ICJW in Times of International Crisis

By Dee Hart, Sydney, Australia,  28 April 2020

A couple of days ago, Past ICJW President Robyn Lenn OAM dropped at my front gate her spare copy of the book by Nelly Las – “Jewish Women in a Changing World : A history of the international Council of Jewish Women (ICJW) 1899-1995” – suggesting it would be interesting to explore the impact on ICJW during the major disruptions of World War I and II, and how in comparison the present crisis is affecting ICJW.

The chapter I focused on in the book is headed The Silence of the 1930s, and covers the period 1929 to 1945. While our present COVID19 pandemic may be in no way comparable to the devastating period of political and social upheaval and genocide in Europe during that time, it is interesting to look at how the two events, 90 years apart, have impacted ICJW.

ICJW was founded in Rome in 1912 with the intention of facilitating communication between Jewish women’s organizations internationally. However progress was cut short due the intervention of the First World War and resulting impossibility of organizing international conferences.

It was only after the First and Second World Congresses of Jewish Women in the 1920s in Europe that ICJW was substantially established. The mainstays were the American NCJW, the British LJW and the German Judischer Frauenbund (JFB). However, before this international organization had time to structure and consolidate they

“…suddenly found themselves deprived of the participation of the important JFB which had to reduce both its national and international activities following Hitler’s rise to power. At the same time , most of the new small Jewish women’s organizations recently formed in Europe found themselves under Hitler’s regime as well.”

From 1933 the JFB was isolated from all the national and international organisations but continued for as long as possible to run the institutions and services it had initiated. The JFB was finally dissolved by the Nazis in 1938 after Kristallnacht.

Immediately after the war the International Council’s Reconstitution Committee was formed by NCJW America to reach out to organizations who been involved in the past, with the intention of reviving ICJW, which had remained dormant for almost 20 years.

To this end an international meeting to reconstitute ICJW was held in Paris in 1949 chaired by the President of NCJW America. Officially represented were :

  • NCJW America,
  • UJW and LJW of England
  • NCJW Canada,
  • NCJW of Australia
  • UJW of South Africa
  • UJW of Switzerland

Other delegates were from Holland, Greece, North Africa, Italy and Israel.

“The basic object of the meeting was …….. in the first stages to reestablish contact between the organizations of the various countries.”

Today, with the world’s citizens in isolation, and international travel not permitted due to the pandemic, the situation has resulted in ICJW adapting to different ways of communicating and holding meetings to ensure our ongoing viability. However unlike those earlier disruptive times, with the huge advantage of modern technology, our entire organization has been able to remain in contact, take advantage of the option of conducting virtual meetings and maintain the work and international continuation of ICJW.

The latest edition of our E-Links community newsletter which will be available in English and Spanish and distributed worldwide will contain accounts of how ICJW affiliates have been responding to the COVID19 crisis, and the proactive work they are undertaking during this unprecedented time.

Sections in italics are passages taken from Nelly Las  “Jewish Women in a Changing World : A History of the International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW) 1899-1995” (Hebrew University, 1996)

You can read more about the history of ICJW in this Jewish Women’s Archive article by Nelly Las.