International Council of Jewish Women
The International Council of Jewish Women (ICJW) is an umbrella organization for forty-nine affiliates representing some two million women in forty-six countries. The head office rotates according to the place of residence of its current chairwoman, who is elected for a period of three years. Plans for future actions are decided on by a team of directors at international triennial conventions which take place in various countries. Each affiliate organization of the ICJW retains its own name and has its own projects. The ICJW is an entirely voluntary organization based on the good will of women motivated by their belief in the humanitarian duty rooted in in Judaism, in the vocation of the Jewish woman or mother, or simply in a sense of Jewish solidarity. Established in the early twentieth century and reconstituted immediately after World War II, ICJW never ceased its development throughout the vicissitudes of the past century.
Jewish women first organized themselves on a national scale at the end of the nineteenth century. The pioneer organization was the National Council of Jewish Women in America (NCJW) which was followed by many others around the world. Some of these, such as Hadassah and WIZO, defined themselves as Zionist, with the primary purpose of assisting the Zionist enterprise. Others concentrated on providing humanitarian and philanthropic assistance at the local level, while also relating in various ways to Zionism. From the beginning of the twentieth century, some of these local Jewish women’s organizations tried to establish activities on an international level, following the initiative of the National Council of Jewish Women (USA). They modeled themselves on the International Council of Women, which was established in America in 1888. Whenever the International Council of Women held a meeting, the leaders of the Jewish women’s organizations were invited to attend. These conventions gave Jewish women an opportunity to meet, to strengthen bonds, discuss problems common to Jews in various countries, study organizational methods and try to devise solutions to local and global concerns. After the meeting of the International Council of Women held in London in 1899, Hanna G. Solomon, president of the National Council of Jewish Women in America, encouraged the creation of the Union of Jewish Women of England. At the next meeting, in Berlin in 1904, she helped create the German Jewish women’s organization, Jüdischer Frauenbund.
That same year, in an address at Temple Israel in Saint Louis, Hannah G. Solomon expressed the importance of an international bond among Jewish women: “And so we need internationalism for Jewish women, that shall bring them together to utilize their strength in perpetuating the great moral truths we hold for the world. …”
In May 1914, at a conference of the International Council of Women held in Rome, the leaders of the three Jewish women’s organizations, from the US, Britain and Germany, decided to establish a worldwide organization of Jewish women. A brief notice to this effect appeared in the American Jewish Yearbook of the same year, announcing the establishment of an International Society of Jewish Women.
A great deal of courage and daring was needed to establish an international women’s organization at this time. For one thing, travel from one country to another was neither as developed nor as safe as it is today. Furthermore, the magnitude of the task was overwhelming. Many Jews the world over, in dire straits caused by poverty, persecution and pogroms, sought refuge in friendlier countries. Among the waves of Jewish immigrants women were the most vulnerable, especially single women: young girls travelling alone, abandoned wives and destitute women. By this time, Jewish women’s organizations were providing extensive social services and humanitarian assistance in their own countries: helping immigrants, the sick and the elderly. Under the auspices of an international organization, these humanitarian services could be elevated to a new level: they were now available to tens of thousands of Jews in distress throughout the world, and particularly in Eastern Europe, who desperately needed help.
During those years, in addition to humanitarian services and philanthropy, a new way to help Jews was suggested by the Zionist movement: instead of finding refuge in a foreign country, to build a homeland in Palestine.
At first, the international organization of Jewish women established in 1914 remained theoretical. The opportunity to become a truly international Jewish sisterhood occurred only in 1920, when the American NCJW sent delegates to Europe to study the problems of European Jewry in the aftermath of World War I and to explore ways of assisting them. This Reconstruction Committee was headed by Rebekah Kohut, a founder of the NCJW.
The year 1920 was far different from 1914, the year in which the ICJW was formally established. Europe lay shattered and bleeding in the wake of a harsh, cruel war. However, Jews had also experienced some positive changes during this period: Jewish settlement in Palestine had been expanded and the Balfour Declaration of 1917 legitimized Zionism which until then had been considered by many to be a theoretical concept.
