Argentina: Zionist Activities

by Adriana Brodsky

Argentine Jewish women were important players in the struggle for the Jewish homeland. They participated in women’s committees of Zionist societies, in Zionist parties and in three independent women’s Zionist organizations. Among the more prominent women’s committees were the Organización Femenina Sionista General Argentina (of the Partido General Sionista), and the women’s committees of the first and second Sephardi Zionist Centers (founded in 1925 and 1932 respectively). Among individual women who participated in Zionist political leadership as candidates for political parties were Clara Filer, Hadasa Halperin, Judith Isajaroff (1911–2001), and Judith Guinzburg, all candidates for the Poale Sion Histadrut Party in the 1950s. The three independent women’s organizations were WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization), the Organización Sionista de Pioneras (Pioneer Zionist Women’s Organization) and the Orthodox Women’s Mizraji.

WIZO Argentina, by far the largest and most famous of women’s Zionist organizations in Argentina, was founded in 1926 (Argentina being one of the first eight countries in the world to establish a branch). However, women’s participation in the Zionist movement dated from the very first years of the twentieth century. There is evidence of several female Zionist groups in Buenos Aires before 1926: the Association of Zionist Women Débora (belonging to the Dr. Herzl League); Zirungs Fond; the women’s committee of the Jewish National Fund, and the women’s committee of the first Sephardi Zionist Center. Yet these early women’s groups were viewed as the fundraising arm of the existing (male-dominated) Zionist organizations.

In its last session in 1926 before the women’s committee of the Jewish National Fund became independent and affiliated with WIZO, Cecilia Gruman spoke about her recent visit to Palestine (1925?). In particular, she was impressed by the work done at a women’s farm near Rishon le-Zion. She explained to her audience that although the farm had received the land from the Jewish National Fund and the Keren Hayesod had helped build a small facility, the number of young women waiting to enter the farm and live on its grounds was growing. It was therefore necessary, she claimed, to build a “brick and cement” house, acquire an irrigation system, and buy more land on which the women could engage in farm work. So impressed was Gruman with this work that she promised the female leaders of the farm that the Argentine committee would help them in their project. After hearing this impassioned description, the Comité confirmed Gruman’s promise and decided that they would begin a campaign on behalf of the farm. This project was never put into effect, since in their next meeting the Comité de Damas del Fondo Nacional became the Organización Sionista Femenina affiliated with WIZO, whose work was directed by the world offices in London (and later Tel Aviv). Yet this simple anecdote proves that even before they became part of the WIZO project (which included helping women and children in Palestine), this group of Argentine Jewish women had already decided they would no longer be merely a fund-raising committee of the male organizations. Rather, they took it upon themselves to perform other activities, to raise money for projects which they, as women, believed were necessary.

The Organización Sionista Femenina (later to become OSFA, and popularly known simply as WIZO) became part of world WIZO during the visit of the Bensións to Argentina in 1926. Ida Bensión, the American wife of Dr. Ariel Bensión (1881–1932) (who had traveled to Argentina to organize the Descendants of the Jews who lived in Spain and Portugal before the explusion of 1492; primarily Jews of N. Africa, Italy, the Middle East and the Balkans.Sephardim living there) was instrumental in bringing already existing women’s Zionist groups under the auspices of world WIZO. During the couple’s visit to Rosario, Province of Santa Fé, Ida Bensión turned the existing women’s committee of the local Zionist society into the Círculo de Damas Sionistas, which affiliated with WIZO on November 2, 1926. The creation of a women’s center in Mendoza also took place during the Bensións’ stay. Before their departure for Palestine at the end of November, WIZO had set firm roots in Argentine soil. In WIZO’s first Memoria y Balance published in 1927, the Argentine Jewish women listed (besides two centers in Buenos Aires, the one in Mendoza and the one in Rosario) a group in Tres Arroyos (founded by a woman who had lived in Mendoza) and another in Bahia Blanca (both towns in the Province of Buenos Aires). In Buenos Aires, in the first year of the group’s existence, the founding members had managed to enlist almost five hundred members, among them a very small number of Sephardi women.

