Our History

NCJW NY was founded 125 years ago by smart and passionate women who had no outlet for their industrious minds. Their goal was to empower individuals in need while improving and enriching their lives. Times have certainly changed but the spirit of NCJW NY has not. The staff and volunteers of NCJW NY work tirelessly to advance social justice through our three-pronged program of community-based social services, education, and advocacy. The following is a listing of highlights from NCJW NY’s long and rich history.

The National Council of Jewish Women was founded in 1893 at the Parliament of Religions at the World Fair’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago by Hannah Greenbaum Solomon. At its last session, this resolution was passed:

RESOLVED: That we Jewish women, sincerely believing that a closer fellowship will be encouraged, a closer unity of thought and sympathy and purpose, and a nobler accomplishment will result from a widespread organization, do therefore band ourselves together in a union of workers to further the best and highest interests of Judaism and humanity, and do call ourselves the “National Council of Jewish Women.” This organization shall have branches in as many cities and towns as possible, and these branches shall be known as Sections.

In the spring of 1894, an invitation was issued to outstanding Jewish women of New York City, women whose names still live on—Mrs. Straus, Mrs. Warburg, Mrs. Lehman, Mrs. Sulzberger – to form the New York Section of NCJW. These women attended a meeting at Temple Emanu-El. In the first year, NCJW NY had a membership of 120 and our expenses for the year were $150. Just think how we have grown—now we number over 2,000 members and supporters and our budget has increased more than ten thousand fold.

There are many milestones in our great 120-year history—an unbroken record of addressing unmet needs and speaking out on important issues of the day. In the early days, there was very little organized philanthropy. We were the first group of women who were organized, who were disciplined, and who directed ourselves to the problems—and there were many—in our community.

NCJW New York Highlights

1898 – Recreation Rooms and Settlement were organized to offer young girls a focal point for meeting friends away from the “immoral influences” of the street.

1904 – Service for Foreign Born was organized. President Cleveland called upon NCJW NY to help newly arrived immigrant girls whose personal lives in this country were jeopardized. Thousands of persecuted Jews sought refuge here in America, and NCJW NY met this challenging situation directly. Volunteers were at the docks, the first link with democracy for bewildered newcomers. Volunteers and staff worked together to locate families; volunteers and staff taught the newcomers about their new country—naturalization—the making of new Americans. This was our Service for the Foreign Born. This work, essential at all times, peaked when conditions accelerated immigration, starting with the pogroms at the turn of the century, the threat of war before World War I, the mass immigration due to the terrors of the Hitler regime and the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, as well as those fleeing the Castro regime.

1906 – Our Welfare Island Project, later called Roosevelt Island Services, was begun to hearten the lives of many critically ill people. Renewing religious faith and knowing that a group of people care can make a world of difference to those who are facing serious health conditions.

1906 – Lakeview Home for Unmarried Mothers was opened on Staten Island. Girls were trained to earn a livelihood. In 1917, an independent Board with sponsors was set up. Its ties with NCJW NY were severed.

1907 – NCJW NY was the first Section to sponsor work with the blind. The goal was to give the greatest possible independence—financial, psychological and physical—to the blind. In 1914, this project served as the nucleus for an independent entity, The Jewish Guild for the Blind.

1919 – Council House, later called Forest House, was organized as a New York Section Community Center—pioneering a mother’s club, a mental hygiene clinic and a kindergarten. It was first located on St. Marks Place in Manhattan. It was relocated to the Bronx in 1929 and turned over to the Bronx community in 1944.

1934 – Council Thrift Shop opened as a service to the community and as a source of funds for New York Section. The  shop, located on East 84th Street between Second and Third Avenues, continues to be a key source of income for NCJW NY.

1938 – 83,000 refugees were aided through New York Section’s Aid to the Foreign Born. Thousands of German and Austrian Jews were rescued through affidavits obtained from New York relatives and friends.