The misery and suffering of the Jews of Eastern Europe stood out in sharp relief against the background of these political gains. Their situation was desperate. Thousands had been massacred in the Ukraine, thousands more were hunted and persecuted in Poland and masses of refugees were wandering from town to town throughout Europe. In the large cities of Germany, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands they crowded into hostels run by Jewish communities, which were unable to cope with such vast numbers.
In 1920 and 1921 the American NCJW sent two teams of professional social workers to Europe to help the many orphans and to counsel candidates seeking to emigrate. They organized English classes to facilitate the integration of the future immigrants into the U.S. Rebekah Kohut initiated the establishment of Jewish women’s organizations in Riga, Rotterdam, the Hague, Amsterdam and Antwerp, in order to guarantee emigration services in all the ports.
Another task was to organize a World Congress of Jewish Women to renew the ties with European Jewish women which had been suspended during the war. This was to be the forum for deliberations on the urgent problems facing post-war European Jewry. The Congress was scheduled to be held in May 1923 in Vienna, where the city’s notorious antisemitic shock troops had gone about pasting virulent anti-Jewish posters on the walls.
The history of the International Council of Jewish Women between the two World Wars can be summarized by two impressive conferences of Jewish women held in Vienna in 1923 and in Hamburg in 1929. These meetings were initiated and financed largely by the NCJW of America which sent large delegations. The President of these World Congresses of Jewish Women was Rebekah Kohut.
The first Congress of Jewish Women convened in Vienna in May 1923 in an impressive setting and with massive press coverage, in the presence of the Austrian President, the Mayor of Vienna, the Chief of Police and many Viennese literary figures and politicians. Delegates from Jewish women’s organizations from over twenty countries were present, as well as leaders of the local Jewish community.
The five main topics discussed over six days were: the duties of the Jewish woman within the community, the problem of refugees and orphans, the situation of homeless girls, aid for emigration, and support for Palestine.
The frightening sights witnessed by some Congress attendees brought the hardships and suffering of thousands of Jewish refugees and orphans into sharp relief. Pogroms and persecution had rendered many of them homeless. At one point during the Congress, when the representatives from Eastern Europe reported on the terrible plight of Jews in Russia and the Ukraine, emotions were so intense that proceedings were halted for a few minutes.
Among the suggestions for relieving Jewish sufferings, Zionism was accepted as a practical option, although political action was still rejected. Relocation to Palestine was a humanitarian solution and a way of providing sanctuary for the refugees. In the final resolutions adopted by the Congress, a Palestine proposal was adopted unanimously with great acclamation: “It appears, therefore, to be the duty of all Jews to co-operate in the social-economic reconstruction of Palestine and to assist in the settlement of Jews in that country.” Jewish hardship and distress, on the one hand, and the Balfour Declaration and settlement expansion on the other, legitimized and justified the Zionist enterprise as a humanitarian solution.
The second world congress of Jewish women was convened in 1929 in Hamburg, Germany. As in 1923, the event was a show of Jewish women’s solidarity on an international scale. This Congress was attended by two hundred representatives, including a large delegation of very dynamic and energetic German women. Delegates from fourteen countries came together to discuss subjects of common interest and to form a world organization of Jewish women, as agreed upon at the previous Congress. Congress participants were warmly welcomed by the mayor of Hamburg and by the local Jewish community. The various sessions dealt with general concerns of Jewish communities and with problems faced by Jewish women in particular: Jewish education, the struggle against antisemitism and the tragedy of abandoned wives.
This time, the question of Palestine was more accentuated than at the previous conference. The burning issue of the year was the cooperation of Zionists and non-Zionists within the framework of the Jewish Agency for Palestine, which would constitute a bridge between philanthropy and political Zionism. Finally, one of the resolutions taken at the Congress was “to cooperate in the work of building Palestine.”
