New president of League of Jewish Women

By Jessica Elgot, July 22, 2010

The new president of the League of Jewish Women lists her top priority as the organisation's survival over the next 10 years.

Marilyn Brummer, 68, identifies a need for a re-energised membership, but acknowledges that changing women's priorities are making recruitment difficult for a voluntary work organisation.

A Blackpool-born mother-of-three, Mrs Brummer has also been an enthusiastic JNF and Citizens Advice Bureau volunteer. She threw herself into league activities after her husband died. It was ideal for women like her, she recalls, because she was already involved in volunteer activity.

But with the increasing number of working women, "the pool of people like me who were available to do voluntary work because they didn't work and had time available has disappeared.

"Some women are looking after a job, their children and their own parents. It so happens that I am a widow and Ella [Marks], my predecessor, was a widow. I can please myself what I do. It doesn't necessarily fit in for other people."

The league has 2,500 members across the UK, barely half the number of 10 years ago, and almost all are over 60. As well as a strong Manchester presence, it is represented regionally in Leicester, Glasgow, Cardiff and Bournemouth. One of the Manchester groups has been particularly successful in attracting younger members with a scheme at Christie Hospital where volunteers show cancer patients how to look stylish after losing their hair. The Bournemouth group is engaged in hospital visiting and helping the blind.

In London, members take on baby and toddler care as mums enjoy a break at Norwood's twins and triplets group. League volunteers have kept open the Watford Contact Centre, helping estranged parents - primarily fathers - get back in touch with their children in a supervised environment. There is also a national cultural society, League Artz, organising outings to art galleries and museums.

A particular problem Mrs Brummer encounters is a reluctance towards an on-going commitment, or taking on leadership roles in the league.

Non-league innovations such as Mitzvah Day had been successful "because all they are asking is one day and people are happy to commit to a day. They want to help, but are not able to do it on a regular basis."

Although J-Mums for young mothers has been one of the league's recent triumphs, she feels that young women are almost beyond its grasp, even though "we hope to plant the seed for later in life.

"I would like a more realistic group of people to aim at - empty nesters, who aren't working full-time. They may have been working and now have time on their hands. They need new colleagues, a circle of people they meet regularly. But you have to find them, you can't pick them out of the air. It's best to do it by personal invitation."

It should be recognised "that we do contribute, that we don't only work for Jews. A disproportionate number of Jewish women do work for so many organisations."

Last updated: 5:08pm, August 4 2010