A Woman In Charge: Bessie Gotsfeld
Mizrachi Women of America (MWOA, known today as AMIT – Americans for Israel and Torah) began as part of Mizrachi of America (AMIT’s original name). Its separate identity was the direct result of the efforts of Bessie Goldstein Gotsfeld.
Polish born, Bessie (Baike) Goldstein came to New York in 1905, at age 17, and married her English tutor, Mendel Gotsfeld, four years later. During the first seven years of married life, the Gotsfelds lived in Seattle, Washington, and Bessie got to know the traveling leadership of the Mizrachi movement. They represented religious Jews who supported the Zionist dream of building a Jewish state in the Promised Land. They did not, however, agree that the State should have only secular public education, and advocated for religious public education as well. Mizrachi’s motto was: “The Land of Israel, for the people of Israel, in accordance with the law of Israel.”
When the Gotsfelds returned to New York in 1918, Bessie increased her involvement with Mizrachi. The women of Mizrachi proved themselves to be extraordinary fund-raisers. At the 1925 American Mizrachi Convention, Gotsfeld led the leaders of the other women’s branches to declare a separate women’s organization (MWOA) that would administer and support its own projects. Later that year, when one of the organization’s leaders realized “how much money the women had raised, he insisted that the funds be turned over to him. Bessie replied that the ladies would consider his request and inform him of their decision at some other time.*”
MWOA focused on establishing schools for religious students in Israel. Bessie traveled to Jerusalem to find their first school building, which MWOA refurbished as a vocational school. In 1931, Bessie and Mendel settled in Tel Aviv, and she became MWOA’s “Palestine representative.” Over the next 17 years, Bessie helped establish three more schools, two farm village education centers, and numerous other facilities to benefit children.
Bessie Gotsfeld retired in 1948, but remained involved in the organization until her death on July 29, 1962.
*Encyclopedia of Women and Religion in North America: Native American. Rosemary Skinner Keller, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Marie Cantlon
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