Bucking demographic changes that have shuttered similar women’s organizations, the Batim/Union chapter of Jewish Women International has endured.
Shifting and adapting to accommodate its members, the JWI chapter remains active in volunteering, supporting national and international charities, and promoting women’s and children’s causes — without going high-tech.
Elaine Ratner, who has headed the group on and off for 35 years, has kept e-mail at bay, relying instead on snail mail, phone calls, and face-to-face contact.
On Dec. 13, in honor of the group’s 65th anniversary, the Township of Union presented the JWI chapter with the Mayor’s Award. Mayor Joseph Florio congratulated the members on their anniversary and expressed the township committee’s appreciation for all their work.
Ratner is approaching a major milestone of her own; she has been a member for close to 60 years. “It was an unforgettable evening,” she said in a phone interview. The Dec. 13 ceremony was “one of those experiences that make you feel, ‘This is what life is all about.’”
As for her longevity as a leader, she said, “I’ll captain this ship as long as they need me. I’ve been a volunteer all my life, and being part of this organization, striving to help women and children, has brought me ultimate satisfaction.”
According to JWI’s website, its “innovative programs, advocacy, and philanthropic initiatives protect the fundamental rights of all girls and women to live in safe homes, thrive in healthy relationships, and realize the full potential of their personal strength.”
Another big part of Ratner’s satisfaction are the decades-long friendships she’s enjoyed. “We’ve known each other for so long, and shared so much, we’re more like family than members of a group,” she said.
At its height, the chapter had around 400 members; about 45 still belong and faithfully attend monthly meetings. For nearly 30 years, they met in the cafeteria at the Burnett Middle School on Burnett Avenue; in 1993 the chapter merged with the Union chapter of B’nai B’rith Women.
Two years ago, Ratner and her committee decided that it would be easier to meet during the day because some people were uncomfortable driving at night, but that couldn’t happen at the school. The YM-YWHA of Union County came to their rescue, and they meet there now on the fourth Thursday of each month, at 1 p.m. Guests — and potential new members — are eagerly welcomed.
The meetings have speakers dealing with topics that range from culture to public affairs to health. Recent ones have included Jani Jonas, the Y’s program director who is a fitness consultant, and county surrogate James LaCorte. The chapter also holds fund-raising events, including fashion shows and luncheons, and expeditions to the theater. For more information, call Ratner at 908-687-4549.