Jewish organizations’ birthday counts yield fuzzy math


Somewhere along the line, someone missed the count on a couple of Jewish conferences.

The L.A. Jewish Journal reported recently that the National Council on Jewish Women held its first annual "Jewish Women’s Conference:"  

About 200 women, as well as a couple of men, turned out on Oct. 30 for the first Jewish Women’s Conference, sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women of Los Angeles (NCJW/LA), Hadassah and Na’amat USA, and held at the NCJW/LA headquarters on Fairfax Boulevard.

The day focused on the challenges women continue to face in the domestic setting as well as professionally, and, in keeping with the missions of the three organizing forces, was established with the hopes of advocating for a larger voice for women politically and in the workplace…

The conference ended with assurances that this would be the first of an annual event. 

Alas, this was not the first time a conference by this name took place.  In 1973, the "first national Jewish women’s conference" drew 500 Jewish feminists, and the NCJW of New York led a conference bearing the same title in 1983:

[Arlene] Agus, who was the moderator of the recent conference titled "Jewish Women’s Conference: Challenge and Change," a project of the National Council of Jewish Women-New York Section and sponsored by the Jewish Women’s Resource Center, said that although many of the changes sought in the early years had been achieved, there were "not enough. We’re asking more fundamental, more difficult, and more frightening questions about structure, form, theology, prayer language, and perhaps prayer routine."

To be fair, the 1983 NCJW-led conference was not billed as an annual event. According to the Jewish Women’s Archive, "The first biennial conference, held in 1983, marked the dedication of the JWRC as a project of NCJW New York Section and celebrated the tenth anniversary of the first National Jewish Women’s Conference."

But before either of these national conferences materialized, the first international Jewish women’s conference took place across the pond — a long, long, time ago. Although a 1978 gathering in Amsterdam attempted to claim this distinction, there was a 1927 "Conference of Jewish Women’s Organizations" in London and a "World Jewish Women’s Conference" in Hamburg in 1929, which deliberated "a proposal to seek certain reforms in the Jewish religious laws concerning marriage and divorce so that certain customs and regulations causing hardships may be eliminated." 

It’s likely that this agenda item is related to the issue of agunot, or chained wives, which persists today. As an aside, readers may be surprised to learn that American Jewish women have had Ethiopian Jewry on their radar since at least 1930.

In other questionable counts, the JTA Archive was in Denver for what was billed by the Jewish Federations of North America as the 80th annual General Assembly. With all due respect to the organizers, this can’t be right; the first annual GA was tallied in Chicago in 1934. And even if the count had started in 1932 with the formal constitution of the National Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds in Cleveland, the 1945 conference in Cincinnati was cancelled on account of World War II.

When possible, the Archive Blog will do its utmost to offer Jewish organizations the benefit of the doubt.

But if we smell fuzzy math in the fridge, we reserve the right to discard it.

Readers: Do you have an explanation for these suspect anniversaries — or another one to report? Email archive_AT_jta_DOT_org .

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