Inclusivity dominates the theme of NCJW event
By Carole Sharwarko on October 7, 2019 – 9:03pm –
Homewood-Flossmoor Chronicle, https://hfchronicle.com/article/2019/oct/07/inclusivity-dominates-theme-ncjw-event
Nearing its 100th anniversary as a volunteer and community action organization, the South Cook Section of the National Council of Jewish Women recently hosted its Opening Luncheon.
As the group nears its centennial birthday, its president stressed the organization’s inclusivity and its desire to be more relevant than ever.
About 125 guests gathered at Idlewild Country Club in Flossmoor on Sept. 25 to enjoy NCJW’s annual kickoff event, which featured vendors, donation opportunities and a presentation by Susan L. Abrams, CEO of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center.
The longstanding opening event began as a fashion show, according to past president and informal NCJW historian Gloria Lippert. Several years ago the group decided to change the format.
“We wanted something meatier, so we started inviting interesting speakers,” Lippert said. Speakers have included those discussing Jewish issues and culture, along with others who were engaged to discuss social issues and public advocacy.
NCJW South Cook Section supports a number of charitable efforts through financial donations and volunteer action. Members of the group volunteer one day per year at Camp Quality, a weeklong getaway for children who have cancer, taking place at Camp Manitoqua in Frankfort.
One of NCJW South Cook Section’s longest running programs is the Elyse Bell Traveling Players, a group of members who dress up as characters and perform original plays for children with special needs.
For years, the group has also actively supported a number of other south suburban nonprofit organizations, including South Suburban Family Shelter in Homewood, Respond Now in Chicago Heights, Aunt Martha’s based in Olympia Fields, and Crisis Center for South Suburbia in Tinley Park.
The afternoon’s program began by honoring the memory of Diane Kessler, a past group president and well known local volunteer and activist who died in August.
Abrams, of the Illinois Holocaust Museum, told guests about the Skokie education center and its mission of memorializing historical horrors while fighting modern-day expressions of hate and violence.
As they sat around centerpieces featuring plaster casts of hands that “held” globe balloons, Abrams encouraged the guests to “be an upstander instead of a bystander.”
One member of the crowd asked Abrams about Holocaust deniers, and how the museum deals with these individuals who promote a theory that the mass annihilation of millions of Jews during World War II never actually took place.
Abrams said the museum actively works to combat hate through education and advocacy. Its Teaching Trunk program allows schools and civic organizations to borrow toolkits containing age-appropriate materials teaching about tolerance and the history of hate.
Each guest to the luncheon received a coupon for one free admission to the museum, where upcoming exhibits include an exhibit of clandestine photos taken during the Holocaust and an exhibit about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. NCJW South Cook Section announced a donation to the museum.
After the presentation, NCJW South Cook president Sharon Johnson said that while the organization is rooted in Jewish values, members — about 500 locally and more than 90,000 nationwide — are not all of the Jewish faith.
“This is an all-inclusive group. It’s an organization geared toward improving life for women, families and the community at large,” Johnson said. “I’m not Jewish, but Jewish values are human values. The Jewish central value system is something we don’t want to lose track of, but we’re open to all people.”
Right now, the group is considering hosting a focus group to find out what types of programming will most attract younger women to become involved. Johnson said these could be programs such as juggling work and home, school bullying, and more.
“If we get input from these women, we can tailor programs to them,” she said. “We want to make our projects engaging for volunteers and fulfilling for the community.”
Johnson said membership is open to people of different faiths, ethnicities and gender and sexual orientations. They look for people who have a passion for community advocacy and action, and want to connect with others who are like-minded.
“If you agree with the things we support and the ideas we have about advocacy and safeguarding individual rights and freedoms, consider joining us,” she said. More information about NCJW South Cook Section is at ncjwsouthcook.org.