 1950 (JHC 706e, F.2)
Vineberg, Ethel. The History of the National Council of Jewish Women. Montreal: National Council