As WIZO became more popular, centers were created in almost all cities with a Jewish population. In 1941, there were 108 centers, a number which grew to 171 by 1946. With the creation of the State of Israel, the number of centers grew to 220 with a total of 22,000 members. In 1961, the number of centers had again risen, to 338, with a total membership of 38,014. WIZO was by far the largest single Zionist organization, male or female, in Argentina.

The organizational structure developed as WIZO grew. At the Third National Convention in 1938, Ida Bensión (during another visit to Argentina) initiated the creation of a central executive committee in Buenos Aires and the division of the rest of the country into regional centers. Among the women who presided over WIZO Argentina were Rebeca Rubistein (d. 1966), Sofia Nissensohn (1894–1965), Berta Gerchunoff, Amalia Polack, and Aída Margulies.

The activities of WIZO were varied. Locally, the organization focused on spreading Zionist ideals and Jewish culture among women. In 1935, the executive began publishing a monthly magazine entitled OSFA which included not only news about The Land of IsraelErez Israel, but also general information about Jewish festivals, Jewish history and Zionist personalities. The magazine became one of the most important sources of information and dissemination of the work being done both locally and in Palestine. The Department of Culture of the Executive sponsored cultural seminars and courses on Hebrew, Bible, and prayer. Fundraising events were usually organized around cultural activities such as lectures, round table discussions, and debates. The famous “chain-teas” (tes en cadena), tea parties in the homes of members of the WIZO, became well known among Jewish women and even while chatting and playing cards, women would usually read some material related to Jewish topics.

In time, other departments were created. In 1936, the Young WIZO was formed; in 1938, a library and kindergarten were founded in Buenos Aires, and sewing shops were created in all centers of the country; a tourism department, which sponsored trips to Israel that included visits to WIZO institutions, was established in the late 1950s.

Money to support their work was obtained through various campaigns and methods. An annual campaign, which set the tone for the work of the whole year, was usually conducted under “a slogan concerning the most urgent necessity in Israel.” Each region was responsible for raising its share for the campaign. This amount was collected by the various centers, which decided what activities to sponsor. In addition to working on the campaign, members paid a monthly minimum membership fee, a WIZO shekel paid once a year (the fee for membership in the World Zionist Organization), and the magazine fee (if they wished to subscribe to it). Each member (called javerah) also received a “WIZO flower” on her birthday, which she would accept, giving a contribution to show her thanks. If a member went on vacations, she would donate the amount that she would spend on two vacation days. The WIZO fund, another source of income, was made up of the income from various functions, Lit. "weeks." A one-day festival (two days outside Israel) held on the 6th day of the Hebrew month of Sivan (50 days, or 7 complete weeks, from the first day of Passover) to commemorate the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai; Pentecost; "Festival of the First Fruits"; "Festival of the Giving of the Torah"; Azeret (solemn assembly).Shavuot dinners, and the sales of WIZO napkins, New Year cards, and pins.

WIZO also contributed to the Keren Kayemet Le-Israel by selling trees, inscribing a person’s name in the Golden Book, and collecting money after the birth of babies, weddings and bar A biblical or rabbinic commandment; also, a good deed.mitzvot. They would also be in charge of distributing and emptying the famous blue and white collection boxes. WIZO was represented in the Keren Kayemet Le-Israel, Keren Hayesod, and (after 1949) the United Campaign organized by all the Zionist groups in Argentina. After 1952, the organization managed to obtain three seats in the Argentine Zionist Organization Conventions: the first vice presidency, and two voting memberships. In addition, three presidents of OSFA were elected to the vice presidency of DAIA (Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas).

The women’s concrete work in Palestine focused on the support of a farm and on shipping materials needed in schools and kindergartens. In their first Memoria y Balance, which described the work accomplished during their first year of work (1926–1927), they announced that they would be in charge, in the name of the Organización Sionista Femenina Argentina, of the construction of a house in Afulah, a farm supported by World WIZO. Afulah replaced the original commitment to help the farm Ms. Gruman had visited in Rishon le-Zion, and it soon became the “practical work” that connected the Argentine Zionist women to Palestine and the work for the redemption of the land.

