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icjw herczeg jerusalem education seminar - may 2017


The ICJW European Regional Conference was attended by more than one hundred attendees. The informative conference program focused on Sephardic heritage and its influence to the present day.

The event was hosted by ICJW's Spanish affiliate CEMI, its leaders and its members.  CEMI celebrated its 40th anniversary at the conference opening gala dinner, with CEMI Presidents Eva Benatar and Gisele Pilo, with Vice President Veronica Nehama.
The Jewish community of Madrid is today healthy and flourishing with a Jewish day school, opened in the 1970s, now teaching 300 children.  ICJW Executive members had an opportunity to visit the school where we concluded our two day meeting with a lunch. As part of the Executive meeting we had a valuable hasbara session given by the spokesperson for the Embassy of Israel in Spain, Hamutal  Rogel Fuchs.

The Conference featured a number of speakers on various aspects of Sephardic history,  including a fascinating and detailed history of the life and work of Donna Gracia Nasi de Mendes. The conference program included a full day tour of Toledo where guides conducted walking tours of the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca and the Synagogue of El Transito, dating from before the expulsion from Spain. As we walked we noticed many small tiles inserted into the cobbled streets to remind us of the former presence of Jewish communities.

Among the sessions we heard about the work done by the Spanish Jewish community in presenting the case for the return of Jews whose Sephardic families were expelled five hundred years ago. 


The following summary of the first day of the Conference was written by Penny Conway, Chair of the ICJW Status of Women Committee :     

Opening the first day of the Conference, the Chief Rabbi of Spain talked about the weekly portion and how Abraham was really the first Zionist as he left his home to travel to Israel.

The President of the Jewish Community of Madrid told us how the community is rebuilding and is proud of its heritage.

Alberto Gallardon,former Minister of Justice, explained that Spain is a great nation which sometimes makes unjust decisions. One of these was the expulsion of Spanish Jews in 1492.These Jews carried on their love of Judaism and passed on this love to their children. He explained how he was honoured to propose to Parliament the Bill that all Sephardic Jews could claim Spanish citizenship, something not available to them previously. He was also launching a Foundation to provide a Jewish Museum in Madrid to show all aspects of the Sephardi community.

Jacobo Garzon, a local historian, provided us  with a brief history of the Jews in the Iberian Peninsula. It covered all aspects of their history including work, food, migration, taxes and conversion. The Sephardic legacy combines faith and spirit and perseverance. He also stated that women are the binding thread of all Sephardic heritage.

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Berta Tabor spoke about Dona Gracia Nassi de Mendes. She was a fascinating and powerful Spanish woman who 5 centuries ago used her fortune to save children from the Inquisition, financed the translation of the Old Testament into Spanish and set up a clothing industry in Safed to provide work for those who had escaped from the Iberian Peninsula.

Alice Azria, who was born in Casablanca, described Haketya - a Jewish Spanish vernacular that was used mainly in the home and passed on by mothers and grandmothers. It reflects nostalgia and includes special words and traditions particularly for expressions of tenderness. It includes elements of Hebrew and medieval Spanish.

Florentino Rodriguez spoke about Europe as seen by Europeans and provided a short but detailed history of Europe and the conflicting policies of different sovereignties. An increasing number of people have lost faith in the competency of Europe and we have doubts about our reference values. There are many conflicts between countries and Islamists are gaining strength particularly in Sub Saharan Africa where there are no opportunities available for young people.

Three speakers told us about the Ladino Heritage. Miguel de Lucas talked about the Sepharad Israel Centre where he is the Director. The centre is for all Jews and is a unique institution as it is funded by the Spanish government with no money from the Jewish community or Israel. Their target audience are Spanish civil society to teach them about Judaism. Esther Bendahan explained that their main role is to make people aware of the Jewish impact on culture and create links with other countries. Many Spanish families who remained in Spain as ‘hidden jews’ are beginning to acknowledge their identity.

Fernando  Rey explained that they have a goal of spreading Jewish culture in Spain and part of their task is to promote Israel and its values.  The Centre organises the Irenzia programme which brings together Sephardic communities from all over the world.  The Moderator Elena Romero spoke about Judeo Sephardic literature.

On the subject of Interreligious Dialogue, Veronica Nehama started with a short history of the relationship between the Jews and Christians. The position of the Catholic church towards other religions was set out by the 2nd Vatican Council in 1965 in Nostra Aetate which promoted respect for you as a human being.

