The years after WWI gave rise to a new position for the status of women within Canada. With men away at the front, women were required to fill roles previously held by men. Upon the men’s return from overseas, women were forced to leave the jobs they had become so skilled in performing. This elicited the question – what exactly is women’s work? What was the place of women in the workforce, in and outside the home?
Women were expected to return to their roles as housewives in the kitchen, but their efforts during the war acted as a catalyst for demanding equal rights. As the rights of women were in a transient state, Canadian Jewish women took it upon themselves to influence change through the creation of their own non-governmental organizations. Among these were the National Council of Jewish Women (est. 1897, first Vancouver Chapter 1924), Hadassah-WIZO (est. 1917) and the Pioneer Women (est. 1921).
At the peak of their prominence, women’s organizations in Canada provided opportunities of “professional volunteerism” outside the home. To a member of one of these organizations, volunteer work meant taking on the equivalent of a full-time job in addition to her duties of being a mother and wife. Projects were progressive from the start, filling needs that the taxpayer’s dollars were not reaching. Focuses have included immigration, healthcare initiatives, social activism and education directives. The Jewish values of, tikkun olam and tzedakah remain central to most, if not all of the projects. It is however the interpretations of these principles that have contributed to distinct and divergent mandates of Jewish women’s organizations. A common question becomes the amount of effort directed towards Israel. Should Israel be considered the fundamental focus of tikkun olam as Hadassah and Na’amat maintain, or should efforts begin in ones immediate surrounding community, like the work of National Council? This fundamental question remains at the center of debate today.
Many women, looking beyond the charitable societies, garden clubs, music and literary clubs, and missionary societies to which they belonged, saw the need for societal reform, better education for women, even women’s suffrage. They realized that they would be much more effective if they spoke with a united voice.
The Canadian National Council of Jewish Women became an independent entity in 1897, the establishment of the Vancouver Chapter in 1924 being the first on the West Coast. With a focus on social action, equality and the rights of women and children, Council took on local service projects where they saw a particular need in their communities. Once the need was recognized and subsequently filled, Council made a point of turning over management of the project to the community at large, or a larger government organization. This policy freed up Council’s large volunteer base, to then seek out new projects.
By engaging in so-called “women’s concerns” – children, immigrants, the old and the sick – Council women were, in fact, at the centre of issues of power and powerlessness, working like many others, to alter the political and social system.
The Canadian Council of Jewish Women was established in 1897, just four years after the establishment of the Council of Women. Since its inception as one of the first women’s organizations in Canada, Council has led innovative projects that continue to seek out and fill unmet societal needs. For Council, the concept of tikkun olam begins with the here and now. Repairing the world through the implementation of progressive projects in the surrounding community that would give “a voice and aid to marginalized and excluded members of society.”
The NCJW Neighbourhood House at Jackson Ave. and Union St. in Strathcona, Vancouver. (L.00424)
National Council’s Neighbourhood House was open from 1926-1928. It acted as the centre of Jewish Life in Vancouver until the opening of the Jewish Community Centre in 1928. Located at Jackson Avenue and Union Street, the Neighbourhood House provided classes to help integrate new immigrants and is an early success story of Council.
Bessie Diamond explains the origins of the Well-Baby Clinic
As the first of its kind in Vancouver, the Well-Baby Clinic opened in 1927 on the anniversary of the Neighbourhood House. Under the supervision of the Medical Health Officer with the assistance of the Victorian Order of Nurses and Council volunteers, mothers brought their babies in for regular weigh-ins, health checks and educational services.
The Council Noodle Factory opened in 1933, at the peak of the Great Depression. Located in the basement of the Jewish Community Centre, the Noodle Factory created employment opportunities for Jewish women on relief, paying 25 cents an hour. The women hand made noodles, which were then packaged and sold to local grocery stores.
The Ship a Box program was initiated by the NCJW in order to send clothing and toys to children in postwar Europe. With no possibility of buying consumer goods in Europe with any funds raised, the supply-filled boxes also instilled a sense of support. The project was later expanded to children in Israel in 1947, both sabras (native Israelis) and recent immigrants who survived the Holocaust. These aid boxes quickly became a symbol of the reach the impacts of National Council’s projects could have.
In 1945, the Vancouver Section of NCJW learned of an orphanage in Bergstichting, Holland, where 220 destitute war orphans were being cared for. Motivated to help, Council arranged for shipments of food and clothing to be sent overseas regularly.
