Bnai Brith Women assumes new name, updates its image

After years of being known as B'nai B'rith Women, the venerable organization has renamed itself Jewish Women International and turned its eye toward the 21st century.

"We felt we wanted a name that said who we were easily," said Celia Harms, regional director of JWI's Central Pacific Region. "We are a Jewish organization. We are an advocate for women and we have international implications."

The 98-year-old group, which boasts members in the United States, Canada and Israel, does advocacy work for women around the world. The organization's leaders plan to tack "formerly B'nai B'rith Women" onto the new name until people adjust to the change, although the new moniker officially took effect last month.

"That will help membership and the community at large begin to recognize who we are," Harms said. "In time, we will just be called Jewish Women International and people will recognize us for the work we do in the community."

That work is expanding with the times, said Susan Bruck, JWI international president. She cited Jewish continuity, domestic violence and personal and professional growth as issues of universal concern to women.

"When communities all across the country face issues simultaneously, large-scale changes result," Bruck said. She pointed out that her organization addressed domestic violence in Jewish homes ten years ago, when that issue wasn't widely recognized as Jewish.

But in the past decade, she noted, "many Jewish organizations have joined us and are now taking a stand against domestic abuse. Women's groups in Israel and Europe are tangling with the issue."

BBW did not only change its name as a way of keeping up with the times, however. It also wanted its new name to express the group's independence from B'nai B'rith International, its parent organization. (B'nai b'rith is Hebrew for "sons of the covenant.")

In 1990, BBI and BBW drafted a legally binding agreement recognizing BBW as an independent, self-governing body. Since that time, BBW has leased its name from BBI for an annual fee. That lease expires in October 1995.

Rather then renegotiate to keep the old name, BBW leadership decided to select a new one that felt more appropriate. Members considered hundreds of possibilities, Celia Harms said, but they voted overwhelmingly on Jewish Women International at this summer's biennial convention in Orlando, Fla.