WIZO provides a breath of fresh air to at-risk children, youth, and women
The difference between being 98 and 100 years old may not seem all that great, but ever since I began working at World WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) six months ago, it’s all I can think about.
Exactly 98 years ago today, on July 11, 1920, World WIZO was founded in England at an international conference of women Zionists convened by the Federation of Women Zionists of the United Kingdom.
However, WIZO UK, the “mother federation”, traces its origins two years further back, to when WIZO’s founding members, Rebecca Sieff, Vera Weizmann and Romana Goodman, wives of prominent Zionists and powerful personalities in their own right, founded a “Ladies Committee” within the British Zionist Federation in 1918, the precursor to World WIZO.
So, while World WIZO marks its 98th birthday today, WIZO UK is now celebrating their centennial in grand style, a historical milestone of 100 years of impactful WIZO work.
In the shadow of WIZO UK’s centennial celebrations, World WIZO’s 98th birthday seem less than spectacular. Perhaps I should just wait two years till World WIZO hits the century mark.
But then I started to think about the number 98. In the Hebrew alphabet, the letter tsaddik has a value of 90 and the letter chet is 8, and the gematria value of 98 the word “tzach”. It’s not a word used very often – except when describing the need to get some “fresh” air –avir tzach.
Nice, but what does that all have to do with WIZO?
A couple of months ago I was sent out an assignment to a WIZO day care center in Bat Yam to interview a mother about her experiences there. I was unprepared for the raw emotion she displayed when describing the impact of this seemingly ordinary day care center.
“This place, this day care center, for me it’s like a miracle!” Nechama (not her real name), a 35-year-old mother of five told me.
Born and raised in Ethiopia, Nechama immigrated to Israel as a young teenager with her family. She lives in Bat Yam and works part-time for a local non-profit organization that helps kids with disabilities.
“My oldest three children never went to day care centers,” Nechama said. “For years I took care of them at home. But my fourth child, my daughter Sarah, went to this day care center last year, and now my three year-old son Avi is here and my life has completely changed for the better.”
“First of all, I could finally get a job,” Nechama said smiling broadly. “Having my youngest children WIZO day care center allowed me to pursue a career, something I never could have done before. Being at home all day with children is not easy. I needed the mental break. Now when I come to pick up my son from day care, he is so happy and I am so excited to see him. Everything has changed.”
“Second, I saw the huge difference this day care center makes in the lives of my children. Sarah was a very finicky eater, she wouldn’t eat hard foods at all, only rice. The staff here told me not to worry, and sure enough, after a few days of encouragement at the day care center, she was eating like a champ. I see so much development it’s amazing.”
Nechama has seen a drastic change in her youngest child too. “Avi is such a social child now,” she says. “I used to ask him after day care to name his friends and he would only say one or two names, now each day he says many more names. I watch how he plays so nicely with other children. Since he started going to this day care center he even plays with his siblings more.”
Nechama describes how excited Avi is to bring home a book from the special WIZO Pajama Library. His face lights up when his mother or father sits down to read him a new story.
“The thing that stands out for me at this day care center is the continuity,” Nechama says. “The staff is experienced and the children get to know them, there is no changeover. At first we were in a different day care center, but here there is permanence. It’s comforting for both the children and their parents. When we come in the morning my son is so excited to see the teachers and his little friends. I feel joy in my heart.”
Nechama’s story is not unique. Over the last half a year I have visited many WIZO projects: WIZO day care centers, schools & youth villages, teenage girl enrichment programs, women’s centers and shelters, and the WIZO parent’s home. What they all share in common is that they provide a “fresh” start, a breath of “fresh” air to the at-risk children and youth – and sometimes their parents too, as well as the women and seniors who call WIZO home.
Of course, the word “tzach” spelled backwards is “chetz” – which is also equal to 98, as in “arrow”. Each of these WIZO projects helps point children, youth and women in the right direction.
And just for good measure, the expression “Le’Chaim”, to life, also equals 98.
So, Le’Chaim, World WIZO! Happy 98th birthday! Keep offering fresh perspectives and pointing children, youth and women forward.
(Names changed to preserve anonymity/Photo for illustration purposes only)