These two international Jewish women’s congresses attracted a great deal of publicity but were not immediately followed by action. The inspiring meetings enabled Jewish women to meet and exchange views. The delegates had the opportunity of expressing themselves on important issues and participating in determining the destiny of the Jewish people. They were recognized by Jewish communal leaders and by the most prestigious Jewish institutions. However, this success was not converted into practice and the activities of Jewish women’s organizations were not renewed until after World War II. Clearly, international action was extremely problematic given the conflict and crisis in Europe. After the rise of Nazism, most European women’s organizations—and especially the organization of German women—were inoperative, lacking means and support. Organizations that were able to pursue their activity did so independently. The American National Council of Jewish Women participated in social action and rescue work. On the question of Palestine, it vacillated between neutrality and formal support. For example, at the American Jewish Conference of 1943 the NCJW took a neutral position. However, some months later it published a declaration strongly condemning the White Paper of 1939 and reaffirming its support of the upbuilding of Palestine in the spirit of the Balfour Declaration.
Reconstitution of the ICJW (June 1949): from discontinuous Congresses to a unified structured organization
Immediately after World War II the National Council of Jewish Women decided to revive its overseas program and to participate in the rescue actions of the Joint Distribution Committee. At the NCJW convention held in Dallas in 1946 Mildred Welt, the president of the NCJW at the time, proposed that the international Jewish women’s organization which was never formally structured and which had been effectively dead for nearly twenty years, be re-established. Her proposal was unanimously accepted.
The first problem facing this initiative was to revive the organization after so long an interval. Who could even remember its brief existence? Twenty years had elapsed, years of extermination, of clandestine activity and massive displacements of Jewish populations. Some of the European activists had disappeared, others had resigned from public life. Some, however, remained convinced of the necessity of re-establishing the international Jewish women’s organization in accordance with the principles which had guided its creation at the beginning of the century.
The International Council’s last president, Rebekah Kohut, was still alive. For the sake of continuity, she was asked to head the organization, even if only in name. Although she was old and not in good health, she agreed to accept the position.
The International Council’s Reconstitution Committee set to work immediately. It began by sending letters in the name of the president of the American NCJW to Jewish women’s organizations in France, England, Mexico, Switzerland, Belgium, Australia, South Africa and Brazil which had been in contact with the NCJW in previous years. The letter stated:
… We in the United States believe that there is a great need for the opportunity of meeting with the Jewish women of the world whose interest, work and problems undoubtedly are similar to ours. We realize how much we can gain from each other. …
Enthusiastic replies were received from organizations such as those in Australia, England, South Africa and Switzerland. They indicated that the women outside the United States were eager and even hungry for any assistance, stimulation, inspiration the Americans could give them through meeting together. The promptness with which the replies came in and the contents of the letters showed that Jewish women all over the world looked to the Americans for any ray of hope they could offer them.
After two years of preparation, the international meeting was held from May 29 to June 1, 1949 at the Council Home in Paris, a home for single women which the American NCJW had founded as part of its overseas program.
Jewish women’s organizations officially represented included the National Council of Jewish Women of America, the National Council of Jewish Women of Canada, the Union of Jewish Women of South Africa, the Union of Jewish Women of Australia, the Union of Jewish Women and the League of Jewish Women of England, and the Union of Jewish Women of Switzerland. These organizations formed the nucleus of the new international council. The other delegates were from the Netherlands, Greece, North Africa and Italy. Israel was represented by the wife of the Israeli Ambassador to France, who was invited at the last minute. Although the participants did not reach any major decisions, the meeting helped to give the International Council of Jewish Women some of its basic structures and to define its principles, most of which apply to this day.
The International Council of Jewish Women was defined as a federation of national women’s organizations, independent of each other and apolitical in nature. Its objects were essentially: “to promote friendly relations and understanding among Jewish women of all countries; to further the best and highest interests of humanity; to uphold and strengthen the bonds between Jewish communities throughout the world; to support the principles of the United Nations Bill of Human Rights; and to improve the status of women.”
