Entering its centennial year, World WIZO President Esther Mor shares the keys to the success of Israel’s largest social organisation.
Excitement runs through the Tel Aviv headquarters of World WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organisation). In just over a week, more than 1,000 WIZO women, volunteer lay-leaders, members and supporters from Jewish communities in 40 countries around the world, will arrive in Israel for the organisation’s EGM (Enlarged General Meeting). Held once every four years, this EGM at the Tel Aviv Hilton Hotel will also celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of WIZO, in 1920 in London.
But for World WIZO President Esther Mor, the EGM is not merely a gathering of WIZO’s representatives from around the globe, but a demonstration of the collective strength of women Zionists working in harmony for an important cause. The conference attendees represent a vast global network of WIZO volunteers from WIZO’s worldwide federations.
Each WIZO member, each chavera, wherever they live, is a world unto themselves,” Mor explains. “The EGM is a unique opportunity for WIZO women from around the world to bond, to be inspired and inspire one another. I look forward to connecting and reconnecting with them all.”
A globetrotter herself, having lived in India, Europe, the Far East and the US prior to making aliyah in 1980 with her husband and three children, Mor has an easy affinity with the incoming international WIZO delegates. The fact that she speaks eight languages is a great asset in her presidential role as WIZO’s roving ambassador, visiting existing federations and opening new ones across six continents.
Founded in 1920 as a Zionist women’s movement for the purpose of helping women and children in the Jewish community in pre-state Israel, over the past century WIZO has grown to become the largest social organization in Israel. For 100 years WIZO has led the way in empowering women, educating children and youth, and improving the welfare of disadvantaged populations.
WIZO pioneered the framework of education and welfare services in the country, establishing the first “Tipat Chalav” (A Drop of Milk) mother & baby clinics, baby homes and nursery nurse training centers. The women of the Yishuv were able to learn new and vital agricultural and domestic economy skills at its training colleges, which eventually became youth villages, absorbing new immigrants. WIZO also established the first and only women’s political party in Israel which ran in Israel’s very first elections in 1949. It won one seat and was represented by Rachel Cohen-Kagan, then-chairperson of WIZO Israel and the only woman besides Golda Meir to have signed the Israeli Declaration of Independence.
Today, legions of WIZO chaverot (members) make up a global volunteer force in federations throughout the world, supporting the organization’s activities in Israel. WIZO is a leading provider of education and welfare services in Israel operating over 800 institutions and services including 180 daycare centers, eight schools and youth villages for youth, 40 legal bureaus, dozens of single-parent women’s centers, three domestic violence prevention centers and two battered women’s shelters, emergency centers for children at risk and much more.
In 2008, the Israel Prize was awarded to the WIZO movement, in collaboration with the Na’amat and Emunah women’s organizations, for their special contribution to Israeli society.
Esther Mor’s path to the presidency of World WIZO is a fascinating one, spanning several continents and decades. She was first exposed to WIZO through her mother, as a child growing up in India. She joined WIZO in Italy when living in Milan in 1973, and shortly after making aliyah to Israel 40 years ago, she joined the WIZO Israel Federation. For the last 20 years, she has served on the World WIZO Executive, holding the deputy chair position of the fundraising division and subsequently being elected chair of the fundraising division in 2008. She was elected president of World WIZO at the 2016 EGM.
Of her many accomplishments, she is most proud of the English-speaking Friends of WIZO group in Israel, which she founded in 2003 and chaired until 2013. During this period, with an average annual yield of NIS300,000 per year, Friends of WIZO were able to sponsor two WIZO daycare centers. In 2010 the group partnered with WIZO Israel to host the national bar/bat mitzvah of 600 children and their parents (many of whom were single parents) at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
As President, Mor sees her main role as representing WIZO in the national and international arenas. During her term in office, Mor was invited to and carried out 24 missions to WIZO Federations around the globe. During the missions, she participated in conferences and gala events, led fundraising workshops and seminars, met with groups and donors, and delivered addresses and speeches on topics requested by the hosting Federations.
Following her 2016 election to the presidency of World WIZO, Mor also became a member of the World Zionist Organization Executive (WZO), the Jewish Agency Board of Governors (JA), the Zionist Council (Mo’atza Tzionit) and Vice President of the World Jewish Congress Executive (WJC). Over the years Mor has also established close connections with many foreign ambassadors in Israel, sharing with them WIZO’s vital work while strengthening international ties.
As World WIZO President, Mor keeps close contact with WIZO’s daycare centers, schools and youth villages; accompanying WIZO delegations and individuals from the federations and frequently visiting the youth villages to meet with the directors, staff and students to keep abreast of the latest news and developments and sharing them with the sponsoring federations in monthly reports.
Mor is also particularly proud of the work of WIZO Israel, and visits all the branches throughout the country, participating in various events. WIZO Israel is one of World WIZO’s most dynamic federations and evidence of its work can be seen all over the country in its branches, legal bureaus and “Bigudiot” (secondhand clothing shops). She also takes an active part in their national campaigns and initiatives.
When asked in a 2016 interview what she would say has made her successful in her WIZO work, Mor answered, “Most definitely the personal connections and contacts. That’s where I thrive. The trust I build with people and my good name are the key to my success.”
As for WIZO as a whole, according to Mor, cooperation is the name of the game.” Cooperation is fundamental to the success of World WIZO as a movement,” she said. “WIZO’s worldwide federations and their members are the backbone of WIZO, deserving the utmost respect and appreciation for the crucial role they play in strengthening the movement. We need to constantly reinforce the principles of benevolence and appreciation of the federations, supporters and donors. It is vital, particularly to encourage and inspire them and to show understanding to the great challenges they face, particularly in today’s climate.”
Speaking of cooperation, Mor cites her close relationship with the leaders of other women’s movements in Israel, including Na’amat, Emunah and Hadassah, as prime examples. “Only when we work together can we bring about real change.”
When discussing WIZO, Mor can’t help but get emotional. “I truly believe that WIZO’s work here in Israel is an example of excellence to the rest of the world.” Mor said with a noticeable tinge in her voice.” Every child in our care is treated as if he or she were our own. And not just the child, but the whole family. Continuity of care is crucial.”
When asked about her vision for WIZO as it enters its second century, Mor was very clear. “A vision can only come to fruition if the elements are in place. During the past four years, I have concentrated on building warm relationships here in Israel and with our many friends around the world. I am a great believer in trust-based relationship building, and I have already planted many positive seeds. Every member of WIZO here and around the world has her own personal circle. If I can impassion these women to share their love of our most wonderful WIZO sisterhood, then the job of engaging new members is made much easier.
“WIZO is, as it always has been, the most prominent and outstanding voluntary women’s social movement and sisterhood nationally and internationally. I want WIZO to prosper and grow in every corner of the world. I want women to be gathering, uniting, and strengthening WIZO and Israel together, wherever they live. It is what I like to call the ‘WE’ in WIZO, and it is built on mutual trust and respect. We must reinforce the ‘we’ in WIZO. That is the key to its future. It is attainable, but only if ‘we’ work with our partners as a team that puts WIZO first.”