Afulah became a powerful symbol for Argentine Jewish women. During the last three months of every year, WIZO focused on the “Building Month” campaign, whose purpose was to raise funds to continue building the farm. For the period from December of 1927 to April of 1929, the Organización Sionista Femenina published in their Memoria y Balance, an itemized budget for the construction of the agricultural school and farm in Afulah. Several of the centers in the provinces decided to defray the cost of specific items (WIZO Rosario, for example, promised to pay for the construction of a building to house the milking equipment and for the furniture of the farm house). In subsequent years, WIZO took on the responsibility of raising a fixed amount of money for the upkeep of the farm, but would usually also respond to urgent calls for new additions when needed.

The activity on the farm and how the money raised by WIZO Argentina helped the women and children on the farm were common topics for articles published in the organization’s magazine. In letters sent by the Argentine women to the central offices in Tel Aviv, they constantly requested photographs of the farm that could be used as propaganda during meetings and for poster boards. Concrete evidence of how funds raised by the women in Argentina were affecting the lives of women and children in Israel was crucial for keeping women active in their cause.

Another issue that was very important in mobilizing such a large number of women into action was the use of a discourse that lacked any reference to politics. Zionism was a highly politicized arena, with many groups in a widely diverse spectrum. Yet “… working for the WIZO is not the same as working in politics,” claimed Wachs, one of the outstanding presidents of WIZO Rosario, when trying to recruit new members. “It is the duty to cooperate in the realization of an ideal” (author’s italics). This absence of references to politics as an abstract realm, as well as the concrete nature of their work, ensured the participation of a large and diverse group of women.

Although the issue of language had prevented Sephardi and Germans Jews from participating actively in the Zionist arena, Argentine Jewish women solved this potentially divisive question by creating two idiomatic sectors: a German-speaking Central European group and a Spanish-speaking Sephardi group. By 1948, the German sector, led for twenty years by Lisbeth Wind, had founded eight centers and had mobilized six hundred members. By 1948, the Sephardi sector, created in 1946 and for many years led by Alegre Bonomo, had created four centers in Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Tucumán, and Paraná, and had mobilized five hundred women (see Argentina: Sephardi Women).

Very little information is available on the other women’s Zionist organizations. The Pioneer organization was founded in 1948 when the Comité Amigas de la Histadrut declared its solidarity with the Council of Women Workers in Israel, a fact which may indicate that the Amigas de la Histadrut committee had already been active before that date. More political in its stance than WIZO, this group organized talks, seminars, and public events, at which they presented Jewish and Zionist ideals. By 1960 they had created more than twenty centers in all of Argentina. Pioneers participated actively in the life of the Jewish community sending delegates to the meetings of the major Jewish Argentine organizations: the AMIA (Asociación Mutual Israelita Argentina), the DAIA (Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas), Keren Kayemet, and the OSA (Organización Sionista Argentina). A Sephardi branch of the Amigas de la Histadrut was founded in 1945, thanks to the untiring energy of Judith Isajaroff, a Sephardi woman from Samarkand. By 1947 the organization claimed to have mobilized five hundred Sephardi women into spreading the Zionist ideal, cooperating with the Jewish National Fund, creating sewing workshops and attracting young people.

Since the late 1970s, the number of women participating in WIZO activities and in the Amigas de la Histadrut has declined. Once women entered the job market, it became harder to juggle professional and family life, leaving little time and energy for other activities. What once was one of the most popular Jewish women’s cultural activities has now become only one of the many scenes in which women can and do participate. Yet a less active present should not obscure the fact that Jewish women in Argentina were eager actors in the fight for the Jewish homeland, and by being so involved in the project they consolidated a strong presence on the Argentine (and international) Jewish scene.