1943 – Council Club for Servicemen, a dormitory breakfast canteen, was established, serving hundreds of servicemen and merchant seamen. Three hundred volunteers and a small staff organized the canteen weekly.

1946 – Groundbreaking work with the aging saw the initiation of Council Club for Older People, later known as Katharine Engel Center. Now known as the Council House, the building houses our Council Lifetime Learning program and our other community service initiatives. It was the first Senior Center in Manhattan to offer extensive all day programming for older adults 55 and above.

1948 – Ship-A-Boxa national NCJW project serving children in Israel, France and Africa, became an important NCJW NY program. Our volunteers packed and shipped as many as 88 barrels a year with toys, clothing and special requests.

1955 – Council Workshop for Senior Citizens provided a sheltered workshop for older people needing to supplement meager income with part-time employment.

1967 –  The Children’s Library Program and Book Go Round, established to broaden educational opportunities for children in economically disadvantaged communities, emphasized reading readiness. Libraries were set up in day care centers where space was available. This program became what is now the Children’s Literacy Program.

1982 – The Jewish Women’s Resource Center was initiated to respond to the feminist movement and to the questions Jewish women raise about their role in Judaism and their contributions to the continuum of Jewish life. It assembled an extensive research library, housing over 10,000 articles, books and periodicals. In 2011, the collection was donated to the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary. JWRC continues to host conferences, film festivals, discussion groups, and other events.

1983 – The Wednesday Soup Kitchen was organized to provide a nutritious hot meal in congenial surroundings for New York’s growing hungry population. Every Wednesday, approximately 80 people receive a complete meal served by devoted volunteers who  set the tables, make extra sandwiches, and pour pitchers of juice. A Sunday Soup Kitchen was added three years later. The programs have been renamed the Wednesday and Sunday Community Kitchens.

1984 – The West 72nd Street Food Pantry reflected the need to further address hunger in New York City by offering a three-day emergency package of food staples to families whose income couldn’t stretch to meet the food bill. This stopgap food package is needed only once by some, and more often by others. The size of the family determines the size of the package, and volunteers work diligently to see that healthy foods are packed appropriately. As many as 200 families a week utilize this critical service.

1984 – The Jackson-Stricks Scholarship Fund was established by the Jackson and Stricks families to assist physically challenged undergraduate and graduate students to earn degrees and learn new marketable skills leading to the achievement of independent living.

1985 – WCBS Troubleshooters was inaugurated, beginning a ten-year partnership between New York Section and WCBS-TV. Trained volunteers used a host of research materials to assist consumers and the general public with their problems with vendors and the bureaucracy. Cases that were aired on WCBS brought the message that Troubleshooters helped get results.

1986 – The Pregnancy Loss Support Program was established to provide couples who had suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth or newborn death with comfort and validation through telephone counseling and in-person support groups.

1987 – Responding to the scourge of AIDS, The AIDS Friendly Visitor Program began as an extension of our Roosevelt Island program. It soon became a separate community service as volunteers reached out to the expanding number of forgotten patients with AIDS at Goldwater Memorial Hospital. PACT (Pediatric Aids Caring Team) was organized to respond to the needs of babies with AIDS at the Incarnation Children’s Center. A dedicated coterie of volunteers provided warmth and affection to these babies. The program wound down in 2011 as the crisis of babies born with HIV and AIDS was greatly diminished.

1987Gail Heather Coates Scholarship was established at New York Section to provide a graduate student in the field of Special Education with help in achieving goals. The program ended in 2000.

1988ArtReach was developed to provide an interactive art experience for elementary school students. Volunteers trained by the Whitney Museum of American Art showcased works at the Whitney by bringing slides to the classroom, encouraging visits to the museum and thereby stimulating the appreciation, understanding and enjoyment of art. Although the Whitney Museum is no longer involved, the program continues today with Council volunteers making presentations at after-school programs.

