In 1921, the women who came to Israel in the Second Aliya from 1904 to 1914 expecting equality organized NA’AMAT, then called Moetzet Hapoalot (the Working women’s Council), the first feminist movement in Palestine. Protesting a society in which women were relegated to the kitchens while men worked the land and built the country, the women’s goal was to become full partners in the life of the Labor movement, the founding of the state and the future of the Jewish people.
Rachel Yanait Ben Zvi was one of those women. She had worked hard to establish a tree nursery in the middle of the desert, but a lack of water was threatening its existence. So Rachel wrote to her friend Sophie Udin in New York, requesting help. With six other American women, Sophie raised $500 for the well and sent it to Rachel. These seven women formed NA’AMAT USA (then called Pioneer Women).
Thus began the partnership that linked American Jewish women with the women struggling to build a homeland and to find equality for themselves in Israel. Their work began with agricultural training schools and expanded into providing day care for children of working women and vocational training for women who wanted to work.
Between 1934 and 1942, NA’AMAT USA’s membership doubled to 10,000. The first two major funds, the Child Rescue Fund and the Building Fund were created in 1943 and 1944. With the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, a tour department was inaugurated, as well as an Aliyah department. In the 1950s, NA’AMAT became the first Jewish organization to provide services for Arab and Druze. In 1951, NA’AMAT USA participated in the first World Zionist Congress since the establishment of the Jewish State, and served thousands of new immigrants arriving in Israel. In the 1960s, NA’AMAT established a Perpetual Scholarship Fund, enabling Israeli women to pursue higher education.
In the 1970s legal aid bureaus and the Status of Women departments were established in Israel and Spiritual Adoption became a major fundraising activity in the United States.
NA’AMAT entered the 1990s with an enormous agenda. Its activities included working with thousands of Soviet and Ethiopian immigrants pouring into the country; creating Mehad, the support program for single-parent families; establishing five Centers for the Treatment and Prevention of Violence in the Family, and building the Glickman Center, a shelter for battered women, in conjunction with the Tel Aviv municipality.
Today, NA’AMAT USA is part of the World Movement of NA’AMAT and, with chapters in 11 countries, is the largest Jewish women’s organization in the world.
As times have changed, so have NA’AMAT’s approaches to improving the status of women. In the twenty-first century, we are reaching out to new generations of women to join our partnership with NA’AMAT Israel to improve the lives of women, children and families in the Jewish state.