Calgary hosts 39th CHW convention

CALGARY — The 39th Canadian Hadassah WIZO (CHW) national convention started off with a party.

Sandy Martin, outgoing national CHW president
[Irena Karshenbaum photo]

Young women gathered in Calgary’s Hyatt Hotel after the close of Shabbat to meet and greet, then proceeded to the “Chinook Shuk” for a bit of shopping in support of the venerable organization’s philanthropic causes. They rounded out the evening with a dessert reception and entertainment from the Heebee-jeebees, the city’s well-known a capella quartet. Some of the convention attendees even broke into dance, as one delegate exclaimed, “This is the power of Jewish women!”

But the fun was only a temporary distraction from the serious nature of the convention, held for the first time in Calgary, from Nov. 15 to 18, as the Zionist women’s organization’s mandate is to raise money for health care, education and women’s causes in Israel.

In her outgoing speech, Sandy Martin, the group’s first national president to hail from Calgary, talked about the organization’s recent accomplishments.

In the summer of 2006 during the Second Lebanon War, the group was the first Canadian Jewish women’s organization to launch a national fundraising campaign for Israel’s reconstruction effort, she noted.

As well, under her leadership, CHW launched several new fundraising efforts, such as the sustainers’ program, requiring an annual lifetime gift of $1,000, and a woman-of-valour program, requiring a minimum contribution of $10,000.

Martin, an active philanthropist in Calgary outside of her work with CHW, also talked about the “feminization of philanthropy,” her belief that by 2020, women will be in charge of 60 per cent of household philanthropic decisions.

In the last three years, under Martin’s leadership, the organization has undergone a lot of change.

It was rebranded CHW, an acronym for Canadian Hadassah WIZO, which also points to its three priorities: children, health care and women.

But more than just the name has changed. Hadassah Bazaars have slowly disappeared across the county, with Toronto holding its last one just weeks before the convention.

CHW is working hard to try to change with the times, its leaders stress. As was discussed at the convention, increasing its membership is a key goal, and recruitment of young women is seen as critical to its survival.

There were a number of mother-and-daughter and mother and daughter-in-law tandems at the convention, but since it’s no longer a given that young Jewish women will join Hadassah, members of the older generation outnumbered young women at the conference.

The second important goal, as it always has been, is fundraising, and CHW is under pressure to come up with creative fundraising platforms, which in the past have centred around shopping.

Despite these challenges, CHW is still committed to its women’s Zionist ideals, as it has been for the past 90 years. Its many contributions were recognized earlier this year when it received the prestigious Israel Prize, the Jewish state’s highest honour.

CHW’s work has supported many programs in Israel. One of the speakers at the convention was Nicole Wurcker, who made aliyah to Israel from France and who, for most of this decade, has been a foster mother to 12 children from poor backgrounds in Hadassim, a youth village supported by Hadassah WIZO.

Wurcker spoke about how she manages her day while taking care of 15 children, three of whom are her own, and about the love she has for her foster kids. Many in the audience were moved to tears by her story.

The convention also welcomed Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, director general of the famed Hadassah Medical Center.

“We would not be able to reach the high level of medicine with state-of-the-art equipment without the support we receive from all over the world,” he told The CJN, noting that CHW helped build the hospital’s centre for emergency medicine, as well as its blood bank and the umbilical cord program.

The convention also saw the installation of Ottawa’s Terry Schwarzfeld as new national president.