Rebecca Sieff and Women's Zionism 

According to a speech she gave in 1952, Rebecca Sieff’s first contact with Zionism had been a public meeting addressed by Chaim Weizmann. Sometime around 1910 she joined her first Zionist group, the Daughters of Zion, and by the summer of 1913 she had become an activist. At this time, Helena Weisberg, who taught at Jews’ School and who had been long reviled by many within the community as a rebel, was still dominating the organisation. By 1916, however, Rebecca was presiding at a public meeting held in Maccabean Hall for the purpose of encouraging more active support for the Zionist cause from women in Manchester. A resolution was passed to write to the Prime Minister asking for his help in establishing a legally secured home in Palestine. She was also active in collecting funds for Polish Jewish Relief. Her influence continued to grow until, in 1918, she founded the South Manchester Women’s Zionist Society, with herself as chairman. This was a significant development because the new organisation was the first in England to focus its activities solely around the welfare of women and children in Palestine.

At around this time, Rebecca’s husband, Israel, went with Chaim Weizmann as part of the 1918 Zionist Commission to Palestine, which was to survey the situation and make recommendations on how the Balfour Declaration was to be implemented. In his memoirs, Israel Sieff recalls how his wife was put out

"not so much because I was going away for a few months, but because she was not allowed to go herself. She had developed into an intrepid, independent-minded woman, believed in sex-equality, was a devoted Zionist, and saw no reason why she should not accompany us, rightly insisting that she could do my job better than I could."

In July 1920, Edith Eder, Vera Weizmann and Rebecca collaborated with leaders of the English Women’s Zionist Organisation and a conference was held which led to the establishment of WIZO. Israel describes the relations between Vera and his wife as "basically life-long friends who fought each other all the time." Their differences were partly personal, partly to do with policy: Vera saw WIZO as working very closely with the regular Zionist Organisation, while Rebecca had what was described as a "let the men get on with it and we’ll do the real work" attitude to things. In the end, Rebecca won, and she was President of WIZO from 1924 until her death in Tel Mond, Israel, in 1966.






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IMAGE AND DOCUMENT CREDITS: R Sieff (Speaking for Women; Rebecca Sieff and the WIZO Movement), WIZO Executive (Manchester Jewish Museum), Vera Weizmann (HM Blumberg, Weizmann; his Life and Times) Full reference: Sources.