The Church began to persecute Jews in the 4th century as they believed there was no hope of salvation outside the church. Over the years offensive words about Jews were gradually removed. The key is that we must fight together for justice and peace and education.

Mayte Rodriguez also felt that education of young people is very important. She explained the difference between dialogue and ecumenism. Dialogue involves different religions while ecumenism involves dialogue between different parts of the same religion. There is still a lot to do and the growth of neo Nazi groups in Europe is very worrying.

Engagement in Europe and Worldwide:

Karmela spoke about the Council of Europe and how all of Europe is waiting to see what happens after the election of US President Donald Trump. There is a fundamental change in the basic democratic process across Europe with many elections taking place next year. 
She also spoke about the growing importance of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation, which is becoming involved in human rights issues.

Leonie spoke about ICJW and the UN in Geneva. The presence of ICJW is very important as ICJW is the only jewish organisation involved in all caucuses. This allows us to get a feeling of what is going on and to give feedback to organisations, particularly in areas where we have an interest.

Mary concluded the session by talking about the Council of Europe and the UN in Geneva. The ways of working of both organisations have changed and we did not always realise the importance of social media. She tries to attend all side events which cover women’s rights, antisemitism and migrants.

We, the European women of ICJW must continue to show our engagement through solidarity and responsibility.


The ICJW Executive Meeting - May 2016 - Nashville, USA

The ICJW Executive meeting held in Nashville in May 2016 was attended by thirty ICJW members drawn from seven affiliates. The meeting agenda allowed interactive participation by all Executive members present.

Our warmest thanks go to ICJW North American Regional Chair Felicia Anchor and her NCJW Nashville TN team who ensured that the Executive meeting, the welcome event, the meeting venues, kosher food and busing all went smoothly. After two meeting days  there was a third optional day in which more than half of us were introduced to Jewish and general highlights of  the city in a tour organised by Felicia.

After the Executive meeting, President Robyn Lenn travelled with ICJW PR Chair Eva Robey to visit our ICJW affiliate organisations in Panama and Colombia. Here is her report:

On our short visit to Panama we were warmly welcomed and hosted  by Rita Sasso, President of the Sisterhood Kol Shearit Israel in Panama City. Rita organised a Shabbat dinner at the synagogue  in honour of ICJW where we  had the opportunity to meet members, families and members of the community , and a chance to speak about the work of ICJW.

The following evening we had dinner with members of the Sisterhood and learnt more about their important work in the community. Particularly the affiliate had recently been involved in the renovation and stocking of a children's school library, an essential service.

We had a longer visit to Barranquilla, Colombia where our affiliate organisation is Fundacion Amigos De La Comunidad Golda Meir.  We were met by enthusiastic Executive members, affiliate President Lotty Eidelman, ICJW Vice President Dita Levy and Susie Steckerl, a special friend of ICJW.

We spent a morning visiting the Golda Meir school, greeting children and teachers in every classroom and looking at their work and a special concert. This remarkable project of our Barranquilla organisation is enduring, having been founded forty years ago, its buildings and equipment maintained by the organisation while some funding for students comes from the government. I was particularly impressed by the children of all ages, neatly uniformed and extremely polite and disciplined.

The Barranquilla affiliate had organised a special lunch in honour of ICJW, followed by a well-attended meeting in the Jewish Club premises. With the aid of an expert translator from the organisation I spoke about ICJW , its aims and its work. 

The ICJW Latin American Regional Conference in Mexico C ity

ICJW President Robyn Lenn reports:

The ICJW Latin American Regional Conference was held in Mexico City in October 2015, hosted by ICJW affiliate organisation Voluntarias Judeo Mexicanas. The VJM members, resplendent in their red jackets, were excellent hosts, having organised a thought - provoking series of lectures for the three day event, a gala opening night with superb display dancing by a young Mexican Israeli dance group, a guided visit to the Museum of Memory and Tolerance and outstanding kosher meals each day.

The conference theme The Challenge for Jewish Women in C21 engendered excellent sessions including ‘Ethnicity , religion, class and gender: the experience of Jewish women in México’, ‘Personality and women's behaviour’ and an inspiring session featuring a panel of Mexican Jewish women entrepreneurs.

