Israeli Women's Rights Activist and Former WIZO Head Michal Modai Dies at 81

Michal Modai, former head of WIZO, burst into the national limelight when she was crowned Israel's second beauty queen.

Michal Modai, a women's rights activist and former head of the Women's International Zionist Organization, died on Friday at the age of 81.

Modai, born in Jerusalem, began her career as a kindergarten teacher in the Zichron Yaakov immigrant transit camp. In 1951, she burst into the national limelight when she was crowned Israel's second beauty queen.

Lior Mizrahi / BauBau

She then embarked on a year of speaking engagements worldwide, during which she met the man who would later become both her husband and Israel's finance minister, Yitzhak Modai. At that time, he was serving as military attache in London.

In 1968, Modai begin volunteering at WIZO's Herzliya branch. She gradually rose through the organization's ranks and, in 1979, was elected chairperson of WIZO Israel.

In this capacity, she established the country's first shelter for battered women in 1983; 12 additional WIZO shelters later followed. She also worked on expanding WIZO's network of youth villages.

In 1984, Modai became chairperson of the World WIZO Executive. She then became vice president of World WIZO, and in 1996, was elected president. She served for eight years, after which she became an honorary life president.

She also held various other positions, including on the committee that determines which drugs and treatments national health insurance will cover.

In 1999, Modai was awarded the Prime Minister's Shield of Voluntarism. Five years later, she was made an honorary citizen of Tel Aviv.

"Modai was a true Zionist, a lover of the land, and a model for emulation," said Helena Glaser, who ended her term as WIZO's president in January. "She will be greatly missed by all of us."

"Many knew her as a former beauty queen, but her inner beauty and her leadership were even more impressive than her external beauty," agreed Prof. Rivka Lazovsky, chairperson of the World WIZO Executive.

Modai was laid to rest Sunday at the Nahalat Yitzhak cemetery in Tel Aviv.