TORONTO — For Bess Plosker, volunteering has always been a part of her and her family’s life. Growing up in Winnipeg, she watched her mother give back to the local community. Now living in Toronto, that spirit of giving has extended to her children and other relatives.
But Plosker, 91, has another family – a group of 80 women – that remains just as integral to her life. Plosker is one of the last surviving members of Club Masada, which this year celebrates 70 years of service to Na’amat Canada.
As members of an organization that supports and enhances the quality of life for women and children in Canada and Israel, Plosker and close to 40 other women in their late 80s and 90s are still active volunteers.
“I always felt that people need to give meaning to life, and live with a purpose,” Plosker told The CJN. “We [in Club Masada] care about our work for Na’amat in Israel, but we also care about each other.”
Founded in 1945, Club Masada’s current efforts include a Spiritual Adopt-a-Child program to financially support children in Israeli day care centres.
For Club Masada meetings, only about 20 women are still able and healthy enough to come out. Regardless, these senior volunteers still lead the charge in fundraising for the organization.
To honour this continuous spirit of giving, the Ministry of Citizenship will recognize these senior volunteers with special awards at a May 31 gala in Toronto. The gala will also celebrate 90 years of Na’amat Canada, as well as the anniversaries of Club Masada (70 years of service) and Club Beersheba (60 years).
For many years, Na’amat volunteers in Canada were called “Pioneer Women.” The Canadian contingent was formed to help contribute to Israel’s growth from afar.
Na’amat began in Israel in 1925 as the Women’s Organization for the Pioneer Women of Palestine. The original founders were members of the Labor Zionist movement that wanted to help build a country where women had benefits such as equal pay for equal work and access to post-secondary education.
Since its genesis 70 years ago, Toronto’s Club Masada can boast having seven Toronto council presidents and three of Na’amat Canada’s national presidents. The Toronto club has also raised more money for Na’amat Canada than any other group in the organization’s history.
One of those national presidents was Pearl Mekler, who served in the role from 1981 to 1984. Mekler is a founding member of Club Masada whose mother was a founding member of Na’amat Canada’s first club in 1925.
“For some people, it was social and an escape,” Mekler said, referring to Club Masada. “For me, it was more ideological. But I did make some lifelong friends.”
Mekler recently came up with a program to honour Na’amat’s founding mothers. The new initiative is aimed at Jewish women whose mothers and grandmothers were the original Na’amat volunteers in Canada, with the hope of spreading charitable goodwill to future generations.
Many years ago, those founding mothers stood on street corners handing out oranges to raise money for Palestine. Today, the hope is for younger Jewish women to remember their parents and grandparents through the spirit of giving.
Of the other programs Club Masada has championed, the Spiritual Adopt-a-Child fundraiser has been its most successful. The project has given financial support to more than 18,000 children in Israel as they move from one of Na’amat’s many daycare centres through high school.
To mark 90 years of Na’amat,the gala committee hopes to raise enough money to “spiritually adopt” 90 children. A $1,000 donation will subsidize one of Na’amat’s 18,000 children in daycare for a year.
Na’amat Canada has also helped to sponsor women’s shelters for victims of violence and domestic abuse in Israel, as well as legal aid bureaus.
“It’s part of my being… I cannot imagine life without it,” Mekler said of Na’amat. “I feel fulfilled that I have contributed something to the building of the State [of Israel] and maintaining it.”