Bessie Diamond describes the packages Council sent to the Laren Orphanage.
Council’s March of the Books initiative was created in the aftermath of WWII, after realizing the devastation of libraries across Europe. In May 1950 this grew into a nation-wide Council campaign to collect books donations and other educational materials in all languages to restock the libraries of Europe.
The National Council Thrift Store opened in 1953 at 1013A Robson Street, where it provided a service to the community at large, both Jewish and non-Jewish. Revenue that the Thrift Store generated was used to fund subsequent projects, such as the 1956 aid efforts for newly arrived Hungarian refugees. The refugees were provided with clothing from the Thrift Store upon arrival in Abbotsford. Closing in 1979, the Thrift Store generated revenue for Council for over 15 years.
Established in 1950, the Golden Age Club increased senior’s recreational opportunities, including activities such as discussion groups, lectures, card games and monthly luncheons. In addition to hosting the events, Council members were available to drive participants to and from their homes in order to increase participation. The Golden Age Club allowed homebound community members to remain socially active and was a highly successful program that led to pioneering studies in the field of gerontology. The Golden Age Club became the precursor to what is now known as the JCC Seniors.
The Jewish Western Bulletin, 1952
Following the Soviet suppression of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, Canada admitted tens of thousands of Hungarian refugees. Abbotsford alone received over 200 refugees where Council’s hospitality efforts housed refugees with local families until permanent housing could be found. Council stepped in to raise funds and donations of furniture to help these immigrants establish their new homes. Partnering with the Adult Education Division of the Vancouver School Board to provide English classes for refugees established Council as a leader in language education.
Shirley Kort describes the situation of the Hungarian Refugees in Abbotsford.
Shirley Kort describes the social significance of the Mobile Hearing Units
This NCJW project was another that was truly ahead of its time. The program set out to discover previously undiagnosed hearing problems in young children, screening from an earlier age in hopes of pre-empting any long-term effects. Council raised the funds to uniquely outfit a truck with the necessary equipment to create a mobile screening unit, while simultaneously training the volunteers who would later assist the audiologist in the assessments. In celebration of the 1979 “Year of the Child” Council received government funding to outfit a second truck together with the support of the P.A. Woodward Foundation and the Variety Club of British Columbia.
The trucks screened children of all ages, visiting 90 schools and screening nearly 4500 students ranging from daycare to high school. After seeing the project through its formative stages, Council presented the first bus to the Health Department in 1984 and the second in 1986 for the symbolic price of one dollar a piece.
Operation Dress-Up is an ongoing joint project between Council and the Vancouver School Board’s Inner City School’s program. The initiative provides school children with gently used clothing, shoes in addition to new socks and underwear.
Books for Kids donates gently used children’s books to elementary schools, the Elizabeth Fry Drop-In Centre, the Jewish Food Bank as well as to Vancouver Coastal Health nurses who deliver the books during their home visits.
As Council’s largest annual fundraising event, the Angels Ball began on June 16, 1962 as an extravagant dinner gala with awards and speeches delivered to thank members and volunteers. The event honours an outstanding member of the community and transitioned into the Friends and Angels Evening in 1972. Although no longer the luxurious dinner event that it once was, the event continues to raise funds as a non-event fundraiser where invitations are sent out with a reply card for people to indicate how much they would like to donate. Donors then become either a Special Friend, Friend or Angel depending on the amount of the donation. All donations are welcome, in any amount without being in a category. Tribute Cards are available any time and provide the ongoing fundraising to mainly support administrative costs.
Originally rooted in the United States, Hadassah was founded in 1912 by Henrietta Szold. From its inception, Hadassah has focused on the promotion of healthcare and medical relief in Israel. The name Hadassah was chosen to reflect the biblical Queen Esther and translates to, “the health of the daughter of my people.” As one of Canada’s first feminist organizations, the national Hadassah Canada was formed in 1917, appearing decades before women Canada wide had the right to vote. Hadassah Canada is the sole national branch to have partnered with the World Zionist Organization (WIZO). When the two organizations merged in 1921, the partnership created a distinct Zionist vision to the group as a whole. As an organization run by women for women, Hadassah-WIZO has claimed its position and separate identity within the larger Zionist movement.