The conference was attended by ICJW Executive members and affiliate members from twelve countries, seven of them in the Latin American region. Interpretation Spanish/ English was provided throughout the conference and was of a high standard. The Conference meetings were held at the huge complex of the Mexican Jewish community building, high quality facilities were donated free of charge to VJM.

The theme of the conference was 'The Challenge to Jewish Women in the Twenty First Century ' and this topic was the core of the specialist sessions presented.

The conference was followed by a two-day ICJW Executive meeting. As well as ICJW business sections there was an emphasis on ICJW's work in the field of Interfaith, Intercultural relations, and a special session on the invaluable work of the Tennessee Holocaust Commission.

Di Hirsh OAM, ICJW Chair of Interfaith, Intercultural travelled with me to visit the Cuban ICJW affiliate Asociacon Femenina de Cuba in Havana. This organisation was founded in 1926 and flourishes in its support work for the Cuban Jewish community. The small Jewish community maintains three synagogues despite lack of a permanent rabbi. The community gave a welcoming luncheon at the Beth Shalom Temple and introduced us to the long-term community president Adela Dworin and visiting Rabbi Samuel Szteinhendler from Costa Rica. 

The Cuban Jewish community comprises many converts to Judaism and proudly conducts a Cheder for eighty children each week. A surprising fact is the large wedding ceremony conducted every few years in which Rabbi Szteinhendler marries over twenty couples in a single evening, in this way helping to maintain and grow the Jewish community. We were told of the pleasant interaction the Cuban Jewish community has had with both Fidel Castro and Raul Castro, over the years each of them has attended synagogue celebrations of festivals such as Hanukah.

My warm thanks go to our affiliate organisations in Mexico and Cuba, to their President, Board and members for working so hard to make all ICJW members feel welcome.

The 2015 ICJW Executive Meeting took place in Antwerp, Belgium, from May 11-12, 2015.

ICJW President Robyn Lenn reports:

36 ICJW Executive members attended the Antwerp ICJW Executive Meeting, with several Belgian affiliate members joining us for sections of the two-day meeting. Sixteen countries were represented at the meeting and the program gave opportunities for most Executive members to speak.

I am very grateful to the Council of Jewish Women of Belgium who were most hospitable and organised all details with care. Our thanks go to CFJB/ LJVB President Lucette Pilcer, her team Liliane Seidman and Nadine Iarchy, Eliane Sperling and special thanks to Mary Liling who hosted the welcome dinner and a second impromptu dinner in her family home. Several dignitaries including the Israel  Ambassador to Belgium and Belgian Jewish leaders attended the opening event. My thanks also go to ICJW Treasurer Joan Goldberg and PR and Communications Chair Eva Robey who handled many tasks including the voice recording, timekeeping and photography responsibilities.

The Antwerp hotel selected for our accommodation and meetings was excellent, we enjoyed kosher lunches and a special dinner at a kosher restaurant. As part of the meeting Executive members visited the Kazerne Dossin Memorial museum at Mechelen, not an easy experience for many. The optional third day was a visit to the Red Star Line Museum in Antwerp.

The focus of this Executive meeting was Jewish Europe and many segments of our meeting extended our knowledge and understanding of this topic. Frédérique Ries, a member of the European Parliament, was the guest speaker on day two and spoke at length about her work in the Parliament and her responsibility in support of Israel.

Karmela Belinki presented a thought- provoking session entitled Europe without Jews - Vision or Horror. Nadine Iarchy presented a talk on Jewish Antwerp before leading a short walking tour of the local Jewish area.

Three ICJW Program committees updated us in their areas of work – Status of Women Chair, Penelope Conway; Status of Women in Jewish Law Chair Sharon Shenhav and Vice Chair Susie Ivany; Antisemitism and Racism Chair Nadine Iarchy. All representatives to outside organisations, all Vice Presidents and representatives from each European country had an opportunity to address the meeting.

I offer my special thanks to members of the Belgian affiliate, the Council of Jewish Women of Belgium, particularly to Lucette Pilcer, their President, and her team of Liliane Seidman and Nadine Iarchy. The hospitality of Mary Liling and the support of Eliane Sperling and Thea Zucker have all contributed to make us feel welcome and among friends.  Thank you! 


Guest speaker  Frédérique  Ries (center) with ICJW Treasurer Joan Lurie Goldberg and ICJW President, Robyn Lenn.


Frédérique Ries, Belgian Member of the European Parliament at the ICJW Executive meeting in Antwerp with the ICJW president and Belgian affiliate team.