Ruthy Benoliel, WIZO Florida’s immediate past Chairperson and current Vice President of WIZO USA opens up about her role and WIZO’s incredible work during these past years.
How long have you been involved in WIZO, what positions have you held and which one are you currently holding?
I have always been involved with WIZO because WIZO has always been an integral part of my family. As a child in Panama, I saw my mother’s and my grandmother’s dedication and passion for WIZO and knew that I would one day join this amazing organization. I started volunteering in my last year of college. Under the leadership of amazing women including Jana Falic and Edith Wigoda, I embarked on my WIZO journey and in 1986, together with friends, we created the first college group. Since then, I have held several positions: Ilanit Chairperson; Chairperson of WIZO Aviv; Fundraising Chairperson of WIZO Florida; Vice-chairperson of WIZO Florida; Chairperson of WIZO Florida. I am presently WIZO-USA Vice President.
What does WIZO mean and when was it founded?
WIZO stands for Women’s International Zionist Organization. It is the largest international movement of Zionist women. WIZO was founded in London in 1920 in direct response to the needs of women and children in Israel. WIZO is a non-party affiliated movement, recognized by the United Nations with consultative status at the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) and the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund. WIZO continues to identify the needs of Israeli society. It spans five continents and we are fortunate to count on 250,000 volunteers in 50 federations around the world supporting 800 centers and projects in Israel. WIZO USA was founded in 1982. In Florida we are privileged to have 13 vibrant chapters which include teens, college students, young professionals, young mothers, and others, ranging from Dade and Broward to the Boca area.
How many and what kind of centers does WIZO Florida sponsor and of which one are you proudest?
Because of the past year’s tremendous development in our membership, volunteers and donor base, as well as the upsurge of events, our fundraising efforts have grown immensely allowing us to acquire additional centers and sponsor more programs in Israel than ever before. WIZO Florida actually sponsors four daycare centers, two youth villages, two community centers and one abused-women’s center. We support dozens of after school programs, dormitories, summer camps, kitchen and dormitory renovations, increased security, bomb proof shelters, playgrounds, sponsored bar/bat mitzvah programs, physics and computer labs and we feed hundreds of families for the holidays.
We are proud of all of our centers and we take a lot of satisfaction in transforming average day care centers, youth centers and villages into state-of-the-art institutions.
One of our most prestigious centers is the Nir Ha’emek Youth Village, located in the North of Israel, in Afula. It was established before the State of Israel, in 1927, as a working farm and today it is one of the largest high schools in the North of Israel, developing into a leading school in cultivation and agriculture. The village has a farm, chicken coops, therapeutic horseback riding, an ecological garden, a mechanical garage and more. Over 1000 students attend this school 250 of whom call it home, as they live in the dormitories. Many of them are immigrants and the majority come from dysfunctional and violent homes.
The sponsorship of Nir Ha’emek, enabled us to build an orthodox synagogue, which is used by the surrounding neighborhoods for Bar/Bat Mitzvas and all services necessary to implement Jewish life; an auditorium for shows and performances by our dance and singing groups; a dairy farm, which not only produces delicious kosher cheeses, but also educates the students on how to manufacture them, teaching them a trade for the future. We recently remodeled their kitchen and dining hall; we built streets; we had to rebuild several dormitories that were condemned by the city. Unfortunately, these dormitories are home to many, and without them, they would be left homeless with nowhere to go, but thanks to our fundraising efforts they currently live in modern, clean dorms with great facilities including a recreation room. This affords them the opportunity to solely focus on their own personal development and their academic efforts. We also provide dorms for lone soldiers as well as a police academy program which takes low performing and at-risk students and prepares them for their matriculation exam increasing their chances to enter the Israeli Army and becoming productive citizens. We implemented lab and computer training courses. Nir Ha’emek is the heart and soul of many and we have the satisfaction that our vision and efforts have turned it into one of the most prestigious schools in Israel. This is of utmost importance, because the school will in turn produce productive and upstanding citizens of Israel.
Early this year, we partnered with WIZO Switzerland in sponsoring the Nachlat Yehuda Youth Village located in Rishon LeZion near Tel Aviv. It was founded in 1922 as a training and agricultural farm. It is our vision to transform Nachlat Yehuda in the same way we transformed Nir Ha’emek, thus bettering the lives of the 400 students who attend and live in the youth village. When we visited this summer, we interacted with children who come from broken and violent homes, troubled backgrounds, many with learning disabilities. Half of these children come from Soviet and Ethiopian immigrant families who have experienced hard times adapting to Israeli life. Without WIZO’s intervention, many of these children would not be able to matriculate or join the army.
We need to ensure that critically important projects become a reality and thus we have created a bucket list, which includes:
- Raising money for teachers and special needs educators for the learning center
- Underwriting much needed medications and providing hearing, eye and dental exams
- Building an infirmary
- Funding 70 children each year to celebrate a meaningful bar/bat mitzvah
- Repairing broken down basketball courts and sports fields
- Hiring additional social workers, therapists and behavioral clinicians
- Repairing the decaying cafeteria
- Paying for important upgrades to the dormitories as well as the general infrastructure, including streets and sidewalks
- Providing off campus housing for women completing their IDF services
Since 1920, we have been welcoming each child, woman and youth into our WIZO homes, providing them with a place of rest, piece of mind and promise of hope for the future. We have the vision and the will to make the impossible possible. As the needs of the State of Israel grow, so does our fundraising. We continue to create WIZO miracles by helping all those who need us in the State of Israel. It is vital to protect and empower the children who will one day ignite the torch of Israel’s future. WIZO will continue to educate, support, and empower the people of the State of Israel!