1992 – NCJW NY began supporting HIPPY (Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters). This program was created by the NCJW Research Institute for Innovation in Education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and has since become an independent, international non-profit organization. In NYC, the HIPPY program is sponsored by Bronxworks and provides parents with the skills necessary to become their children’s first teachers and children with school readiness skills. NCJW NY volunteers provide enrichment and support for the program.

1996 – No Sweatshop Coalition was launched to help consumers be part of the campaign to eliminate abusive conditions in sweatshops that exploit women and children.

1998 – Bereavement Support Groups were instituted at Council House, reaching out to the community to offer those suffering the loss of a loved one a comforting group experience led by a skilled psychotherapist. Support groups take place twice a week.

1999 – New York Section embraced Yad B’Yad, a program sponsored by National. A dedicated committee raised funds to amplify the grants which NCJW gave to selected Israeli organizations and communities. Currently, NCJW, Inc. has renamed the initiative the Israel Granting Program, which focuses on empowerment of women and girls in Israel. NCJW NY continues to support the initiative using its own general operating funds.

1999 – Toys For Education And Creative Help (TEACH) provided developmental equipment for newly registered day care providers, giving them the tools to help the children in their care have a more productive experience. The program wound down in 2010.

1999 – New York Walks to End Domestic Violence attracted 3,000 participants in Riverside Park. The money raised provided grants to innovative programs working to end domestic violence.

2001 – In response to the tragic events of September 11, NCJW NY held town meetings led by trained therapists. A new project in conjunction with NY1 News was formed, NY1 For You. It was a helpline created to serve those affected by the events of 9/11. NCJW NY’s volunteers staffed this helpline five days a week and helped hundreds through a very difficult period. The program continued for one year.

2002 – Expert knitters teamed up to develop a new community service, KnitWits. With more than 30 members, in its first year the group created and distributed over 700 knitted items to children and adults in hospitals and shelters throughout the city. The group meets twice a week at Council House and also collects items from knitters who cannot attend group sessions.

2002 – The Jewish Women’s Film Festival, presented by the Eleanor Leff Jewish Women’s Resource Center, began its tri-annual presentation of films by and about Jewish women. The Ellie Award was given to Joan Micklin Silver, a filmmaker who has been a trailblazer for women in film. An Ellie was also awarded to the director of the “Best Film” of the festival.

2003 – The Lunch, Interaction, Nutrition, & Companionship (LINC) Program was designed to provide people with mild memory impairment or early-stage Alzheimer’s disease with a twice-weekly opportunity to interact with others and accentuate their strengths. At the same time, caregivers could participate in a support group, aided by trained workers from the Alzheimer’s Association.

2006 – Older Adults Technology Services (OATS) was initiated as an innovative intergenerational program that leveraged technology as a tool for bringing youth and seniors together to engage in collaborative learning, build community resources, and promote mutual understanding across the age spectrum. The program ran through 2008.

2007 – NCJW NY sponsored a program on Human Trafficking which resulted in the passage of a bill by the New York State legislature.

2008 – As part of our ongoing efforts to combat violence against women, NCJW NY hosted a ground-breaking conference that explored the disturbing and growing problem of Teen Dating Abuse.

2009 – The NCJW NY Board transitions to the Management Council, overseeing programming and membership activities. A new Board — focused on governance, finance, and resource development — is installed.

2011-2012 – NCJW NY consolidated programs and operations under one roof at Council House on West 72nd Street. Phase one of building renovation was completed in early 2012.

2013 – NCJW NY became the lead agency in a coalition of Jewish organizations united against sex trafficking, called We Were Slaves.

2014 – NCJW NY initiated the Women’s Advocacy Training Program (WATP), a series of weeknight workshops designed to give women the tools and skills they need to advocate for causes they are passionate about, whether it be at the neighborhood, city, state, federal, or global level. 

201 5 – The first annual Back 2 School Store is held at Council House, outfitting 75 children with everything they need to go back to school with pride, confidence, and enthusiasm.  More than 80 volunteers served as “personal shoppers,” re-stockers, and assisted with check-in and registration.