Hadassah eyes its future on eve of organization’s centennial

Hadassah eyes its future on eve of organization’s centennial

As Hadassah members nationwide prepare for the women’s Zionist organization’s Centennial Convention in Jerusalem in mid-October, Hadassah of Greater Pittsburgh is in the midst of preparing for its own centennial gala, set for Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Green Oaks Country Club.

National Hadassah President Marcie Natan will be in town to present longtime Hadassah supporters Janice and Louis Greenwald of Braddock with the Myrtle Wreath Award at the gala.

“We haven’t had a national president [of Hadassah] visit Pittsburgh for some years now,” said Dotty Weisberg, chair of the event.  “And we haven’t had a big affair in awhile. It’s time. For an organization to be 100 years old is something.”

Hadassah was founded by Henrietta Szold, Feb. 24, 1912, in New York City. On that day, addressing a group of 38 women at Temple Emanu El, she was famously quoted as saying: “If we are Zionists … what is the good of meeting and talking and drinking tea? Let us do something real and practical — let us organize the Jewish women of America and send nurses and doctors to Palestine.”

From its initial mandate to send health care workers to the Jewish state, Hadassah’s contributions have expanded to include the creation of state-of-the-art health care facilities and training centers, including the Hebrew University of Jerusalem-Hadassah Medical School, Henrietta Szold Hadassah-Hebrew University School of Nursing and Hadassah College Jerusalem.

Hadassah also supports the Hadassah Medical Organization, and has initiated and contributed to numerous medical aid projects in Israel and around the world. Most recently, it has raised $363 million to build the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower, the largest building project in Israel, which will house 500 beds, 20 operating rooms, 60 intensive care beds and the Heart Institute.

Locally, Hadassah has made its mark as well. The Pittsburgh chapter, founded in 1917, has sponsored breast exam education programs for high school girls, prepares monthly dinners for those staying at Family House and runs educational programs about teen dating violence, according to Weisberg.

“We are very big on doing anything having to do with women’s and family health issues,” she said.

Centennial celebrations are being planned throughout the country, and Natan will be attending many of them.

“All kinds of interesting things are being planned for the centennial,” Natan said in an interview with the Chronicle. “There will be torch relays in some cities, and we have published a book called ‘Real Stories of Hadassah Life Changing Moments,’ which has 100 stories by members.”

Other special centennial programs include auctions of art donated by members in honor of the centennial. The auctions were was kicked off last February at a program at Christie’s in London featuring speaker Meret Meyer, a granddaughter of artist Marc Chagall. Chagall donated 12 stained glass windows to the people of Jerusalem in 1962 when the new Hadassah hospital was being built.

While the organization suffered financially from having invested millions of dollars with Bernard Madoff — now serving a 150-year sentence in federal prison for running what has been called the largest Ponzi scheme in history — Hadassah is well on its way to recovery, said Natan, adding that its financial situation is now “healthy.”

“Fundraising is up, and people are really committed to the new hospital tower,” she said. “There is excitement about over 1,600 delegates already signed up for the convention in Israel. We are looking at re-structuring internally to allow our advocacy and Zionist affairs and programming to get more attention. We cannot go back to where we were, but we can go back to re-invest in our future.”

And what will that future look like, say, in the next 100 years?

“I think we don’t look exactly the way we did 100 years ago,” Natan said. “But medicine is something universal and eternal and the need for women to connect to others that share their values will not change over time.  The way we connect today is different, with emails [and other electronic means], but the need to know you are communicating with others that share your value systems and concerns is something you will always need.”

(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.)

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