After 125 years, the problems endure and this local Jewish women’s organization is still in the fight 

 

The National Council of Jewish Women–Milwaukee Section, a local advocacy group with 28 board members and about 250 members, is sifting through its own history and finding today’s battles aren’t so novel.  

NCJW-Milwaukee has a history of advocating for women, children, the right to vote and other causes. After 125 years of work in Milwaukee, volunteers are combing through images and information related to the groups local history. The organization plans to post the results this month and into 2021 at the NCJW-Milwaukee Facebook page. 

The project has got the women thinking about how NCJW-Milwaukee has been doing critical work for generations, but the problems endure. 

Dorothy Hindin, left, and Florence Bern, right, hold a painting by Bern that was raffled off at the Brown Port Theater by the National Council of Jewish Women–Milwaukee Section, as part of a Ship-A-Box program benefiting children in Israel. Circa 1971 photo, courtesy of the archives of Jewish Museum Milwaukee.

“Look at the women’s suffrage and the vote. Were still dealing with these issues today,” said co-president Barbara Levin. Now, women have the vote, but other communities are disenfranchised, she said.  

Reproductive health remains an issue, said co-president Robyn Eiseman. “Here we are again. The issues are still here. They just look a little bit different,” she said. 

The photos and information for the archives project is being culled from both personal collections of women in the area and the archives of Jewish Museum Milwaukee, a program of Milwaukee Jewish Federation. NCJW takes a progressive stance on issues such as child welfare, women’s rights, reproductive justice and human trafficking. More recent work has included two busloads of 55 women and men from Milwaukee to the Womens March on Madison in January 2017; a November advocacy fair at the Shorewood Public Library; and blanket making in February for a shelter.  

The organization’s flagship local service project is Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters, also called HIPPY. NCJW-Milwaukee brought the home-based literacy and school readiness program to Milwaukee in 1999 in partnership with COA Youth & Family Centers. The program serves more than 400 families. 

Susan Angel Miller is chairing the NCJW-Milwaukee 125th celebration with Genina Berger. The celebration is kicking off with the archive project and more is being planned.  

Local group is all volunteers 

In 1893, Hannah G. Solomon of Chicago was asked to organize the participation of Jewish women in the Chicago Worlds Fair, according to NCJW. When they discovered that their participation would consist of pouring coffee and other hostess duties, they walked out and sought to form an organization that would strengthen womens connection to Judaism and build on that identity to pursue a wide-ranging social justice agenda.  

NCJW-Milwaukee was founded in 1895, soon after the 1893 founding of the overall organization in Chicago. The archives project is to mark the moment. 

Over the next year we hope that people who are interested will follow us on Facebook and Instagram,” Miller said. “We need to keep educating ourselves and making our voices as loud as possible and that’s what NCJW has helped me do over the years.” 

NCJW-Milwaukee has no staff. It’s all volunteers. That can make the work special, according to the women. We are 100% volunteer driven, and I think that makes our longevity even more incredible,” said Julie Lookatch, vice president of marketing for NCJW-Milwaukee. 

“When I see friends getting involved in these projects it motivates me to get involved in them as well,” Miller said.   

Eiseman joined nearly 20 years ago, when she moved to Wisconsin from the Chicago area.  

“I joined for social reasons and it morphed into wanting to make a difference,” she said.  

Eiseman said she found wonderful lifetime friends who support one another. “It’s just a really neat group of women,” she said. 

If you’re interested in learning about joining, visit Ncjwmke.org/Membership or contact President@NcjwMke.org to learn more. 

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