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LILITH O EVA LAS DOS PRIMERA MUJERES DEL PLANETA TIERRA. Fragmento del Libro Ì¢‰âÒLA VARONAÌ¢‰âÂå de AndrÌÄå©s Merenda ÌâåÀINFLUENCIAS EN LA MUJER DE HOY? ÌâåÀQUIEN ES LILITH? Lilith es la primera mujer de AdÌÄåÁn (Gn. 1.27) Lilith es aquella mujer que surgiÌÄå_ al mismo tiempo que AdÌÄåÁn de las manos del creador es segÌÄå¼n la mitologÌÄå_a, una criatura espontanea y libre, de fascinante belleza que posteriormente se convirtiÌÄå_ en un ente malÌÄå©fico, en un ser de la obscuridad pero que, en todo caso, guarda en si, como sÌÄå_mbolo, un sentido que la emparenta con la Gran Madre de las civilizaciones antiguas, sobre todo en su aspecto tenebroso. Se la representa con la Lechuza (BÌÄå¼ho). Porque se trata de un ser que se desenvuelve en las tinieblas (IsaÌÄå_as 34: 13-16. (El pobre animal no tiene la culpa de tener hÌÄåÁbitos nocturnos, es solo una imagen representativa para dar una idea de que anda y se alimenta solo por las noches, bastante tiene ya, el pobre bÌÄå¼ho, de viejas tradiciones como pÌÄåÁjaro de mal agÌÄå_ero y anunciador de muertes. ÌâåÀQUIEN FUE EVA? Eva, fue la segunda mujer de AdÌÄåÁn (Gn. 2.23) Eva, es aquella mujer, que fue la madre de la raza humana, pues todos nosotros descendemos de AdÌÄåÁn quien es el Padre de la Raza humana. Nosotros no somos hijos de Dios, somos hijos de AdÌÄåÁn. Ellos, AdÌÄåÁn y Eva son los hijos de Dios. En todo caso EVA, fue la primera mujer oficializada por dios en el mundo y Dios convirtiÌÄå_ a Lilith en la gran madre de las civilizaciones antiguas, ademÌÄåÁs en un ente malÌÄå©fico, un ser de la obscuridad y en la primera mujer que abandono a su marido en el EdÌÄå©n. Esta primera mujer a la que alude el Gn. 1,27 seria Lilith, se la representa con el aspecto de una mujer muy hermosa, con el pelo largo y rizado, generalmente pelirroja y a veces alada. AdÌÄåÁn solo tenÌÄå_a 20 aÌÄå±os cuando Dios dispuso nuevamente encontrar una nueva compaÌÄå±era adecuada para ÌÄå©l, Gn. 2: 21 y 22. Si bien es cierto, que Eva es la madre de la raza humana, tambiÌÄå©n incumpliÌÄå_ con las leyes de Dios al ser tentada (Gn: 3: 1-6), aunque AdÌÄåÁn cuando Dios preguntaba donde estaba, se defendiÌÄå_ como pudo delante de ÌÄå©l (Gn: 3.12) Pero no le sirviÌÄå_ de mucho, pues se dejo guiar por la mujer que Dios le habÌÄå_a puesto a su lado. Ì¢‰âÒLa serpiente me engaÌÄå±o y comÌÄå_Ì¢‰âÂå dijo Eva (Gn, 3.13). Y Dios regaÌÄå±o a AdÌÄåÁn Ì¢‰âÒPor cuanto obedeciste a la voz de tu mujerÌ¢‰âÂå_.. (Gn. 3.17). Ì¢‰âÒOs alabo, hermanos, porque en todo os acordÌÄåÁis de mi, y retener las instrucciones tal como os la entregue. Pero quiero que sepÌÄåÁis que CRISTO ES LA CABEZA DE TODO VARON y el VARON ES LA CABEZA DE LA MUJER y DIOS ES LA CABEZA DE CRISTO. (1. Cor. 11.2-3) Es extraÌÄå±o que en vista de los anteriores avatares Lilith no sea nada grata en las tradiciones. EstÌÄåÁ feo, desde este contexto, tener la osadÌÄå_a de querer asemejarse al varÌÄå_n reclamando paridad con el mismo, discutir el rol a tomar respecto a ÌÄå©ste, desobedecer las ÌÄå_rdenes del Hacedor con tanto atrevimiento, abandonar el ParaÌÄå_soÌ¢‰âÂå_ Pero lo mÌÄåÁs terrible de todo es el hecho de invocar el Nombre de Dios, innombrable en toda la tradiciÌÄå_n judÌÄå_a, por considerar que el Nombre verdadero de cualquier ser contiene las