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Hannah Greenebaum Solomon founder of the National Council of Jewish Women in 1893.
Networking Central

National Council of Jewish Women
114 years of faith and action.

-- Ellen G. Witman

The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) is the oldest active Jewish women's volunteer organization in America. It was established in 1893 to "further the best and highest interests of Judaism and humanity," according to its founder Hannah Greenebaum Solomon. For more than a century, NCJW has harnessed the energy and passion of American Jewish women committed to making progressive social change and improving the well being of women, children and families.

Today’s NCJW remains true to Solomon’s mission but with a distinctly 21st Century approach to social action that blends hands on community service with Internet-based public policy campaigns and virtual, as well as personal, advocacy at the state and federal levels. Through the use of e-mail Action Alerts and an online Action Center, which includes the ability to send letters directly from the Web site to members of Congress, NCJW engages members and non-members in advocacy campaigns on the most pressing issues of the day, including: 

  • Urging health care coverage for uninsured children;
  • Ending employment discrimination against transgender individuals;
  • Opposing a veto of the Hate Crimes bill;
  • Restoring the Constitutional protection of Habeas Corpus to Guantanamo detainees;
  • Opposing the confirmation of Judge Leslie Southwick to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals;
  • Making Plan B Emergency Contraception an option for all women.

A couple of mouse clicks and a pre-written letter on the issue will be sent to your Congressman.

In 2002,  NCJW made a bold move into cyberspace with the creation of "BenchMark: The National Council of Jewish Women’s Campaign to Save Roe." This Web-based advocacy campaign was designed to educate and mobilize anyone interested in reproductive rights about the importance of keeping anti-choice jurists off the courts. NCJW’s top leadership received special training on the issues and went out to communities across the country to make presentations and rally support.

The BenchMark campaign raised NCJW’s profile not only within the Jewish community, but also in the large coalition of organizations – women’s groups, environmental organizations, civil rights groups, and justice organizations – that came together around President Bush’s judicial nominations. On November 11, 2005 The Forward put it this way:

With BenchMark, its campaign to save Roe v. Wade, the 110-year-old women’s council has emerged as the strongest Jewish voice on abortion rights — the public-policy issue that polls show is most on the minds of the great majority of Jewish women… As President Bush’s latest Supreme Court nomination comes to dominate the public agenda, NCJW will be the address for Jewish women who want to make their voices heard. (The Forward)

The Beginning

Hannah G. Solomon was 32-years-old and already an active member of many of Chicago’s social clubs and organizations in 1890, the year Chicago was chosen to host the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition (also called the World’s Fair).

The Fair's Board of Lady Managers was charged with planning the "World Exhibition’s Parliament of Religions" to include activities for women of every religious denomination. To develop the Jewish Women’s Congress, the ladies turned to Hannah Solomon for leadership. She was already a well-known, well-connected organizer and legendary for her energy and dedication. Still, the task of gathering together Jewish women from all over the country to participate in the Congress was a daunting task as there were no readily available lists of Jewish women, no Jewish women’s organizations, no telephones, and no World Wide Web. Just to engage the participation of speakers and panelist for the three-day Congress, Solomon wrote nearly a hundred individual letters.

All the work proved worthwhile, however, as overflow crowds attended the Jewish Women’s Congress each day. The topics discussed were religion, Jewish history, philanthropy and social responsibility. Enthusiasm for the gathering was so high that the women were reluctant to adjourn the Congress without a plan for continuing the conversations and the networking they had just begun. On the last day, they voted to create a permanent organization – the National Council of Jewish Women – to keep them informed, connected and engaged. By acclamation, Hannah Greenebaum Solomon was elected NCJW’s first president, a post she held until 1905.

The Legacy of Service

The world is a very different place today than it was then. The role of women has dramatically changed, especially in Western cultures where women hold a significant – if still unequal—share of the economic, social and political power. Opportunities for higher education and professional achievement are open to women as are leadership roles in countless organizations both secular and religious. American Jewish women are active philanthropists and advocates in myriad Jewish and secular organizations; lists of Jewish women are plentiful; and modern modes of travel make it possible to attend gatherings like the Jewish Women’s Congress anywhere in the world.

What has not changed is the continuing need for community services and public policy advocates committed to improving the lives of women, children, the aged, immigrants and other vulnerable populations in America and around the globe. Decade after decade the members of NCJW have been as dedicated and determined to create positive change as was Hannah Solomon who wrote in her autobiography:

We must add our voices to those who cry out that there is a standard below which we will not allow human beings to live and that that standard is not at the freezing nor starving point….In a democracy we are all responsible. (Jewish Women's Archive: Hannah Greenebaum Solomon)

It is that sense of responsibility that has led NCJW to pioneer numerous innovative programs and initiatives. A number of these, begun decades ago, continue to operate today providing essential services to those in need.

Among the many landmark initiatives of NCJW are:

  • The HIPPY Program – HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters) is an early-intervention, educational program that trains parents of at-risk preschoolers to help their children develop the skills needed for success in school and beyond. It was developed in 1969 as a demonstration program by the Research Institute for Innovation in Education (RIFIE) at Hebrew University in Israel, which was established by NCJW in the early 1960s. NCJW brought the successful HIPPY model to the United States in 1984 and its local chapters introduced the program in their communities. The results were so positive and the curriculum so respected that the program was rapidly adopted by other organizations and educators around the country. By 1989, HIPPY USA was incorporated as a separate, independent nonprofit organization. In the 2006-2007 program year, there were 146 HIPPY program sites in 25 states and the District of Columbia, serving over 16,000 children and their families. In addition, HIPPY International assists with programming in Germany, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and Canada along with Israel.

  • Senior Service Corps – As a volunteer organization, NCJW chapters are always seeking talented people willing to commit time to assist the organization. About 40 years ago, NCJW began an initiative to help senior men and women live productive lives in retirement by matching their experience and skills with organizations needing assistance from volunteers. The Senior Service Corps was one of the programs used as a model by the federal government when it created the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), now part of the National Corporation for National and Community Service.
  • Research and Publications on the Needs of Children – A series of publications in the 1970s drew attention to the state of many underserved children in America. NCJW received numerous awards for these landmark studies.
    • Windows on Day Care opened policy makers eyes to the crisis in child care and the need for improving access and quality of day care facilities and services.
    • Children Without Justice studied the interaction of foster children with the U.S. Justice Department and led NCJW to develop services to assist children in shelters, group homes and courts.
    • Innocent Victims shone light on the issue of child abuse and provided a comprehensive guide to detection and prevention.
    Over the succeeding decades, additional publications updated these studies and looked at other emerging issues including Mothers in the Workplace, Parents as School Partners and Listening to Families.

  • StoP: NCJW's Strategies to Prevent Domestic Violence -- Through StoP NCJW chapters provide education, advocacy and community services to the Jewish community and the general public in an effort to shed light on the issue of domestic violence and offer strategies for prevention and assistance to victims.
  • Women and Gender Studies Program – 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. The program stresses critical analysis of the role of women and other minorities in institutions of all kinds, public and private. The first degrees were granted in the summer of 2004.

Moving into the Future

As 2007 nears an end, the leaders at the National Council of Jewish Women are planning a new beginning. The Board of Directors recently adopted a strategic plan that builds on the strengths and successes of the past, but looks to the future with new tools of engagement and great optimism.

Past Networking Central Groups of the Month

In this section, we highlight a new local group each month in order to encourage networking.

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