Building An International Movement
We continue our conversation with Shirli Shavit, Director of NA’AMAT’s International Department. Here Shirli discusses NA’AMAT’s position as a world movement, its every day impact in Israel and the challenges of maintaining a strong and growing organization.
NA’AMAT USA: You have described NA’AMAT as a “world movement.” What do you mean by that?
SHIRLI SHAVIT: NA’AMAT is a world movement whose centrality is Israel. Israel and Zionism are its essence. NA’AMAT has approximately 300,000 members in Israel and close to 20,000 members in nine other countries around the world. We are in the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Belgium and Australia. We are the largest women’s movement in the world.
We are also represented in the World Zionist Organization. That is very important. We achieved independent status with the WZO eight years ago as one of the world’s leading women’s organizations. Masha Lubelsky, a former president of NA’AMAT Israel, and former Deputy Minister, serves as our representative to the Executive of the World Zionist Organization.
I see my mission as a triangle. NA’AMAT is the top point of the triangle; Israel and Zionism are the other two.
NA’AMAT USA: Having been part of NA’AMAT for 30 years, can you summarize the impact it has made on Israeli society?
SHIRLI SHAVIT: NA’AMAT provides social services across Israel through our day care centers, our domestic violence centers and shelter, our technological schools, our two youth villages, our legal bureaus and 4 women rights’ centers and our scholarship program for university students . We assist 40,000 families in Israel. That’s about 200,000 people who benefit from our services – children, students, women and families.
We promote legislative issues affecting the status of women before the Knesset. We are making a positive impact on laws regarding women’s rights and labor issues, and we have an ongoing campaign to empower women in the workforce. We want to enable women to work and have careers, while also supporting and caring for their families and their children. We want employment to be responsive to the needs of women and families. We recently supported legislation to provide incentives to employers to create a family-friendly workplace. We believe that more workers ought to have flexible hours so that they can be with their children as they grow up.
We recently conducted a campaign related to International Women’s Day. We encouraged women to vote in the Israeli election. We did not tell them whom to vote for, but we called on women to get out and vote. If you do not vote, you do not have a say, you cannot influence, and you are not part of the democratic process.
NA’AMAT USA: I believe that membership is a big concern for you, especially among the sister organizations in the Diaspora.
SHIRLI SHAVIT: This is not an easy issue. We are working hard to increase membership and to find new and more creative ways to attract members. One reason we conduct leadership seminars is to teach future leaders how to build membership. We discussed this issue at the Solidarity Conference.
Attracting new members is a problem in all countries—the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil and Belgium —especially younger and middle aged women in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Today, everyone is busy making a living and raising children. It is not easy to get people to volunteer. When I speak with women from other organizations, I find that membership is a problem for them too. It affects non-profits everywhere.
I hope the movement will grow in the Diaspora. I hope that new countries will join NA’AMAT. Years ago, we had NA’AMAT in England and also in France. Their members grew old and there were no new members to carry through, so they disappeared. I hope that NA’AMAT will once again flourish in Europe and other countries around the globe. Growth is especially important in the United States. The majority of our international members are from the United States and we rely on them for fundraising and other support. We are encouraged by how strong NA’AMAT has become in California and we would like to see that extend to other parts of the country. We want it to grow and grow.
NA’AMAT USA: What would you say to a young woman who is thinking of joining NA’AMAT?
SHIRLI SHAVIT: If she is a young woman who feels attached to Zionism and Israel and wants to make a difference in the future of the Jewish people, NA’AMAT is a wonderful experience. Through NA’AMAT, she can feel part of an organization that is affecting real change in the lives of people, and not just Jews, but also Muslims and Christians. She can be part of an organization with a rich history. (Before the founding of the state of Israel, Golda Meir served as the first president of NA’AMAT.) She will be inspired by the work that we do and enjoy the friendships she makes within the organization.