The Jewish Women’s Federation (Jüdischer Frauenbund or JFB) was founded in 1904 by Bertha Pappenheim as a religious organisation for Jewish women. She helped to unify Germany’s various Jewish social work groups in Germany into a central council (ZWST). She advocated strongly against the trafficking of women, shocking the very conservative Jewish community which did not want to acknowledge the problem or their own involvement in it. Bertha worked with Protestant and Catholic women’s groups to run the “Bahnhofsmission” to help poor girls arriving from Eastern Europe. She also campaigned for women’s right to vote and to be elected onto the boards of the Jewish community, and she was instrumental in bringing together Jewish women’s organizations from around the world to set up what is now the International Council of Jewish Women.
The JFB was dissolved by the Nazis in 1938, but re-established in 1953 by Ruth Galinski, Inge Markus and Lilli Marx. They recognized the need to reach out and care for those who had returned from the concentration camps, broken and desperate. They established a women’s group to give these people some support and warmth, and to restore hope to their lives. The women’s group had just 500 members throughout Germany. At the beginning, the JFB concentrated on charitable work, but they also set up a national newspaper that helped them to network and communicate on social, cultural, political issues and education. They started to become involved in communal politics, now as board members, and those in West Germany were able to participate in meetings of ICJW.
After 1990, when the reunited Germany opened its borders to the Jews from the former Soviet Union, the JFB experienced a second renaissance. Hedvah Ben Zeev and Hanna Jacobius were active in establishing new Jewish women groups in Eastern Germany and restarting the newspaper, which had lapsed. Today the JFB has 37 branches which are independent groups of women, most of them originating from the former Soviet Union. They each have a migration story: they left their homes, their professions and their friends, but they have discovered the freedom and the Jewish identity that was denied them for so many decades during the communist era.
The different branches of the JFB around Germany have different priorities, but their common primary purpose remains helping to integrate new immigrants. They run lectures, seminars, educational tours and cultural programs, and some participate in intercultural and inter-religious dialogue. They organize educational programs for children and mothers, run cultural and socialization programs to help women to learn German and find work, and maintain social welfare projects to visit the sick and help isolated elderly people.