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Hadassah: A Long History of "Women Who Do"

The Charlotte Jewish News, March 2023

By Aileen Greenberg-Kriner

Which of the following statements are true?

- Hadassah is purely a social organization.

- Hadassah is only for women.

- Hadassah is for old ladies like my grandmother.

None. They are all FALSE!

From our monthly list of activities and events, you might think that we exist for social purposes, but let’s dig deeper. The events we hold are primarily to get to know new and potential members and/or to raise funds. The money we raise from events goes directly to support parts of the Hadassah organization — the Hadassah Medical Organization in Israel and its two hospitals, groundbreaking medical research, youth villages and programs, education, and advocacy work.

Yes, the majority of our 300,000 Hadassah members are female, but men are welcome as Hadassah Associates. There are nearly 33,000 Hadassah Associates and they are valued partners. Men have developed and supported initiatives that advance medical care, research, and education at our Jerusalem hospitals.

Hadassah has members of all ages. Children are welcome at many of our events, like Purim bingo and Chanukah parties. Evolve Hadassah, a community of active, empowered young women, is the next generation of Hadassah leaders. Evolve Hadassah offers programming and leadership training for young leaders. Hadassah also has professional councils for attorneys and judges, nurses and allied health professionals, physicians, and educators.

Hadassah has a clear mission: Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, is a volunteer organization that inspires a passion for and commitment to the land, the people, and the future of Israel. Through education, advocacy, and youth development, and its support of medical care and research at Hadassah Medical Organization, Hadassah enhances the health and lives of people in Israel, the United States and worldwide.

March is Women’s History Month and Hadassah has a long, rich history. During a trip to prestate Israel in 1909, Henrietta Szold saw Jewish immigrants living in camps without proper plumbing or sanitation. She was horrified by the starvation and disease, so she took action. When she returned to the U.S., Henrietta founded Hadassah, in New York City in February 1912. The group had 38 members and Henrietta was elected president. The group chose nursing as their first focus and raised funds to send two nurses to Palestine to provide pasteurized milk to infants and new mothers. This was the foundation for the Hadassah Medical Organization.

Today, Hadassah supports two world-class hospitals in Jerusalem, at Ein Kerem and Mt. Scopus. Hadassah’s hospitals treat 1 million people each year, regardless of race, religion, or nationality. Hadassah is also committed to building a better world through cutting-edge research in medicine and health care, primarily focusing on women’s heart health, breast cancer, and infertility.

In the 1930s, Henrietta Szold worked with her German colleague, Recha Freier. Freier was the founder of Youth Aliyah, a Jewish organization that rescued thousands of Jewish children from the Nazis during the Third Reich. Children were sent to safety in Palestine, and it is said that Szold, who supervised the Youth Aliyah activities in Jerusalem, met every boat as it arrived. Youth Aliyah arranged for the refugee resettlement in kibbutzim and youth villages. About 5,000 teenagers were brought to Palestine before World War II. After the war an additional 15,000 followed, most of them Holocaust survivors.

The well-being of future generations is central to Hadassah’s mission. Today, Hadassah supports two Youth Aliyah villages, Meir Shfeyah and Neurim. Young immigrants and at-risk native Israelis receive food, shelter, counseling, education, and other support services they need to become productive members of Israeli society. More than 300,000 students from 80 countries have graduated from Youth Aliya since 1934.

Hadassah also raises funds for Young Judaea summer camps and Israel programs, and provides 300-400 scholarships each year, with the goal of ensuring Jewish continuity for future generations.

Every day, Hadassah members speak out. They send messages and meet face-to-face with elected officials, locally and in Washington, D.C. We are steadfast in our fight against antisemitism and hate and recently helped get the Never Again Education Act signed into law. Hadassah advocates put our Jewish values into action, supporting Jewish youth, fighting hate, antisemitism and BDS in the U.S., standing up for women’s health equity, taking a stand on political issues that impact Jews, women, and Israel’s security, and fighting for Holocaust education funding for schools.

The women of Hadassah, beginning with our founder Henrietta Szold, are people who see a need and get to work. Hadassah members truly live our motto — “The Power of Women Who Do.”