The vague and general character of these initial aims can be explained by the need to include many organizations with a wide range of opinions in order to bring the organization into being. There was barely any reference to Judaism and no reference at all to the recently created State of Israel. Among the basic principles of the ICJW, the concern with projecting an image of objectivity and of distance from Zionism were maintained, as was the concern with being a humanitarian organization.
Theoretical principles do not always stand firm in the face of reality. The situation of European Jews after the Shoah and the difficulties confronting the newly born State of Israel helped to shape the agenda of the Jewish organizations of the Diaspora, especially with regard to Israel.
The drama of the ICJW during this period stems from both the huge and seemingly impossible tasks it aspired to and the tumultuous events which were to stand in its way. The ICJW was ambivalent towards Zionism. Nonetheless, like many other groups at the time, it contributed to Zionism by supporting Jewish settlement as a haven for Jews in distress, rather than as a political act. The newly created State of Israel intrigued and excited the members of ICJW. Most of its affiliate organizations had begun developing various aid programs for Israel, each according to its character. Major funds were devoted to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a symbol of Jewish culture and education. Even non-Zionist women envisioned the State of Israel as a source of Jewish culture rather than a political center.
After the 1954 convention of the ICJW the Council of Women’s Organizations in Israel joined ICJW. This opportunity to develop a relationship with Israeli women was warmly welcomed by Diaspora women. However, it took until 1957 for the ICJW to pass a resolution supporting Israel at its convention in Jerusalem. The resolution stressed that “ICJW urges its affiliate organizations to give their support to the continuing social, economic and cultural upbuilding of Israel.”
The organizations’s declaration of support for Israel was not an unreserved profession of Zionist faith. The ICJW continued to set itself apart from Zionist organizations, although its activists maintained excellent ties with their Zionist colleagues. Aid to Israel was not yet a central concern, but only one of many. With time, a formal beginning paved the way to personal friendship between the women of Israel and the Diaspora, which eventually led to greater involvement and finally to an unconditional support of Israel by the ICJW itself.
More than in previous years, the ICJW defined itself as universal and non-sectarian, without giving priority to Jewish causes or to the newly established State of Israel. This position was not a result of apathy to historical events, but quite the opposite. In a period that followed atrocious events, many Jews experienced a lack of self confidence and feelings of anxiety. Diaspora Jews did not know what the consequences of the establishment of a Jewish State would be for them. ICJW leaders felt they had to stress their “universality” in order to avoid accusations of dual loyalty and sectarianism. In a climate of great change and anxiety, it was also important to maintain a consensus and an atmosphere of pluralism within the reborn organization.
Still, these views were not only the product of rational thought, but were also deeply ingrained in the ideology of the organization. Since its inception at the beginning of the century, this ideology was based both on the Jewish sense of morality and on a firm belief in the particular moral and educational mission of women “for the higher good of humanity.”
Over the next few years, this universalism was to give way to involvement in specifically Jewish missions and with the State of Israel. It is apparently difficult for Jews to maintain objectivity and universality when faced with the distress of their people. This “slippage” is in fact a process of discovering one’s Jewish identity. “Jewish revival” or “self-discovery of one’s Jewish identity” has periodically occurred in times of crisis: after the Dreyfus case, after the Kishinev pogroms, after the Ukrainian pogroms, after the Yishuv events of 1929, after the Shoah, and after the successive wars in Israel since the establishment of the State. The ICJW was not immune to this historical process and it too has become successively more Jewish and Zionist.
In fact, the Jewish Yishuv and subsequently the State of Israel became early focal points of identification for women active in Jewish organizations, although their terminology (i.e. “Zionist,” “non-Zionist” or “philanthropist”) did not always reflect this identification.
The ICJW’s ambivalence towards Zionism was resolved over time by several factors which combine Jewish solidarity with historical events. The achievements of the State of Israel, on the one hand, proved its capacity to save Jews in danger, while at the same time a new kind of animosity in the name of “anti-Zionism” appeared. The closer ties which the ICJW leaders developed with their colleagues in Israel, on the other hand, allowed Diaspora women a better understanding of the needs and the existential dilemmas of Israeli citizens.
