Looking out at the 30 women lunching with her, many of whom she has known and worked with for decades, Lila Kantrowitz declared, “We’re not the way we were, but we’re still here — that’s what’s significant — and we’re still pursuing our philanthropic activities.”
The women were celebrating the 70th anniversary of their organization, the Maplewood/South Orange chapter of Jewish Women International (formerly B’nai B’rith Women).
“I’m not sure how long I’ve been president — 20-something years,” said Kantrowitz, a bright and witty 92. Kantrowitz was brought into BBW by two friends, back in 1973. She stayed because “I really, really believe in what the organization is doing,” she said. “We were one of the first organizations to take on helping women and children, and that really appealed to me.”
She was active on the board for years, and took on the leadership after she retired from teaching in 1993.
No one is about to let her resign. “She’s a wonderful person,” said Bernice Weill of Livingston. “In addition to all the stuff she does, she’s always willing to help with anything you ask.”
While many of the members have been around as long or longer than Kantrowitz, quite a few at the luncheon said they had joined in the past 10 years. Lately though, it has become harder to attract new members. People have moved, too, so it means coming to events from further afield. Kantrowitz lives in West Orange; a whole cluster live near each other in The Point, in Livingston.
Evening meetings aren’t feasible because most people don’t like driving in the dark.
“We used to have 300 members,” Kantrowitz recalled with a sad shrug. “Now we’re down to about 100, and at meetings you might get only 20 or 30.”
But they still raise funds for JWI advocacy efforts to protect women and girls from domestic violence and to support the Jerusalem Hills Children’s Home in Israel, a residential center established in 1943 to shelter war orphans. The facility, now in Kiryat Ye’arim just west of Jerusalem, provides accommodation and treatment for about 100 neglected or abused boys and girls between seven and 18 years old.
Fay Miller, a Springfield resident who is a member of the Northern New Jersey Council of JWI, told the anniversary gathering, “A lot of organizations don’t last past five years, and if they do it’s a miracle. We have kept going, thanks to our wonderful members who work very hard.”
Members told different stories about why they had joined. Edith Davidson, who lives in Livingston, has been a member for 50 years. She joined because her late husband had become a member of B’nai B’rith. “It’s my passion,” she said. “Have you ever met a battered woman? I met a woman who said she was sleeping better because her husband was in jail. I never forgot that.”
One woman said she joined simply because they offered baby-sitting services during the afternoon meetings, which meant she got a two-hour break from child care.
“It doesn’t matter why you joined; what matters is why you stay,” another said.
The chapter will hold a donor gala luncheon at Hanover Manor in East Hanover on Thursday, June 11.