Ladies lunch for a worthy cause

From left: Miri Orden, Marian Appel, Dorothy Jones, Bernice Bachmayer, Margaret McNiven, Natalie Gafen; (front row) Rhoda Abulafia, Elza Levin and Ethel Davis.

“WE all like to think that we put the ‘fun’ in ‘fundraising’,” Aqua Group member Margaret McNiven told The AJN this week. Comprised of women aged 64 to 90, the group came about by accident when 13 Jewish women took the same aqua-aerobics class at Elixr in 2008, and turned the chance meeting into an opportunity to make new friends.

“We would see each other every day in the changing room, but we knew nothing about each other,” explained the group’s founder Natalie Gafen. “One day, I realised that I wouldn’t even recognise these women in clothes!”

After a few classes, she invited her new-found friends around for lunch to “catch up on the gossip [they] don’t have time to cover in the changing rooms.” The group numbers have fluctuated over time, but the ladies have met for lunch every month for the past eight years.

The women take turns opening up their homes, and it became their tradition to buy gifts for the hostess. But in 2014, two beloved members of the group, Judy Gafen and Naomi Gam, died of cancer within months of each other. It was these two tragic events that gave Dorothy Jones the idea to turn their lunches into fundraisers.

“We realised that the money we would normally spend on presents could be put to better use by donating it to cancer research, in memory of our friends,” Jones explained. “Now when we all come together, we bring a donation in memory of Judy and Naomi.”

The money is collected by group member Miri Orden, who is also on the steering committee of the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia (NCJWA), who donates it to the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

“We have been through so very much together,” said Gafen, who hosted the most recent lunch. “And for that reason, I appreciate the friendship, camaraderie – and everyone in this group.”