“We are family. I got all my sisters with me.”
As hard as I try, I can’t seem to get those lyrics from that 1979 Sister Sledge hit out of my head.
That’s probably because my workplace, WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) played that song in a loop during the filming of a video clip many of my colleagues and I participated in. Donning matching white WIZO t-shirts, we proudly marched outside WIZO’s Tel Aviv headquarters in the clip which premiered at the 2020 EGM (Enlarged General Meeting), a quadrennial four-day event held at the Tel Aviv Hilton last month which drew over 700 women from WIZO federations across the globe to celebrate the start of WIZO’s centennial year.
With “Yom Hamishpacha” (Family Day) being celebrated in Israel today, which WIZO marks by letting its employees out of work early so they can spend more time with their families, you can excuse me for humming a few bars of “We are Family” today. I can’t help it.
Without getting too sentimental, I can honestly say that my “family” has grown exponentially since I joined WIZO two years ago. It could not have been more evident than at the EGM as I witnessed WIZO “sisters” from Austria to Australia, from Mexico to South Africa all welcoming each other, and me as well, with open arms – quite literally.
But these WIZO women from around the globe are not just supporters of the organization, in many ways they are the core.
“WIZO’s worldwide federations and their members are the backbone of WIZO for the crucial role they play in strengthening the movement,” World WIZO President Esther Mor, who was re-elected for a second term at the 2020 EGM, said in a recent interview, “It is vital to encourage and inspire them and show understanding to the great challenges they face, particularly in today’s climate.”
For some, the notion of WIZO being a family is natural because it runs in their family. Take newly elected World WIZO Chairperson Anita Friedman, who inherited her love of WIZO from her mother Perla, an active member of WIZO Colombia and later WIZO USA. But WIZO is not a movement that just revels in its glorious past. “We are engaged in nurturing the leadership of tomorrow’s Jewish women leaders, as an integral part of our ongoing operations,” Friedman explains. “WIZO also serves as a bridge to Israel for tens of thousands of Jewish women around the world.”
I doubt WIZO’s founder, the proud British Zionist, Rebecca Sieff, could have ever dreamed of what WIZO has become today when she founded WIZO a century ago in the summer of 1920 in the UK. She’d certainly be awed by the hundreds of WIZO day care centers across Israel, of the schools and youth villages, of the empowerment programs for young girls and women, of the abused women’s shelters, the foster homes for at-risk children, and so much more.
What about me? Going into the EGM I imagined I could just be a fly on the wall, quietly going about my business reporting on the goings on as the participants attended inspiring sessions in Tel Aviv, enjoyed an emotional opening evening in Jerusalem and traveled around Israel visiting WIZO projects, seeing WIZO making a life-changing difference for children, youth and women firsthand.
But I quickly realized that I could not just write the story an outsider, because I am, whether I realized it or not, very much a part of it, an integral part of the WIZO family.
No, it was not the type of family reunion where aunts come up to you pinching your cheeks and telling you how much you’ve grown. However, the President of WIZO Italy (ADEI WIZO) warmly greeted me and presented me a very nice Italian tie, which I went on to wear at the EGM’s festive closing evening.
Now that I finally got “We are Family” out of my head, I found myself singing the TV theme song for “Family Ties”.