The changing face of Wizo UK

Israeli Ronit Ribak Madari is well aware of Wizo's work, having attended a Wizo school in her native country. Now as UK chair, she wants to attract a new generation of supporters


Wizo UK has its first Israeli chairperson to lead it into its second century.

Ronit Ribak Madari, 49, was appointed at the charity’s 100th anniversary celebrations at St John’s Wood Synagogue, attended by more than 300 guests.

Tributes were paid to the organisation’s work since its establishment by Rebecca Sieff, daughter of the M&S founder, and Vera Weizmann, wife of Israel’s first president.

But to maintain its commitment to some 800 projects across Israel, Mrs Ribak Madari wants to attract a new generation of supporters.

She acknowledged “the need to adapt to changing lifestyles. We have seen women become more active in the workplace with busy professional lives. And there is the increased pressure of family commitments.”

It was also important “to educate the wider community on the vital role Wizo plays in building a strong Israeli society”.

Her own association with the charity dates back to her teens, when she attended a Wizo art school in Tel Aviv. “Wizo was a household word where I grew up in Rosh Ha’ayin,” she recalled.

Mrs Ribak Madari visited the UK in 1992 as part of a tour of Europe. Although meant to return to Israel to continue her studies, she met her first husband and stayed.

She joined Wizo here at 25 in a group for Israelis. “As I became more involved and began to organise events, head office suggested I took an active role in Aviv, the section of the membership for women between the ages of 25 and early 40s.

“I went on to become a world representative for Aviv in 2004. The age of the core Wizo member at that time was between 45 and 55.

“Not only did I find friends for life. As time went by, the cultural differences across the wider membership evaporated. I found common ground with so many women I would not have had the opportunity to socialise with otherwise.”

Wizo UK has upwards of 13,000 members and supporters on its database, the majority aged over 60. Mrs Ribak Madari is keen for the charity to devise a structured programme for engaging with new and younger audiences.

“The breadth of the work of Wizo seems to be the best kept secret,” she said. “I have already begun visiting groups of young women around the country sharing the impact of Wizo’s work.

“For those who wish for a strong Israel for generations to come, Wizo is the perfect insurance policy. We will endeavour to make audiences aware of the many opportunities it offers to showcase positive stories on issues from co-existence to young leadership.”

The timing of its events would reflect “that many of our potential volunteers and supporters are working full-time. Activities relevant to their interests will be planned to fit around their lifestyle — not the other way around.”

Professionally, Mrs Ribak Madari is an events organiser — and at one point owned an art gallery. But she has scaled down her work commitments to devote more time to her Wizo responsibilities.

Husband Itzik Ribak is managing director of companies specialising in irrigation and water management and supplying and installing “living walls and green roofs”.

Her 22-year-old daughter Talia Collis has inherited her artistic flair and has been studying photography in New York.

Mrs Ribak Madari is a member of Porat Yosef, the Hendon-based Moroccan congregation.


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