Each week as you open this newsletter, or read this blog (by the way, thank you for doing that) you fall under the gaze of members of our community. And this week, you are being smiled upon by the faces of our granddaughters and daughters, mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces, grandmothers and great-grandmothers. The women of our community. Your community. And we’ve gone and pinked up the website, all for International Women’s Day.
International Women’s Day was first proposed as a holiday in 1910, by two German women, Clara Zetkin and Luise Zietz (neither of whom were Jewish, though that was a subtlety lost on the Nazis). International Womens Day first celebrated in 1911, as a “global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.” And one year later, the International Council of Jewish Women was established (being the roof body for our own National Council of Jewish Women, and similar organisations representing Jewish women in 34 countries).
ICJW has consultative status at the United Nations as a non-governmental organization with the Economic and Social Council, and maintains permanent delegations in New York, Geneva, Vienna and Paris. ICJW is also represented at the Council of Europe, the European Women’s Lobby, the International Council of Women, the World Jewish Congress, and many other international and regional organizations. And since May last year, has been presided over by our very own Robyn Lenn OAM.
It would be remiss on International Women’s Day to talk about NCJW and not mention Dr Fanny Reading, who the Australian Dictionary of Biography describes as “A practical visionary, who did much to establish women as a distinctive force within the organized Australian Jewish community, linking the old idea of charitable service and fund-raising as appropriate areas for female endeavour with the newer, feminist-inspired goal of female participation in communal policy formation.”
In any event, long before there was IWD, ICJW, NCJW and the sea of other three and four letter initials with a “W”, Jewish communities around the world have celebrated the political achievements of women, and one woman in particular: There is only one Jewish festival in the annual cycle where we celebrate the exploits of a heroine, rather than a hero. And there is only one of our holy books (or in this case scrolls) where the name of God is not mentioned. This week as our kids struggled with what to wear for Purim (life was so much easier when everyone went to Hogwarts) we took a moment to remember Esther, a Jewish woman whose smarts and strategic thinking saved the day.
She was the archetypal, Eshet Chayil, which is Hebrew phrase you hear every Shabbat, and also sadly everytime we bury one of our women. The term usually translated with the cumbersome, “Woman of Valour” (which is better than the King James Version, which describes the woman in Proverbs 31:10 as a “virtuous wife”. As they say, history is written by the winners, and in Elizabethan England, other than Elizabeth, the winners were all men). The phrase, literally means a physically, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally strong woman.
Interestingly for translators and commodity traders we find it impossible today value such women. You may have seen translations which suggest that the Eshet Chayil is worth more than rubies. Others think pearls. And our South African strong women may look to coral in compensation. Of course all of these valuations seem incredibly anachronistic in the 21st century.
For us at JCA, the equation is pretty simple. On this day when we celebrate the economic, political and social achievements of women, past, present and future, we salute and thank the many strong women who have done so very much to enable JCA to succeed in its mission of keeping our community sustainable, vibrant and secure. Just like Esther, and Fanny Reading before them. Our community in action article this week features four of these women who contribute to our organisation, each in a special and different way.
Chag Sameach, and Shabbat Shalom,
PS If you do nothing else this IWD, make sure to check out the Jewish Women’s Archive which as their mission says, “documents Jewish women’s stories, elevates their voices, and inspires them to be agents of change.”