National Council of Jewish Women
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The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) defines itself as a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action. Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.
NCJW has pursued the three tracks of social service, advocacy for progressive government policies and programs, and philanthropy in support of projects benefitting women, children, and families and the public at large. NCJW’s coalition work in Washington, DC; Israel; and across the US enable it to effect public policy change on a wide range of domestic and international issues. NCJW runs an online action center to provide access to issue information, advocacy campaigns, and email updates enabling site visitors to learn more and speak out. NCJW’s State Public Affairs Network, a corps of trained volunteers, shares public policy expertise at the state level, taking the lead on issues of concern to NCJW and representing the organization in state capitals. NCJW currently has over 90,000 members, supporters, and advocates in the United States.
According to the NCJW website, NCJW was organized following the 1893 World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, where Jewish women were brought together under the leadership of Hannah Greenebaum Solomon to “shape the destinies” of American lives. Rebuffed by the Jewish men at the parliament from playing a substantive role, the assembled women sought to form an organization that would strengthen women’s connection to Judaism and build on that identity to pursue a wide-ranging social justice agenda. That agenda included advocating women’s and children’s rights, assisting Jewish immigrants, and advancing social welfare, as well as defending Jews and Judaism, advancing Jewish identity, and incorporating Jewish values in its work. According to Faith Rogow, author of Gone to Another Meeting: The National Council of Jewish Women (1893-1993), the “NCJW was the offspring of the economic and social success achieved by German Jewish immigrants in the United States. As this community of German Jews matured and stabilized, it faced the same challenge to gender role definitions that had accompanied the Jacksonian Democracy a half century earlier." (Rogow 1995:2)
At its beginning, NCJW focused on educating Jewish women who had lost a sense of identity with Judaism and on helping Jewish immigrants become self-sustaining in their new land. Activities included promoting education and employment for women through adult study circles, vocational training, school health programs, and free community health dispensaries. NCJW was part of the broader effort of middle and upper class women to assist those less well off, working closely with the settlement movement epitomized by Jane Addams' Hull House in Chicago. Their work helped create the modern profession of social work. NCJW also began a campaign for social legislation to address low-income housing, child labor, public health, food and drug regulations, and civil rights. In 1908 NCJW argued for a federal anti-lynching law. NCJW also became involved in efforts to promote world peace.
During World War I, NCJW raised funds for war relief in Europe and Russia and helped achieve passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. As the Depression began, NCJW became involved in government programs to provide relief and help the unemployed find jobs, while continuing its legislative efforts for social legislation. During the 1940s, NCJW called for an end to segregation and racial discrimination. World War II found NCJW engaged in rescuing Jewish children from Germany and working to reunite thousands of displaced persons with family members, as well as a broad range of other relief efforts.
After the war, NCJW fought to preserve civil liberties during the McCarthy era and helped develop the innovative Meals on Wheels program for the elderly and pioneered the Senior Service Corps to help seniors lead productive lives as volunteers. The organization joined the emerging civil rights movement and participated fully in the drive to enact and promote the 1960s’ anti-poverty and civil rights programs. NCJW renewed its commitment to women’s rights as the revitalized women’s movement took shape in the 1960s and 1970s. Focusing its energies on the fate of women and children, NCJW sought child care programs and family-friendly policies that would benefit children and working mothers, and championed reproductive rights. In 1970s, NCJW officially published a series of documents: Windows on Day Care, the first nationwide survey of day care facilities and services; Children Without Justice, a study of the US Justice Department’s work with foster children; and Innocent Victims, a comprehensive manual on child abuse detection and prevention.
NCJW and Israel
NCJW has had a long involvement with promoting the welfare of Israel. Beginning with its Ship-a-Box program to send toys, books, and educational materials to young Holocaust survivors and generations of Israeli children, NCJW began a long collaboration designed to improve the lives of women and children in Israel. NCJW funded the department of education at Hebrew University in Jerusalem for the training of teachers, and eventually established the Research Institute for Innovation in Education (RIFIE) at Hebrew University. The institute assists at-risk children from all segments of Israeli society, including as many as 40 ongoing projects each year in early childhood education, school integration, vocational education, immigrant absorption, and cross-cultural education. Major programs include: HIPPY/Haetgar (Home Instruction for Pre-School Youngsters), Manof, and YACHAD. NCJW built Hebrew University High School in Jerusalem. NCJW later launched an Israel Granting Program called Yad B' Yad: NCJW's Initiative to Nurture Knowledge, to support grassroots organizations serving at-risk children and their families in Israel.
NCJW helped launch the NCJW Women Studies Forum at Tel Aviv University, which advances research and analysis in feminist studies while reaching out to the public through empowerment seminars and community services. The NCJW Women and Gender Studies Program at Tel Aviv University is the first bachelor's degree-granting program of its kind in the Middle East, providing an interdisciplinary analysis of issues impacting women and other minorities. NCJW has expanded its Israel Granting Program to include Women to Women: NCJW's Empowerment Initiative. This new funding stream complements the work of Yad B' Yad by supporting women's empowerment projects that address women's rights and well-being in areas like economics, politics, education, domestic violence, and social justice.
