The Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO), India marked its fourth anniversary recently. Launched with a view to work for the welfare of Jewish women in India, the organisation seems to be gaining ground

In an initiative to bring together an already dwindling community of Jews in India, for the first time, Jewish women in the city have come together to raise awareness on women related issues. Ten Jewish women from Mumbai got together to start the India chapter of the Women's International Zionist Organization (WIZO), a non-party international women's organisation, which is run for Jewish women, by Jewish women.

Event: Manju Nichani, Principal of KC College during an event at the
Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue at Kala Ghoda organised by WIZO India

The India chapter of WIZO was inaugurated on October 25, 2007 in the presence of Helena Glaser, President of World WIZO. To mark its fourth anniversary WIZO India group had organised an event on Sunday, October 23, at the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue at Kala Ghoda. Manju Nichani, Principal of KC College was the chief guest during the event. She spoke on parent-child and teacher-student relationships and also emphasised the importance of inculcating right values in children.

WIZO was founded in Great Britain in 1920. The organisation now has offices in 50 countries. Yael Jhirad(43), one of the founder members of WIZO said, "It all started when I was approached by officials from the WIZO headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel. I chalked out a plan along with them to launch the India chapter of WIZO."

Together we can: (from Left) Sheba Jeremiah Nagaonkar, Remona
Divekar, Yael Jhirad, Rachel Shirolkar, Diana Pingle and Ofra Gershon
Nigrekar are the founder members of WIZO India. PICS/BIPIN KOKATE

Since the state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948, Jews from Mumbai as well as other parts of the world have been immigrating to Israel as their faith beckons them to the Promised Land. There are approximately 4,000 Jews living in India. The community is nearly an invisible minority.  This minuscule population itself posed a huge challenge for Jhirad. "A handful of us are left in India. Therefore, we did not have enough people to help us organise the events for WIZO. Initially, very few people would turn up for the events," said Jhirad.

Recollecting the initial days of WIZO India, Jhirad added, "Another challenge was to bring Jewish women out of their shell. They had many questions about the organisation and what sort of work we were about to do. I had to work hard in order to convince senior members of the community about the importance and relevance of WIZO."

Encouragement: Jewish children felicitated for performing well at school
during the fourth anniversary of WIZO India on October 23, 2011

Concurs Rachel Shirolkar (63), from Worli Naka, one of the founder members, "Some women come from conservative families. Others lacked confidence. Hence we wanted to give them a platform, where they could openly discuss their problems."

Jhirad particularly mentions the name of Rivkah Holtzberg, who along with her husband, Rabbi Gavriel Noach Holtzberg was killed during the Mumbai terror attacks. "She supported me strongly and was part of our team. Infact, we had organised vegetable carving classes at her home," said Jhirad.

WIZO India meets once a month, on a Sunday, where they discuss myriad issues related to women's welfare and empowerment. "We have discussions on health problems concerning women, sexual harassment at workplaces, how should women deal with family problems, etcetera. We also conduct workshops on sketching, photography, candle making, painting and so on. We get experts to speak on women related issues. During important events like Passover and Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement and one of the holiest days for the Jews), we invite religious leaders to speak on Judaism. Recently a speaker from Jerusalem Post, a well-known newspaper in Israel, spoke on the position of women in the Bible," said Remona Divekar(30), from Goregaon (E), a founder member of WIZO, who also works for a magazine. What started with just 10 Jewish women has over 80 members now. Sheba Jeremiah Nagaonkar (74), the oldest founder member of the organisation, travels all the way from Bandra (W) to Kala Ghoda to attend such seminars and workshops.

Said Nagonkar, a former professor of  Hindi at St Andrews Junior College, "Once we had organised a workshop on candle-making. It was so much fun. It is like a small get together for all of us." Another founder member, Ofra Gershon Nigrekar (42), a homemaker hasn't missed even a single workshop. "Come hell or high water, I finish all my daily chores to make sure that I am present during the events," said Nigrekar from Mahalaxmi.

Sylvia Raymond (36) from Byculla works for the Israeli consulate in Mumbai and juggles her work and responsibilities as a founder member of WIZO India. Rahel Charikar (22) from Thane is the latest addition to the WIZO group. A dentist by profession, Charikar says she decided to join WIZO as, "it is related to Judaism and the organisation is doing something for the welfare of Jewish women."

The events and workshops are held at the hall of the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue at Kala Ghoda. A nominal fee of Rs 500 is charged for a duration of four years .

Sometimes women are taken in groups for a picnic or heritage tours to strengthen bond between the members. Young members are also sent to take part in youth seminars in Tel Aviv and other parts of the world. Revealing their latest plans, Jhirad said, "We are now planning to start a book club where members will go through a particular book and during the next workshop we can have a healthy discussion on what we have learned from the book."

The group WIZO India is present on Facebook . Queries can be mailed at

>> The India chapter of WIZO was inaugurated on October 25, 2007
>> It has more than 80 members
>> A nominal fee of Rs 500 is charged for a duration of four years as membership fee
>> Workshops are held once a month, on a Sunday at the at the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue at Kala Ghoda
>> To mark its fourth anniversary WIZO India had organised an event on Sunday, October 23, at the synagogue