In the United Nations, where they are represented, WIZO, ICJW and other Jewish organizations are today virtually indistinguishable in their attitude towards Israel. Paradoxically, what began as an apparent preconception which equated “Jewish” with “Zionist” has become an historical truth.
However, this particularism is not sectarianism. When the situation of Israel improves, the International Council of Jewish Women concentrates its efforts on humanitarian issues and social assistance, according to its basic credo: “For all mankind, without distinction of race, color and creed.” Without neglecting Israel and the problems of Jews, ICJW, like many Jewish organizations, shows that it is possible to combine the specific and the universal; it is possible to preserve one’s own identity while still identifying with the persecuted of all creeds and nations.
“For the Higher Good of Humanity, Without Distinction of Race, Color or Creed.”
“For the benefit of all humanity, with the emphasis on Jews, women and the State of Israel.” Under this basic credo, ICJW, as an umbrella organization, over time developed numerous projects and activities.
In 1963 the first committee for the status of women in Jewish law was nominated. From 1966 to 1969 a petition addressed to the Orthodox rabbinical authorities was prepared, listing the wrongs suffered as a result of many Jewish laws concerning marriage, divorce and inheritance rights. In March 1998 ICJW established the International Women’s Rights Watch, whose goal is to eliminate discrimination and injustice against women in marriage, divorce and family law.
In 1964 ICJW was officially recognized as a Category II Non-Governmental Organization at the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Today, it has permanent representatives in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Paris (UNESCO), as well as in the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. ICJW actions during the UN Decade for Women, 1975–1985, included participation in the UN Conferences in Mexico (1975), Copenhagen (1980) and Nairobi (1985), in the shadow of the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism. The defense of Israel at the United Nations conferences became one of the main preoccupations of its UN representatives. In Nairobi ICJW delegates were particularly active in ensuring that the shocking “Zionism Is Racism” resolution be expunged from the conference’s final document. Representatives participated in the UN conferences on women—in Beijing (1995) and Beijing + 5 (2000)—as well as in UN events such as the International Year of the Child, the World Conference on Aging, the International Year of Peace (1987, where ICJW was awarded the title “Messenger of Peace”) and the Elimination of Illiteracy Year. They were deeply concerned by the preparations for the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination and Xenophobia held in Durban, South Africa in August/September 2001, where there was an attempt to resurrect the Zionism- Racism equation. To prevent such a development, then-ICJW President June Jacobs sent letters to the UN Secretary-General and to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of France, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries (July 2001).
These meetings provide liaison between the affiliates at the regional level. They have included: Latin American Workshop (November 1964: first Latin American Workshop in São Paulo, Brazil); Europe (May 1971: First ICJW European Conference); African region: South Africa, Zimbabwe (and Swaziland, Mozambique, Zambia, Bostwana, Namibia and the former Zaire); Asia Pacific Region: Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, Beijing and Japan.
The campaign for Soviet Jewry was one of the most intensive ICJW activities between 1977 and 1989. June Jacobs, who was responsible for this action at an international level, organized many conferences, petitions and adoption of “Refuseniks.” At the 1987 Convention the newly elected president, Stella Rozan, sent a symbolic certificate of affiliation to a group of refusenik women, “Jewar.”
Following the example of the UN international days, ICJW decided to institute an annual International Jewish Education Day. All affiliate organizations were asked to reflect on and discuss an annual study theme. (The first theme was “Jewish identity in a multicultural society,” October 1987).
The ICJW Israel Leadership Training Seminar was established in 1969 at the iniative of ICJW president Shoshana Hareli. The program was based on the popular Israel Experience, which brings Diaspora Jews to Israel to spend a few days or weeks gaining greater knowledge of the Israel reality. In order to ensure the continuity of the project, Rosa de Herczeg, ICJW’s president from 1975 to 1981, created a fund to perpetuate this training seminar in Israel, known henceforth as the Rosa and Esteban de Herczeg Seminar.