In 2007, Canadian Hadassah-WIZO elected to go by the name, CHW. At a glance, the acronym CHW stands for Canada Hadassah-WIZO, but the three letters in fact stand for the focus of CHW’s efforts: Children, Healthcare and Women.
The creation of the State of Israel in 1948 truly cemented the raison d’être of Hadassah-WIZO. Suddenly there was a perceptible, very real need for funds. This is often cited as the major divergence between CHW and National Council, with CHW choosing to pour efforts into all things Israel.
One of the earliest Hadassah-WIZO initiatives, the Helping Hand Fund raised over $200 000 towards the aid of those suffering after the Allied-Turkish War of 1919. This unprecedented success established CHW as a leader within the circle of Zionist organizations. The success also inspired the growth of chapters across Canada, with membership quickly rising.
Opening in 1924, the school was the first national project proposed by Hadassah-WIZO in 1921. The socialist foundations of Israel led to generations of women working the land alongside the men. The Hadassah-WIZO sponsored Domestic and Agricultural Science School promoted this equality, teaching young women agricultural development skills to be put to use in the building of the State.
Still in operation today, the Hadassim Youth Village was founded in 1947 to support the influx of refugees fleeing from Europe. Since its inception, the school has accepted students from immigrant and disadvantaged Israeli families. Today the Youth Village continues to house over a thousand students in residences and foster-family environments.
The Youth Aliyah program was formed with foresight in anticipation of the dangers of Nazi Germany. Following the Third Reich’s 1933 rise to power, many interpreted the signs early enough to form emigration strategies. First President of Vancouver Hadassah-WIZO, Lillian Shapiro, made contact with the Centre for Children and Youth Aliyah in Berlin expressing a desire to help. The children were prepared for a new life in Palestine and upon arrival there were quickly absorbed, rehabilitated and trained with Hebrew, history and geography lessons.
Since the close of WWII, The Youth Aliyah project has continued intermittently, rescuing children from Eastern Europe, Northern Africa, the former USSR and Ethiopia when events in those regions made local populations vulnerable to violence.
Lil Shapiro explains the origins and importance of the Youth Aliyah Program
Arguably the most iconic aspect of CHW, the annual Bazaars were the organization’s most successful means of fundraising for CHW supported projects in Israel. They consistently set a high standard.
The lifecycle of the Vancouver Bazaar came full circle. Evolving from the first small scale 4 hour event in 1934, to the grand scale, multi-day event of the 1952 Bazaar held at the Seaforth Armories and later at the P.N.E for many decades. Everything from clothing, cars and challah were on sale.
The history of the Vancouver Bazaar changed in 1952, following a visit from Toronto’s Mrs. Florence Kert. Leaders Marjorie Groberman and Gertie Zack were eager to recreate the large East Coast Bazaar in Vancouver. The start of the “Big Bazaars” that followed the great success of ’52 raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Hadassah-WIZO projects in Israel. Although the Vancouver Bazaars came to an official end in 2007, the Hadassah office still receives calls asking when the next will be.
Dorothy Grad (Jewish Western Bulletin August 5, 1960)
The Bazaars relied on the collective support of its membership and the larger community, with everyone contributing what they could.
Sponsored by Hadassah-WIZO since 1968, this school near Kfar Saba has formed a unique curriculum. Students are given hands-on experience and gain skills in fields such as electronics, auto-mechanics and laboratory sciences. Students are primarily from immigrant families from South America of the former USSR in addition to Israelis from low-income households.
In keeping with the traditions of Hadassah, a project is named in honour of the outgoing national president. The daycare opened in 1972 and is one of six daycares that CHW supports. The daycares provide an essential service to Israeli society and are attended by thousands of children every day.
Regina Feldman (left) and Lola Apfelbaum (right). L.19738.
Affectionately known as the “Apron Ladies,” Lola Apfelbaum and Regina Feldman began sewing and selling aprons for the Bazaars of the 1970s. As the project grew, the ladies sold aprons to beauty shops, restaurants and individuals throughout the Vancouver area. Spanning over 25 years and drawing over $45 000 in revenue, the Apron Project became a true homegrown success story.
Beginning as the “little sister” fundraising event of the Bazaar, the tournament began in 1983. With the end of the Bazaars, the Pro-Am
tournament is now CHW’s leading event. Each team consists of four amateur players partnered with a professional golfer. It continues to be held at the Richmond Country Club and proceeds are donated to the Hadassah Hospitals and the Prostate Centre of the Vancouver General Hospital.
