Introduction

The years after WWI gave rise to a new position for the status of women within Canada. With men away at the front, women were required to fill roles previously held by men.  Upon the men’s return from overseas, women were forced to leave the jobs they had become so skilled in performing. This elicited the question – what exactly is women’s work? What was the place of women in the workforce, in and outside the home?

Women were expected to return to their roles as housewives in the kitchen, but their efforts during the war acted as a catalyst for demanding equal rights. As the rights of women were in a transient state, Canadian Jewish women took it upon themselves to influence change through the creation of their own non-governmental organizations. Among these were the National Council of Jewish Women (est. 1897, first Vancouver Chapter 1924), Hadassah-WIZO (est. 1917) and the Pioneer Women (est. 1921).

At the peak of their prominence, women’s organizations in Canada provided opportunities of “professional volunteerism” outside the home. To a member of one of these organizations, volunteer work meant taking on the equivalent of a full-time job in addition to her duties of being a mother and wife. Projects were progressive from the start, filling needs that the taxpayer’s dollars were not reaching. Focuses have included immigration, healthcare initiatives, social activism and education directives. The Jewish values of, tikkun olam[1] and tzedakah[2] remain central to most, if not all of the projects. It is however the interpretations of these principles that have contributed to distinct and divergent mandates of Jewish women’s organizations. A common question becomes the amount of effort directed towards Israel. Should Israel be considered the fundamental focus of tikkun olam as Hadassah and Na’amat maintain, or should efforts begin in ones immediate surrounding community, like the work of National Council? This fundamental question remains at the center of debate today.

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Jan Pollack and Miriam Warren at a Golden Age Club event.

Many women, looking beyond the charitable societies, garden clubs, music and literary clubs, and missionary societies to which they belonged, saw the need for societal reform, better education for women, even women’s suffrage. They realized that they would be much more effective if they spoke with a united voice. [3]

As I look around at the majority of a lot of my friends, we were very much into that sort of giving back to the community – we were the wartime generation. Shirley Kort  

[1] The continual attempt to fix/heal the world to support one another

[2] Biblical term used to value charity and those who righteously support those less fortunate than themselves

[3] National Council of Women Canada, “History” <www.ncwc/aboutUs_history.html>

4 thoughts on “Introduction

    • Hi Cissie, follow the links along the top of the window to read more about each of the specific groups: National Council, Hadassah, and Na’amat, as well as a chapter entitled, “The Future”.

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