Simon Glass

The Schmooze: It can be a man’s world in Wizo — and I’m proof

Working on my new immersive exhibition opened my eyes to how I can get involved in this wonderful organisation

February 09, 2023 14:16

Summer 2022. I’m sitting in an edit suite scanning through archive rushes for my latest project — Wizo’s Women Leading The Way campaign, an immersive exhibition set for display in London in 2023.

I’m watching historic images crucial to the Jewish story of the 20th century — Holocaust survivors arriving on the shores of British Mandate Palestine; the signing of the Israeli Declaration of Independence; the opening assembly of the Knesset.

But this isn’t the story of the founding of Israel. It’s the story of Wizo, the Women’s International Zionist Organisation, established in 1920 by British-born Rebecca Sieff, and its influence and contribution towards Israeli society over the last century.

“Her aim was simple,” Micaela Ziv, Rebecca’s granddaughter, tells us in the exhibition introduction. “She was shocked by the poor infrastructure and lack of facilities for women and children, so she founded Wizo to deliver social welfare, advance the status of women and promote Jewish education throughout the diaspora.”

I’ve made several films about the Jewish experience across the diaspora — from Leeds to Cape Town; from Wisconsin to Helsinki.

A common theme is that charity and welfare is at its heart and I had seen this culture growing up in Leeds.My grandmother was a member of women’s committees and my mum, Bea Glass, continued that tradition by joining a Wizo programme and other Jewish women’s charities — a commitment recently recognised with a Jewish Volunteering Network lifetime achievement award.

So I had a general idea of what Wizo did. But it wasn’t until I was in that edit suite years later that I truly appreciated the impact of its work.

I had been exposed to Wizo’s day-to-day activities as we filmed inside some of its 180 day-care centres in Israel that support more than 14,000 children of working mothers, new immigrants and needy families. I heard first-hand testimonies of survivors of domestic violence, learned about the therapeutic frameworks for children at risk and the pioneering programmes used to target perpetrators and counsel them to a better path.

Returning home last summer, I was confronted with images and discourse screaming about a lack of fundamental equal rights across the western world. The #MeToo movement and Black Lives Matter were still fresh in the public consciousness and the US Supreme Court had just overturned a woman’s right to an abortion.

Back in the edit suite, I registered how instrumental Wizo had been in influencing the Israeli government into adopting a number of laws promoting women’s rights over the past century. Vulnerable women housed in shelters got the right to vote in nearby polling stations; continued lobbying resulted in the government easing access to abortions.

Inspired, I felt a sense of responsibility to get involved and looked for ways I too could support Wizo. Now, following in the footsteps of my mother and grandmother, I am honoured to be chairing the new Wizo Young Patrons and Benefactors initiative, connecting young people in their 20s and 30s with Wizo’s life-changing work.

It will engage potential supporters from across the UK through activities, events and trips, affording them an understanding of the charity past and present. It will also further the culture of giving that is the cornerstone of our community.

As I put the finishing touches to the upcoming exhibition, I was reminded that Wizo is an organisation founded and driven by women that continues to campaign, not only for women’s issues but for a better Israeli society, regardless of anyone’s religion, race, age or gender. It is through my new role that I hope to encourage other young people to get involved and give back — just like my mother, grandmother and the generations of women before us.

Simon Glass is a filmmaker.

‘Wizo’s Women Leading The Way’ campaign launches at Kent House, Knightsbridge on March 13. For more on this and the Young Patrons and Benefactors, contact

February 09, 2023 14:16

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