caracterÌÄå_sticas de lo nombrado, y por lo tanto es posible conocer su esencia y adquirir poder sobre ello. Pronunciar el nombre de Dios se convierte, pues, en una osadÌÄå_a suprema, un acto de soberbia mucho mayor que el de hacer directamente oÌÄå_dos sordos ante sus mandatos; algo, demasiado grave. Un primer anÌÄåÁlisis nos muestra que Lilith ha abierto las puertas de lo prohibido. Lilith ha roto con lo estipulado por el Creador para la raza humana. Ha quebrantado lo establecido, se ha querellado contra el orden natural de las cosas, ha abandonado el lugar propio de la Humanidad, ha transgredido los lÌÄå_mites impuestos a los seres humanos (algo que tambiÌÄå©n hizo Eva en su momento) y por ello se ha colocado fuera del mundo de los hombres y se ha convertido a sÌÄå_ misma en apÌÄåÁtrida, en exilada, en extraÌÄå±a. Es por su actitud frente a las normas por lo que se considera a Lilith enemiga del matrimonio, adversaria de los nacimientos, contraria a los hijos, instigadora del deseo proscrito y fomentadora del desacato, en general, frente a las reglas sociales establecidas. Por todo ello, en definitiva, en el contexto judaico se la tiene por un ser nefasto y un ente maligno en general; de ahÌÄå_ su asociaciÌÄå_n con lo diabÌÄå_lico y su vinculaciÌÄå_n con la tentaciÌÄå_n y la transgresiÌÄå_n, a evitar, por supuesto, si se pretende mantener un orden sociocultural determinado. El simbolismo de Lilith, por tanto, apuntarÌÄå_a a un momento previo al actual orden social patricÌÄå©ntrico que ha prefijado determinadas pautas de relaciÌÄå_n entre hombres y mujeres. Y por "actual" entendemos vigente, en el sentido de que corresponde a unos cÌÄå_digos todavÌÄå_a en uso en los patrones culturales judeo-cristianos y en las sociedades a ellos adscritas; cÌÄå_digos que se remontan a los orÌÄå_genes mismos de esta tradiciÌÄå_n. No hay mÌÄåÁs que ver cÌÄå_mo ha "desaparecido" Lilith, cÌÄå_mo aparece Eva en el GÌÄå©nesis, la interpretaciÌÄå_n y la divulgaciÌÄå_n tan particular que durante siglos se ha hecho de los actos de nuestra primera madre como portadora del mal y fuente del pecado para la Humanidad, ademÌÄåÁs de las consecuencias sociales e individuales provocadas con tales transmisiones. Ì¢‰âÒEn cuanto se concede a la mujer la igualdad con el hombre, se vuelve superior a ÌÄå©lÌ¢‰âÂå Quien dijo esto: LA DAMA DE HIERRO. Margaret Thatcher. SegÌÄå¼n la SociÌÄå_loga Francisca Eveline Sullerot, Ì¢‰âÒdenuncia el monopolio femenino y destaca la importancia de la figura paterna en la educaciÌÄå_n de los hijos.Ì¢‰âÂå La figura y leyenda de Lilith y sobre todo su rebeliÌÄå_n hacia AdÌÄåÁn ha llevado a algunas organizaciones feministas (Feminismo Radical, Feminismo Anarquista, etc.) a convertirla en sÌÄå_mbolo de la liberaciÌÄå_n sexual y de la lucha contra el Patriarcado. El dÌÄå_a 16 de Agosto del aÌÄå±o 2001 en el Diario ClarÌÄå_n, la escritora britÌÄåÁnica DORIS LESSING, una de las Fundadoras de las Organizaciones Feministas en el mundo, Ì¢‰âÒpide que dejen de humillar a los hombresÌ¢‰âÂå. Ahora acusa a las mujeres de discriminaciÌÄå_n a los hombres, Ì¢‰âÒque estos son constantemente agredidos e insultados y otros ni siquiera se defienden, porque se sienten intimidados. Basta de humillarlos,Ì¢‰âÂå exclamo, La famosa Creadora del The Golden Notebook (El Cuaderno Dorado). Ì¢‰âÒEstoy