Last knockings? Not for Wizo's army of collectors

The charity supporting social welfare projects in Israel reflects on the continued success of Jewish Women's Week


In an age of online appeals, one charity still raises hundreds of thousands by going door-to-door.

For the past 70 years, Wizo women around the country have taken to the streets for Jewish Women’s Week, in support of the charity’s welfare projects in Israel. This year, the expectation is that £250,000 will be raised.

Among the dedicated army is Joanna Wulwik, a JWW collector for 37 years and campaign chair for the past five years.

Now living in Hampstead Garden Suburb, Mrs Wulwik first volunteered her services as a new mum in Elstree.

“I pushed my baby in the pram along the road and knocked on doors. Everyone went ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ because he was very cute. That’s how I raised quite a bit of money and made some very good friends.”

JWW was started in 1947 by Erna Patak, a Theresienstadt survivor. It was originally known as Operation Unity and in its first year raised £50,000 — equivalent to £1 million today. It has gone on to generate almost £10 million in total.

“It is amazing how the women managed such a campaign in the days when few people had home telephones, there were no widely available photocopiers and the only way of duplicating information was by a stencil copying machine,” Mrs Wulwik said.

At that time, Wizo founder Rebecca Sieff said she hoped the campaign would last 10 years.

Earlier this month, more than 160 women attended a 70th anniversary tea at London’s Mansion House.

JWW remains the only door-to-door Jewish charity collection sanctioned by the Home Office.

“In this day and age it’s probably quite archaic but somehow it still works,” Mrs Wulwik remarked.

But in changing times, finding young collectors has become a challenge.

“It’s very difficult to find younger girls to go knocking on doors now. I didn’t have to work when I was a young mother. The average age of current collectors is over 60 and I believe the oldest one is about 85.  When they hang up their boots, who is there to take their place?”

Collections are conducted in most major Jewish areas and in such far-flung communities as Belfast and Jersey, focusing on doors with a mezuzah. In areas where there are no volunteers, Wizo writes directly to local supporters.

But the personal touch generally pays off. “The previous chairman coined the phrase ‘you can bin the letter but you can’t bin the collector’.”

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