Even in the face of adversity, the Women's International Zionist Organization says, "Smile!"
By Amy Miller Gross
FROM LEFT: Bennet Egeth, Jennifer Gilbert, Michael and Amy Gross, and Gregg and Rachel Moskowitz at a recent WIZO event.
I spent an incredible summer in Israel the year I turned 15—hiking, living on a kibbutz, taking part in an archeological dig, and tasting falafel and hummus for the fi rst time. Israel is where my husband’s American mother met her handsome Israeli-soldier husband, his father. It’s the place to which that same soldier’s parents fl ed in 1936 from Hungary before Hitler invaded their country and destroyed all they had known. It was where my friend’s parents, survivors of the Holocaust, went to start anew.
I hadn’t been back to Israel since that summer when I was a teenager, and I fi nally returned in December, 17 years later. This time around, a wife and a mother, I was on a mission to meet the children I was helping through the Women’s International Zionist Organization (WIZO), to see where they live, learn, and, hopefully, continue to dream. Founded in Great Britain in 1920, WIZO has grown into a network of more than 800 programs serving Israel, including daycare centers for infants and toddlers, therapy for children with disabilities, rehabilitation for battered women, and care for the elderly.
On this trip I had the privilege of visiting many WIZO sites, but the Ruth and Bruce Rappaport WIZO Day Care Center in Sderot touched me the most. This center was built in 2005 and has a plaque at its entrance that reads, BEGIN THE DAY WITH A SMILE—an unbelievably uplifting message for its occupants, considering the building is less than two miles from the Gaza Strip. Since the year 2001, Sderot has been attacked regularly by Palestinian rockets that have claimed the lives of more than a dozen citizens, wounded hundreds, and displaced thousands. In the past eight years, nearly 5,000 rockets have rained down on this small border town; during my hour-long visit, there was an attack. Luckily for me and the 100 children and staff members at the center that day, we were protected by the special glass and cement that were used to build this, the only rocket-proof daycare center in the city.
What I took away from my journey is that WIZO does not simply provide basic services, it also offers the most important thing of all: hope.
In keeping with that message, WIZO will hold its annual Children for Our Children spring fashion show on May 12 at the Plaza Hotel. Every year this event is an opportunity for the children of New York to help their counterparts in Israel. This year’s theme is Alice’s Adventures in Wizoland; we think Alice is a great role model for children no matter where they live or what their circumstances. Lewis Carroll described Alice this way:
“...gentle as a fawn; then courteous—courteous to all, high or low, grand or grotesque, King or Caterpillar, even as though she were herself a King’s daughter and her clothing wrought of gold; then trustful, ready to accept the wildest impossibilities with all that utter trust that only dreamers know; and lastly, curious— wildly curious, and with the eager enjoyment of Life that comes only in the happy hours of childhood.”
One day my twin daughters will find pictures of themselves in a fashion show. I can’t wait to tell them how lucky they are—not because they got to dress up and have a fantasy moment at the Plaza, but because at a very young age they were part of an event that helped children in need—children just like them, who want the same things they want: love, safety, and opportunity. For more information on the Children for Our Children spring fashion show or WIZO, visit wizony.com.
Gotham Magazine hosted its latest issue featuring the current cast of Saturday Night Live at the Four Seasons Hotel on Monday, February 23.