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NCJWC celebrates 120 years of making a difference

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From left, NCJWC officers Hellen Mrr, Paula Frisch, Linda Steinberg, Debbi Wasserman, Sharon Allentuck, Karen Fenwick, Frida Pesin and Debby Altow with the commemorative plaque.

The National Council of Jewish Women of Canada (NCJWC) is celebrating its 120th anniversary, the installation of Debbie Wasserman as its new president and the placement of a commemorative plaque at the site of its first property.

At a celebratory luncheon last month, NCJWC welcomed world-renowned Canadian astronaut Roberta Bondar as its keynote speaker.

“We called our event, Reaching for the Stars, because Roberta Bondar has been there. We are, in a sense, reaching for the stars, since we are trying to do a lot within the community and beyond,” said Wasserman.

A commemorative plaque was also presented to the NCJWC by Parks Canada, which will be placed at 44 St. George St. in Toronto, a building the organization purchased in 1924 and owned until the early 1960s.

The NCJWC is the oldest Jewish women’s organization in Canada, with sections in Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton and Vancouver.

It is a voluntary organization that’s dedicated to identifying Jewish and non-Jewish community needs and providing education and support services.

Meldola de Sola founded the NCJWC in Toronto in 1897. In the early years, it focused on supporting young girls and new immigrants.

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Today, the NCJWC is the only Jewish women’s organization in Canada that is a member of the International Council of Jewish Women.

Wasserman, 61, became involved with the group some 30 years ago. “As a mother with young children, I was looking to make friends and stimulate myself. There were about 26 branches in Toronto at that time and I belonged to the Orah branch. I went on to become president of my little group and was invited to attend Toronto section, where all of the presidents would meet a couple of times a year,” she said.

“I got interested in the bigger picture of Toronto. There were things that were planned, initiatives that were bigger than those done by our little group. I became the treasurer of Toronto section and eventually I became president of Toronto. Once I became president of Toronto, I found out we are part of an even bigger whole called Canada. I got involved with the NCJWC, the umbrella organization of the four sections in Canada and that is what I just became president of.”

Some of the NCJWC’s programs include organ and tissue donation, Jewish genetic diseases awareness and testing, and Holocaust education. The Toronto section also has a Passover food drive that now reaches upwards of 24,000 Jewish people living below the poverty line.

“Another one of our projects is the Toronto Jewish Quilting Project, where community members quilt for those with cancer and, more recently, (for) refugee families. A quilt was presented to Roberta Bondar that had a star motif. She was very touched by the gift,” said Wasserman.

Human trafficking has become a significant focus of the Toronto section, as well. They are trying to heighten awareness and educate the community about the topic.
As national president, Wasserman hopes to expand throughout the country.
“We are Jewish women. We have members who are Jews in name only and others who are very religious.

We want to start new branches across Canada.

In Ontario, we are hoping to attract women from some of the communities where there are not many opportunities for service from a Jewish lens. We are looking for women in Barrie, Newmarket, London or Mississauga, for example, who would be interested in starting a section, or would like to work on one of our national projects,” concluded Wasserman.