desconcertada, por el desprecio automÌÄåÁtico en la confrontaciÌÄå_n con los hombres que se convirtiÌÄå_ en parte de nuestra culturaÌ¢‰âÂå. Critico ahora el hecho de que los varones sean constantemente culpados por diversas acciones y tambiÌÄå©n menciono la energÌÄå_a que las mujeres deberÌÄå_an invertir para mejorar leyes que les son desfavorables como la que se refiere al cuidado de los hijos, que ellas citan para humillar a los hombres. Ì¢‰âÒEs tiempo que empecemos a preguntarnos quienes son estas mujeres que continuamente descalifican a los hombres. Las mujeres mas estÌÄå¼pidas, ignorantes y repugnantes pueden descalificar a los hombresÌ¢‰âÂå_.Los hombres parecen estar intimidados que ya no se defienden, pero estos deberÌÄå_an hacer algoÌ¢‰âÂå. Dijo DORIS LESSING. Hoy la mujer actual, no todas, lleva implÌÄå_cita el sello de Lilith, cada vez la esta convirtiendo en un ser mas egocÌÄå©ntrica, vanidosa en una deidad sexual, voluptuosa, cada dÌÄå_a mas bella y muy actriz, lilith se representa a una mujer con frescura espontanea, independiente con mucha libertad y con mucha autenticidad. Lilith contiene en sÌÄå_ elementos suficientes que, sin hacer una valoraciÌÄå_n moral, sÌÄå_ nos permiten en cambio pensar en un patrÌÄå_n tÌÄå_pico de lo femenino caracterizado por rasgos como la independencia, la autonomÌÄå_a, la autopertenencia, la confianza en el propio criterio, el sentido crÌÄå_tico, la vinculaciÌÄå_n con el propio ser y el propio deseo que desde nuestra mentalidad la hacen conceptualizar como individuo libre. El mismo hecho de su "ocultamiento" en las profundidades nos mostrarÌÄå_a que el factor Lilith puede estar en determinadas mujeres reprimidas, ocultas en su propio interior, mas permanece latente y actÌÄå¼a desde las propias profundidades. Los hombres siempre nos preguntamos desde que tengo uso de razÌÄå_n. ÌâåÀQUE QUIERE UNA MUJER? , ÌâåÀQUE ES LO QUE BUSCA?, ÌâåÀPORQUE NO ENTENDEMOS A LAS MUJERES? DespuÌÄå©s de varias investigaciones y averiguaciones he llegado a la terrible conclusiÌÄå_n de que es lo quiere y busca. Ì¢‰âÒSER SOBERANA DE SU PROPIA VIDAÌ¢‰âÂå En esta, mi opiniÌÄå_n escrita, estÌÄåÁ claro entonces el rol de cada uno en la tierra, por lo tanto Lilith seguirÌÄåÁ manifestÌÄåÁndose en forma permanente a travÌÄå©s de algunas mujeres descendientes en la actualidad, tentando a un ser totalmente sentimental como lo es la mujer, porque justamente se la tienta por el lado del sentimiento, porque es impresionable, romÌÄåÁntica, Lilith, la busca por el lado de los sentidos y la atrapa siempre y a travÌÄå©s de ella en este planeta es y serÌÄåÁ una representante directa de Lilith y herirÌÄåÁ en forma permanente al varÌÄå_n y por cierto a toda la raza humana, la mujer protagoniza y protagonizara todos los eventos cruciales de desobediencia y rebeliÌÄå_n contra su compaÌÄå±ero de vida, en la bÌÄå¼squeda de Ì¢‰âÒDerechos HumanosÌ¢‰âÂå y su equiparaciÌÄå_n con el hombre en igualdad de condiciones, estÌÄåÁ rompiendo TODA CADENA, TODA REGLA que la une al hombre y con Dios, y si no se detiene la mortandad humana y la de este planeta ya tiene su fin.

How to cite this page

Brodsky, Adriana. "Argentina: Zionist Activities." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on January 24, 2020) <>.


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