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Book Notes: Service with a Smile: A History of the League of Jewish Women since 1943, Gerry Black

Hilary L. Rubinstein

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Service with a Smile: A History of the League of Jewish Women since 1943, Gerry Black (Tymsder Publishing 2010) pp. 206, ?10. Founded in 1943, when the wartime mood of democracy, national unity and idealism was set against the catastrophe unfolding across the Channel, the League of Jewish Women has been one of the foremost service bodies in the Anglo-Jewish community. Gerry Black, who has written many interesting and valuable works on Anglo-Jewish history, as well as on several of the Jewish community's key institutions such as the Jews' Free School, has pro? duced a very well researched and detailed account of the League and its evo? lution over the nearly seventy years of its existence. The work is broadly organized chapter by chapter around the League's twenty-four presidents, from Lady Mabel Hartog in 1943-7t0 Ella Marks in 2008-10, with accounts of the body's main activities during each period. There are also valuable rem? iniscences of activities and discussions of the changing roles of voluntary and women's organizations in British and Anglo-Jewish society. The text is enhanced by many photographs. According to Dr Black, the League reached the peak of its membership in about 1976-90, when it had perhaps 5000 members, and has since declined. It has always been concerned with the range of'women's service' activities, such as child welfare, hospital visiting, friendship clubs and day centres for the elderly, and has carried out its activities with great enthusiasm and profes? sionalism. What, one wonders, are the reasons for the decline in its member? ship, bearing in mind that virtually all voluntary organizations, including the political parties, have seen a steady decline in membership during the past few decades? In the case of the League, it seems reasonable to wonder whether the growth of strict Orthodoxy - while the League's members appear to be drawn largely from mainstream Orthodox and Reform women - is a factor. One would, indeed, like to know more about whether sectarian issues played a role in the League's evolution, a topic not discussed by Dr Black. There is also the factor of the growth of contemporary feminism, whose adherents often deplore traditional women's organizations of this type, emphasizing the purely service oriented and auxiliary role of women, rather than their leadership role in the wider community. 225</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes The title of the book - 'service with a smile' - would itself offend many feminists, rightly or wrongly. Additionally, the increase in the number of women with full-time paid employment, often in highly trained professions, has probably contributed to the decline in popularity of bodies such as the League, which require participants to have ample free time. As Dr Black also notes, the role of virtually any organization in the volun? tary sector is somewhat uneasy, positioned rather ambiguously between the institutions of the state, whose role has greatly increased during the past century, and legal restrictions and safeguards often placed, with the best of intentions, on volunteering. Dr Black's valuable and detailed study adds greatly to our knowledge of this facet of the Anglo-Jewish voluntary sector. Hilary L. Rubinstein</page></plain_text>