ICJW has always been involved in child-related projects and considered cooperation with UNICEF as of prime importance.
Services for the elderly: ICJW participated in the World Conference on Aging (Vienna, 1982). In 1979 it implemented Open Door, a project for the elderly in Jerusalem.
A new committee, Against Racism and Antisemitism, was created at the 1987 ICJW convention. Its aims were to keep the affiliates informed of antisemitic developments, to promote contacts with people of different races and creeds, to combat prejudices and discrimination in a multiracial society and to coordinate actions against antisemitism and anti-Zionism in all their forms.
During June Jacob’s presidency (1996–2002) ICJW created an Interfaith Committee which organized Interfaith Conferences (Brussels, 1987; Sarajevo, 2000).
Since the 1954 convention of ICJW, where the Council of Women’s Organizations in Israel became an affiliate, a warm relationship between Diaspora and Israeli women has developed. Although close to Israel and Zionism, which it defended ardently throughout the Decade of Women (1975–1985), ICJW cannot declare itself officially Zionist even today. Ideologically, it advocates pluralism and hence cannot present a unilateral position without the agreement of all its members. Tactically, this would lead to confusion with WIZO and Hadassah, from which it has always sought to distinguish itself, even though it has drawn closer to their positions. This is no doubt the reason why ICJW is one of the few Jewish organizations which has not joined the World Zionist Organisation.
As an organization based on voluntary work, ICJW has not been content with promoting social aid and philanthropic activities, but has constantly found itself initiating agenda under the banner of Judaism and Jewish ethics. As a women’s NGO, ICJW has participated in a variety of humanitarian actions stressing women’s rights, the well-being of children, of the aged and of the disabled, while also taking part in more general activities such as the struggle against AIDS, drugs, delinquency and pollution. As a neutral Jewish NGO it was able to form a pressure group to defend the Jewish cause and plead on behalf of Jews in distress within the framework of various UN commissions. Nonetheless, despite its numerous successes, ICJW is still plagued by its old deficiencies: the tiny budget makes it dependent on the generosity of its presidents; because of its lack of adequate public relations and the weakness of its structural framework, the name of ICJW is little known to the public and less familiar than WIZO and Hadassah. The fact that most of the leaders are women with independent financial means who are able to undertake expensive international travel discourages the participation of younger and sometimes more talented women and gives it the reputation of being an “elitist organization reserved for older and wealthy women.” This is a problem of concern for all women’s organizations based on voluntary work, which are desperately seeking younger leadership.
1949: Mildred Welt (USA); 1951–1954: Gladys Cahn (USA); 1954–1957: Pearl Willen (USA); 1957–1963: Tony Robinson (USA); 1963–1966: Frances Rubens (UK); 1966–1969: Isabelle Brown (USA); 1969–1972: Shoshana Hareli (Israel); 1972–1978: Rosa de Herczeg (Argentina); 1978–1981: Eleanor Marvin (USA); 1981–1984: Marice Halper (USA); 1984–1987: Leila Seigel (Switzerland); 1987–1990: Stella Rozan (France); 1990–1996: Helen Marr (Canada); 1996–2002: June Jacobs (U.K.); 2002–2006: Sara Winkowski (Uruguay)
In 2002 the ICJW constitution was amended to hold international meetings once every four years and to elect a President for only one four-year term.
Born in The Hague in 1917, she commenced her social and philanthropic work on the eve of World War II, when with her husband Dr. Julien Rozan she helped create an around-the-clock medical service in the Paris suburb of Aubervilliers which became an important treatment center after the war. Later she founded the Julien and Stella Rozan Foundation whose object was to encourage meritorious undertakings in the medical, social and cultural or artistic field through scholarships and prizes. In this way she helped both medical students and young painters, musician, dancers and even film producers. These prizes are now awarded annually through the French Fondation du judaïsme by the ICJW affiliate Coopération féminine. Stella Rozan was a generous donor to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, a member of its Board of Governors, and a member of the France-Israel Foundation and other official French Jewish organizations. She took over the ICJW at a crucial moment, after the turbulence of the Nairobi Conference and with the advent of the first signs of liberalization in the Soviet Union. She was a president who was prepared to give generously of her time and her money in order to carry out her functions. Among the honors she received for her numerous benevolent activities and donations were the Golden Medal of Paris, the Légion d’Honneur from the French Government and the degree of Doctor Honoris Causa from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
Born in London in 1930, Jacobs now represents the ICJW at the annual UN Commission on the Status of Women in New York and in the European Women’s Lobby. She was the first woman Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and led the struggle on behalf of Soviet Jews in Great Britain. She founded the National Council for Soviet Jews and visited the Soviet Union in the 1970s to meet with refuseniks.
