WIZO to screen ’50 Shades’ in controversial fundraiser

While the event attempts to attract young women to the organization, longtime supporters worry about damage to its reputation

A scene from '50 Shades of Grey' (YouTube screenshot)
A scene from '50 Shades of Grey' (YouTube screenshot)

Ahead of the international Valentine’s Day launch of raunchy “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the steamy trailer has already attracted some 100 million views on YouTube. That’s hardly surprising: The bestselling novel moved over 100 million copies, mostly to women, of all ages and marital statuses.

So a screening of the film is almost a logical choice for a massive, international fundraising event for women. But with its plethora of steamy sex scenes, is “50 Shades” the proper film to be associated with WIZO Aviv, the young women’s division of the Women’s International Zionist Organization?

As the young women leaders of WIZO Aviv are planning major international fundraising events with screenings of the much-awaited and controversial “Fifty Shades of Grey” — in some places even ahead of the February 14 premiere — many of their “grayer” sisters, mothers and grandmothers are less than amused.

But according to World WIZO Aviv’s representative, Laurienne Baitz, the fundraiser has sold out in all cinemas world-wide.

“We work hard to sell tickets for all fundraisers, but this event was not difficult to sell at all,” says Baitz.

The film choice is controversial among traditional and religious Jews. In South Africa, for instance, the email invitation from WIZO to the event shocked many in the Jewish community. They believe it is “not the kind of movie an organization like WIZO should be showing” and that any money raised from this event would be “tainted.”

WIZO’s reputation for improving the lives of women and children in Israel through programs for single mothers, battered woman and girls at risk, has been nearly a century in the making. Many wonder if this fundraiser is worth risking all of that.

One new immigrant from the United States now living in Tel Aviv says she is ” very, very offended by this.”

“It is a mockery of the WIZO name and all of the incredible people (including both of my grandmothers) who have worked for this institution,” she says.

‘Using “Fifty Shades of Grey” to raise funds to help women who have been sexually abused is like saying, “Let’s go eat burgers to raise money for animal rights”‘

“Using ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ to raise funds to help women who have been sexually abused is like saying, ‘Let’s go eat burgers to raise money for animal rights,’” she says.

Indeed, domestic violence activists around the world are calling for a boycott of the film. A massive social media campaign using the hash-tag, #50dollarsnot50shades, asks people to donate $50 to an organization supporting victims of domestic violence, rather than spending it on movie tickets and popcorn.

But WIZO Aviv representative Baitz disagrees.

“In a world where viewing the real mutilated bodies of humans’ spoils of war is an all-day, every-day visual reality oozed across every news channel that our children view out of the corner of their eyes whilst playing games on the Internet with unrestricted access to more unspeakable real horrors, exercising the personal choice to view (or not) a strictly-rated adult movie that has passed the international censorship boards seems more in perspective,” says Baitz.

WIZO is capitalizing on the movie’s hype to raise funds, she says. An additional motivation is to change the organization’s reputation from “aging women who organize luncheons and Bridge parties. This does not attract a younger membership without whom WIZO will have no future.”

Ra’anana-based Eli Rudolph, a young married woman with two young children, is involved in various charity organizations in Israel and in South Africa. She knows the struggles that traditional charity organizations face in attracting young Jews to take up the baton from those who have gone before.

“I understand that they want to attract younger women, but surely there’s a step between bingo and soft pornography?” Rudolph says. “If there’s enough nudity on screen, what’s to stop Maccabi from holding a fundraiser at a ‘classy’ strip club?”

Baitz regrets the film event may overshadow the organization’s “outstanding work done in Israel.”

“How about rather highlighting the work we do in saving the lives of women and children, empowering women, helping lives, [providing] shelters and education centers, empowerment training and so so so much more?” Baitz says.

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