Looking to the Future: ICJW Convention

The 2022 Quadrennial Convention of the International Council of Jewish Women took place in May 2022 in Jerusalem, Israel, with the theme ‘Looking to the Future’.

Organized at short notice following the Omicron wave of the COVID pandemic, the Convention brought together 44 women from 21 countries, after two years without physical meetings. President Penelope Conway paid tribute to the women who had worked hard to keep their local organizations and international friendships going during this difficult time by arranging online webinars and finding new ways to volunteer and help others in their communities.

The Convention participants included the presidents of the main Jewish women’s organizations from 11 countries: Canada, the Czech Republic, Georgia, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Mexico, Slovakia, South Africa, Sweden and Switzerland, as well as past and future leaders of Jewish women’s organizations in Australia, Austria, Bosnia Herzegovina, Colombia, France, Poland, Uruguay, the UK and the US. Also present were ICJW delegates to the World Jewish Congress and the United Nations in New York and Geneva.

The Convention opened at the Shalva National Center with the traditional flag parade of all the countries represented. We were entertained by music students from the Emunah Alma Arts School and by the Shalva Band. Welcome messages were screened from the Mayor of Jerusalem, Mr. Moshe Leon, the Minister for Social Equality, Ms. Meirav Cohen, and the Diaspora Affairs Minister, Dr. Nachman Shai. The guest speakers were Dr. Laura Wharton, Jerusalem City Councilor responsible for the Status of Women & Gender Equality, and Shuli Davidovich, head of the Bureau for World Jewish Affairs and World Religions at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The event was organized with support from the Municipality of Jerusalem.

On Monday morning, we heard a Dvar Torah about Miriam by Rabbi Dr. Meesh Hammer-Kossoy, who has written materials for the ICJW website about social justice. The first session of the Convention was a fascinating panel discussion on “The Situation in the Ukraine and Central Europe”. It was chaired by Alice Vesela (Czech Republic) with the participation of Marta Gyoriova (Slovakia), Deborah Kamil (Austria), Cornelia Levi Maimon (Germany), Katalin Pecsi (Hungary), and Anna Zielinska (Poland). They each described what their community has been doing to help refugees from the Ukraine.

After the break, South African broadcast journalist Paula Slier spoke about her experience of covering the Russian invasion of Ukraine on behalf of Russia Today English International Television, and the conflicts that she experiences in her working life.

The Monday afternoon program was organized by Oshrit Setbon, Chair of our Israeli affiliate, the Council of Women’s Organizations of Israel. It included presentations on the future for women in fields such as entrepreneurship, employment, medicine, and technology. The leaders of Emunah, Na’amat, WIZO and Soroptomist also gave presentations about women’s issues in Israel.

On Tuesday the Convention delegates travelled south to Beer Sheva to visit Ben Gurion University. They heard fascinating presentations on Gender Equity from Professor Halleli Pinson and on Sustainability and Climate Change from Prof. Yaron Ziv. After a delicious lunch, they travelled to Meitar to visit the border crossing facility for Palestinian workers, guided by Prof. David Newman from Ben Gurion University. He and his wife kindly hosted the group in their garden and invited English-speaking members of the community of Meitar to tell their fascinating stories.

Robyn Lenn OAM with Naomi Schneiderman and Shana Aaronson

On Wednesday morning, we tackled the difficult topics of violence against women and sexual abuse, with presentations by Naomi Schneiderman from Woman to Woman, and Shana Aaronson from Magen Israel. Convention delegates from different countries shared their own experiences of helping women who have been victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. The second session was a discussion on Get refusal in Israel and around the world, with Susan Weiss from the Center for Women’s Justice, and Pnina Omer from Yad L’Isha. Again, the discussion brought up issues of shared concern among Jewish women from various countries who are dealing with this difficult issue.

At the Wednesday afternoon session of the Convention, the ICJW Executive passed resolutions on antisemitism, on the rights of older persons, on increasing women’s leadership and participation in conflict resolution and peace building, and on considering the impact of climate change on women. They also expressed their solidarity with the people of the Ukraine. Click here for the text of the resolutions.

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem

The Gala Dinner on Wednesday evening took place in the historic surroundings of the World Center for North African Jewry, by kind permission of the management and with sponsorship from the Municipality of Jerusalem. The Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, was the guest of honor. She spoke about the historic role that women have played in the development of the Jewish state, and her mission to help all the women of the city of Jerusalem, particularly economic participation by Arab women and encouraging political representation among Charedi women.

At the dinner, the outgoing President of ICJW Penelope Conway gave a heartfelt speech and was thanked on behalf of the organization. Her baton was passed to the incoming President, Lilian Grinberg from Mexico, whose opening speech expressed her hopes and aspirations for the next four years.

Thursday morning saw the first meeting of the new Executive and the introduction of the new officers, with the remote participation of members from around the world via Zoom. Looking to the future, we are keenly anticipating the next four years and future in-person gatherings!