Goldie Joseph in a letter to Lillian Freiman, 1925.
To learn more about CHW’s ongoing initiatives, please consult their website.
Established in 1921, Pioneer Women was created on the foundations of the Labour Zionist movement. The name of the organization has since been changed to a Hebrew acronym that means, “Movement of Working Women and Volunteers.” The Labour Zionist movement dates back to 1904 and today, Na’amat is the largest women’s organization in Israel. Na’amat prides itself in furthering the development of the State of Israel as a place of social justice, equal opportunity and shared responsibility. As the first Israeli feminist organization, Na’amat focuses its efforts on society’s women and children in need. This includes daycare facilities, counseling services, health education and legal aid services.
The Pioneer Women of Canada began as an organization whose membership was mainly comprised of new immigrants. Many found a sense of belonging through connecting with other women of the same forward thinking belief systems. Women were given opportunities to navigate a large organizational structure and emerged with experiences that proved invaluable for subsequent projects.
Excerpt from Abraham’s Daughters (Draper & Karlinsky)
Cissie Eppel explains her reasons for dedicating her time to Pioneer Women.
In the early days of Israeli statehood, Canadian Chapters of Pioneer Women would receive goods such as soap and oils to promote as goods from the Holy Land within their respective Canadian communities. The proceeds of the sales were then sent back to Israel to help fund the building of infrastructure, schools and other efforts to propagate growth in the new state.
Hadassah-WIZO was not the only organization to hold bazaars – the Pioneer Women of Vancouver held annual bazaars in the Jewish Community Centre, that included a fashion show, sold home-baked goods and the sale of new clothing to the community.
Cissie Eppel describes the Pioneer Women Bazaars
Luncheons were held to raise funds for projects in Israel, with guest speakers who were invited to stir up publicity for the events.
Hear a selection from a speech delivered by longtime Pioneer Women member, Cissie Eppel.
Established in 1993, the Na’amat Canada Glickman Centre for Family Violence Prevention in Tel Aviv provides guidance and counseling services to victims of domestic violence. In addition to counseling services, the Centre offers legal advice, a hot line for emergencies as well as regular lectures and seminars where relevant topics are discussed. There is also a shelter on the facility for women who have successfully escaped from dangerous situations and have found refuge at the Centre.
Reaching deep into the community, this Na’amat initiative strives to provide children living in domestic violence shelters with the supplies needed to start over in a new school. Providing the school supplies is the base of the initiative, but it should also be stressed that this project offers hope and a feeling of community when it is needed most. The program was established in 1998 and remains incredibly successful to this day.
The Na’amat daycare facilities have become Israel’s primary source of childcare with over 200 Na’amat funded centres across the country. Looking to fill a need that they government was neglecting, the daycare centres offer extended hours for those parents who work longer hours and functions on a sliding pay scale that makes it possible for everyone to pay according to their abilities.
Although the glory days of professional volunteers has come and gone, the work of these women’s organizations is anything but over. The working women of today cannot contribute the same amount of time as their mothers and grandmothers before them, but new projects are still created.
For example, the women of National Council have recently partnered with Vancouver Coastal Health in support of a new project, Reach out and Read. This new project will promote early literacy among young children by providing books and encouraging parents to read aloud to their children. This is in addition to Council’s existing Books for Kids program that already supplies thousands of used books each year to elementary schools and new books for their Healthy Babies Program. Hadassah has also recently made an attempt to spark interest in a younger generation through the creation of two new chapters, Kehillah and Gilad.
Despite the constant uncertainty of government funding in the non-profit voluntary sector, women’s organizations have accomplished a great deal with relatively little to work with. It’s often said that actions speak louder than words and National Council, Hadassah and Na’amat have shown their support and philanthropic power through continuing actions, creating projects to better the lives of women and children in both Canada and Israel.
More Than Just Mrs. was prepared by Annika Friedman for the Jewish Museum and Archives of BC in summer 2013. Annika was hired by the JMABC with the support of the Government of Canada’s Young Canada Works program. Prior to her term at the JMABC, Annika completed projects for Yad Vashem and the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre.
In the time since, she has made aliyah (immigrated to Israel), where she is currently completing her military service as a photographer for the public relations department of the Israeli Air Force.
Once her service is complete, Annika plans to return to university in pursuit of an MA in Museum Studies.