Among her various current positions are: Member of the Women’s National Commission and International Working Group, the Black-Jewish-Asian Forum, Life President of Jewish Child’s Day, Vice President of the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and Chair of the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship Committee.
Jacobs attended the UN World Conference on Women in Nairobi and the Beijing + 5 UN conference in New York in 2000. As ICJW President she organized two European Women’s Interfaith Conferences (Brussels, 1997; Sarajevo, 2000) and travelled to many countries in Central and Eastern Europe, North and South America, Africa and Asia. She was a founder and executive member of the International Center for Peace in the Middle East, chair of its UK branch, and a founding member of the Jewish-Palestinian Dialogue Group in the UK. A member of the Middle East round table of the Jewish Policy Forum, she participated in the first Women Give Peace a Chance conference held in Brussels in 1988, which was attended by many Palestinian, Israeli and European women.
Born in 1916 into a traditional Jewish family of Hungarian origin, de Herczeg, who died in 1991, grew up in Argentina. Her father was the founder and for many years president of the Hungarian synagogue in Buenos Aires, while her mother chaired the women’s committee of the Hungarian social aid organization. After obtaining a Ph.D. in economics from Buenos Aires University, followed by a training period as an accountant at the Court of Justice, de Herczeg decided to give up her professional career in order to devote herself to social work. She began her community work in the Argentine Council of Jewish Women (Consejo Argentino de Mujeres Israelitas, CAMI). In order to study the methods of social work practiced in the United States at first hand, she participated in a training program of the NCJW (USA). She then directed the second Latin American Workshop and at the same time took an interest in international Jewish women’s work. Elected as ICJW president in 1972, she applied herself energetically to the task, with the aid and encouragement of her husband, Esteban de Herczeg. Her warm support of Judaism and of the State of Israel was evident. With great respect she referred to the state of Israel as the “medinah,” the Hebrew word for “state.” This attachment to Israel was reinforced by the shock of the Yom Kippur War of October 1973. She considered that the role of ICJW was primarily to aid Israel and the Jewish people. She created a permanent fund in order to perpetuate the ICJW Leadership Training Seminar in Israel, the object of which was to increase knowledge of Judaism among ICJW leaders and to renew Israel-Diaspora dialogue.
At the risk of losing its credibility and its reputation as a non-sectarian organization in the eyes of many NGOs in the United Nations, ICJW thus chose solidarity with Israel since, in the words of Rosa S. de Herczeg, “The destiny of each Jew, wherever he may be, is unfailingly bound up with Israel.”
After her death she bequeathed her estate to funds which supported the activities of ICJW and to research. Among them were: Herczeg Institute on Aging (coodinating with the Faculty of Medicine), Tel-Aviv University; and an undergraduate program in Sex Differences in Society (the Lafer Center for Women’s Studies, Hebrew University of Jerusalem).
Las, Nelly. Jewish Women in a Changing World: A History of the International Council of Jewish Women (1899–1995). The Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem: 1996 (translated from French); Idem. Femmes juives dans le siècle, Histoire du Conseil international des femmes juives. Paris: 1996; Las, Nelly. “The Impact of Zionism on the International Council of Jewish Women, 1914-1957.” In American Jewish Women and Zionism, edited by Shulamit Reinharz and Mark A. Raider. Hanover, NH and London: 2004.