LIFE MEMBER OR MEMBER FOR A LONG LIFE?
Being honoured with an Hon. Life Membership of NCJW Victorian Section was like a jolt from the deep. It suddenly brought home the realization that one has come to the end of one’s “active career” in the organization;- that one has reached the zenith of one’s life! Pushed aside,- “kicked upstairs”,- for the term of one’s natural life! Seniority demands it,- but the blunt reality is difficult to face!
Interestingly NCJW has had a string of senior leaders right across Australia who were awarded Honorary Life Presidencies, Life Memberships & Life Governorships and in almost all cases these stalwarts lived (and some still do) to ripe old ages, mostly well into their nineties! In Sydney, NCJW’s Founder Dr. Fanny Reading was the first Life President, living until the age of 90; Vera Cohen followed her to the age of 92 ; from Queensland’s Mary Lieberman and Aelsie Magnus, to WA’s Life President Edna Luber-Smith (to the age of 96) Council has been blessed with longevity of its Life leaders to this day and I was indeed fortunate to have met or known most of them during my 40 years in the organization. Now it is my turn!
So instead of a “sentence” I now look upon my next “term” in Council as a “prediction” of an active long life. But looking back to the time I started in NCJWA, I guess that I was “the new-age" leader,-the transition from the “old guard” to the new generation. The 1960s were the “Women’s Liberation” years. Until then, most women who were volunteers in the community were known as “charity” workers. They were the homemakers, wives and mothers, not career-women. They were supposed to do voluntary work because they could not do anything else. They were not the “professionals” like the men in the community,- the lawyers, doctors, businessmen who were the communal leaders. The women were the ones getting the cups of tea for them, with younger ones minding the offices and taking the Minutes at the male-dominated meetings.
The meetings of the communal Roof Bodies were run on a Parliamentary procedures system, with legal-eagles in the Chair who used sarcasm and patronizing sneers whenever a female delegate dared to raise her voice! Unless of course, the female was the wife of someone important! Then respect might have been shown, but on the whole, unless the Chairman recognized the delegate as representing an important section of the community, or was a VIP in his/her own right, there was little respect shown at the public meetings to anyone.
It was all very intimidating and it took a lot of courage therefore for newcomers to these establishments, whether new women leaders, or rank-and-file delegates, to speak-up at the meetings of the Board of Deputies, or the ECAJ or at the SZCs in Australia in those days. One had to be a strong personality of the calibre of Dr. Fanny Reading or Vera Cohen to force oneself to be heard and taken seriously among the Jewish male hierarchies in all the capital cities. It was easier for the WIZO leadership because they were usually the wives of communal Presidents.
NCJW being an independent Women’s organization, with an independent agenda but not as large a fundraiser for Israel as the other Zionist groups, it was difficult for its leaders to make the vocal professional men understand the breadth of interests and influence that a Women’s NGO with international affiliations and UN –Agencies’ representations was developing in those days on behalf of the Jewish community. The Women's Movement was in its infancy, but its influence was already being felt and NCJW was in there with the top groups.
So here I was, also a University graduate able to hold my own with the men in the community, with European experiences while the others were mostly Aussie Jews, or pre-WW2 immigrants,- but I was treated as someone who was not worth listening to!
Not being as forceful as my mentors, I chose to deliver my salvos via the Jewish News,- and the Editor of the day loved me! The difference between me and the others who felt like I did but were too afraid to speak up, was the fact that I had nothing to lose. I didn’t need any of them. Most men involved in the community had business or professional connections with each other and therefore avoided offending anyone! My husband was not involved with the “establishment”, we were ”New Australians” and had no ties either professional or business with any of “ the Establishment”. Hence I was a free-agent, totally unafraid to express my views as I saw them.
As a result I collected many “fellow-travellers” during my terms as State and National president,- but at the same time causing also plenty of controversies. Some leaders avoided me, while others sought my counsel. But suffice it to say that soon it became apparent that NCJW was not to be overlooked when important issues of the day were to be discussed. At the same time, within our organization we were able to attract the new breed of professional women in leadership positions, such as e.g. Dr. Geulah Solomon who was able to help us deal with the Government bureaucracies independently from the other Jewish communal bodies. Already in ’75, NCJW in Victoria was able to hold the first ever Jewish International Convention in Australia, which was honoured by the highest in the land, from the Governor General to the Prime Minister and State Premier, politicians and dignitaries; while NCJW NSW built its landmark building in Woollahra already in the ‘60s due to Dr. Fanny’s foresight, it was after the Convention thatVictoria was able to purchase its first modest Council House in St. Kilda. I was instrumental in getting assistance from someone at the Tax Office so that we were able to establish our NCJWA Foundation at the time and we were readily joined by the top Jewish jurors as our initial Trustees.
Of course, in all of this we were assisted by the indefatigable Mina Fink and her sister-in-law, Sadie, together with Annia Castan and their Smorgon and Fink families and all their friends. The enthusiasm with which they embraced every Council challenge,- such as bringing out the whole Israeli disabled basket-ball team to the World Championships in Melbourne which we undertook in the ‘80s,- made my leadership years in Council that much easier to sustain. I started much earlier than most,- my first presidency was in my 30s, (while still working and 2 small children at home) and I finished my 6-year National term by the time I was 54. Internationally I went to my first Convention in ’72 in Toronto Canada at the age of 35 and brought back the Convention for ’75 to Australia at Mina Fink’s urging. Again through Mina Fink, I was nominated to go to China with a small group of 10 as soon as I was elected to the Presidency in ’85,- the first time that a Jewish Zionist was officially invited,- before even the ECAJ President Isi Leibler at the time, (who also headed Jetset Travel) had been there,- after China started opening up to the world.
Altogether, my journey through the ranks of the State, National and International Council of Jewish Women has been an exciting and fulfilling one. When I was elected to the Life Membership of the ICJW Executive last May, I felt that I have earned it. I have held as many positions as I could from this far-away country of ours. I have made so many friends and visited with so many of them throughout our travels overseas over the years, that they actually made our journeys fantastical experiences each time. For this my husband and I shall be forever grateful.
Sadly, on the local scene, most of those early stalwarts are no longer with us. The only one of my early mentors and my companion with whom I shared Mina Fink’s President’s subsidy for that first Canadian Convention, is our dear Life Governor, Ray Ginsburg, who at some 96 years of age in Sydney, is still valiantly trying to keep up with her life-long devotion to NCJW. May she still continue to do so to 120!
I and my fellow past leaders and newly elected Victorian Life Members, Geulah Solomon and Susie Balint, intend to keep an eye on Council’s future as long as we are able. As the late Vera Cohen always insisted, we have to pay our dues regardless,- because you never know when we may need to have a vote! (She had to organise an Extraordinary General Meeting to stop Council House being taken over by another Organization in Sydney!)
Therefore, we don’t intend being “out of sight and out of mind”. There are Council’s “Core-Values” which we feel need protecting from being eroded by newer interests and administrations which in the future may not have the longstanding loyalties and experiences on which Council was founded 80 years ago. I would put these as the ones which Vera Cohen first espoused during her presidency:
NCW’s 3-point platform:
#1. Always ISRAEL------------Projects, education, Zionism, Hasbara, support at every level!
#2. LOCAL JEWISH…..community services,- filling a need wherever it is needed in our own community.
#3. GENERAL CAUSES…….status of women,- general and in Jewish law; -multicultural affairs, Human Rights issues. Fighting racism and anti-Semitism.
“It is not necessary for us to finish the task, but we must not desist from attempting it”
Malvina Malinek OAM
Hon. Life Member, NCJWA Victoria Inc.