Recent and current campaigns
NCJW's work reflects the spirit of the organization itself—a powerful union of forward-thinking ideals and Jewish values: A faith in the future. A belief in action. Major initiatives include:
Higher Ground: NCJW's Domestic Violence Campaign is a national effort to end domestic violence by improving the economic status of women. Grounded in the understanding that economic security is critical to women's safety, Higher Ground educates and mobilizes advocates, community-members, and decision-makers to promote progressive policy solutions that champion women's economic autonomy. Learn more at www.ncjw.org/higherground.
BenchMark: NCJW's Judicial Nominations Campaign educates and mobilizes NCJW members, the Jewish community, and friends and allies everywhere to promote a federal bench with judges who support fundamental freedoms, including a woman's right to reproductive choice. Learn more at www.ncjw.org/benchmark.
Plan A: NCJW's Campaign for Contraceptive Access educates and empowers individuals to advocate for women's universal access to contraceptive information and health services. Through a combination of education and advocacy initiatives at the community, state, and national levels, Plan A aims to secure and protect access to contraceptive information and health services for all, putting individuals back in control of their personal health decisions. Learn more at www.ncjw.org/plana.
NCJW's Promote the Vote, Protect the Vote Initiative is designed to secure and safeguard voting rights for all, and encourage participation in the democratic process at the community, state, and federal levels with the aim to ensure that every eligible voter is able to vote and to ensure that every vote cast is counted.
Bowdlerizing Scrabble: While reading the Official Scrabble Players' Dictionary, Judith Grad found several words she considered to be offensive, including "jew", listed as a verb with the definition "To bargain with - an offensive term". Her initial letters to Merriam-Webster and Milton Bradley requesting removal of the words resulted in politely negative responses. Grad wrote to the National Council of Jewish Women, who began a letter-writing campaign in support of her cause. Publicity in Jewish media led to the Anti-Defamation League writing to Hasbro chairman Alan Hassenfeld, who announced that a third edition would be published with the "offensive" words removed. The news was generally not well received by members of the National Scrabble Association, which was not consulted in the decision. After receiving mostly negative feedback from players, including threats to boycott events, NSA president John D. Williams announced a compromise, the result of which was the publication of the unexpurgated Official Tournament and Club Word List.
NCJW is governed by a board of directors, president, and an executive committee. Headquartered in New York City, NCJW maintains offices in Washington, DC, and Israel. Members vote on organizational policies and resolutions at national conventions, which have been held every two years before 1953 and every three years since then. The principles adopted in 2008 include:
Principle 1: Individual liberties and rights guaranteed by the Constitution are keystones of a free and pluralistic society and must be protected and preserved.
Principle 3: Human rights and dignity are fundamental and must be guaranteed to all individuals.
Principle 5: A democratic society and its people must value diversity and promote mutual understanding and respect or all.
Principle 6: Discrimination on the basis of race, gender, national origin, ethnicity, religion, age, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation must be eliminated.
Principle 7: Equal rights and equal opportunities for women must be guaranteed.
Principle 8: The continuity of the Jewish people must be assured from generation to generation through Jewish education, culture, values, and respect among all streams of Judaism.
Principle 9: The survival and security of the State of Israel and the establishment of a just and permanent peace are central to the Jewish people and vital to the interests of the United States.
Principle 10: A democratic society must recognize its obligation to provide for the needs of individuals unable to provide for themselves.
Principle 11: Human services must be coordinated, comprehensive, accessible, and sufficiently funded.
Principle 12: An educated and informed public is fundamental to a democratic society.
Principle 13: The protection and preservation of the environment are vital to a sustainable future.
Principle 14: A democratic society depends on the collective efforts of the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors and is strengthened by the commitment and contribution of volunteers.
For a complete list of all of NCJW’s current guiding principles, priorities, and resolutions, visit the link below to the Missions and Resolutions page of NCJW website.
- Hannah G. Solomon
- Roe v. Wade
- Jewish Feminism
- Child protection
- Social work
- Reform Judaism
- Jane Addams
- Hull House
- Jacksonian democracy
- Tel Aviv University
-  More information about NCJW's work in 1900.
-  Information about NCJW's programs in the 1960s.
-  More information about NCJW's work in the 1970s.
- The Official Scrabble© Players Dictionary Second Edition, Merriam-Webster, Inc. 1990. ISBN 0-87779-120-1
- Fatsis, Stefan. (2001). Word Freak Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co.
- NCJW's Website http://www.ncjw.org/
- NCJW's Mission and Resolutions http://www.ncjw.org/content_76.cfm?navID=26
- Mayer, T. (1994) Women and the Israeli Occupation: The Politics of Change ISBN 0-415-09546-8
- Misra, K., Rich, M. (2003) Jewish Feminism in Israel: Some Contemporary Perspectives ISBN 1-58465-325-6
- Nadell, P. (2003) American Jewish Women's History ISBN 0-8147-5808-8
- Rogow, F. (2005) Gone to Another Meeting: The National Council of Jewish Women (1893-1993) ISBN 0-8173-0671-4
- De Lange, N., Freud-Kandel, M. (2005) Modern Judaism: An Oxford Guide ISBN 0-19-926287-X
- Guide to the National Council of Jewish Women Collection
- National Council of Jewish Women, Indianapolis Section, Archives
- The University of San Antonio houses a collection of record from the San Antonio Section of NCJW. The collection consists of administrative records, clippings, scrapbooks and printed materials. The bulk of the materials in the collection are scrapbooks, which represent the history of the organization from 1939 to 1995 through photographs, clippings and printed materials.