Inside Hadassah: A Roman Odyssey and Trees in Tiberias
This season is filled with both celebrations and commemorations. We note the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz; and this year Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, is observed on May 5. I recently attended an Auschwitz commemorative ceremony at the United Nations and was deeply moved by the chanting of El Maleh Rahamin and the singing of “Hatikva.” The rituals of Passover lift our spirits as we mark our people’s freedom from bondage. Yom Ha’atzma’ut (May 12) invokes joy, too, in the 57th year of Israel’s independence.—Ruth G. Cole
Sisters Pay Tribute to an Italian Rescuer
In September 2004, two Polish-born sisters, Gitta Fajerstein-Walchirk (below left) and Chaya Roth (right), traveled from Chicago back to Valdieri, the small Italian village that had once given them refuge. They went with their children and grandchildren to honor the 84-year-old priest Don Francesco Brondello with the title of Righteous Among the Nations, a designation awarded by the State of Israel and the Yad Vashem Memorial to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.
The women and their mother, Chana Diller, had been hidden in a cave so tiny they couldn’t stand up inside. When it became too dangerous and cold to remain there, the young priest brought them warm clothes, shoes and forged identity papers. Eventually escaping to Rome, they found refuge in a convent until the city was liberated in June 1944.
They later spent a year and a half in the Youth Aliyah Village at Ben Shemen, their first postwar opportunity for an “orderly life,” Fajerstein-Walchirk says, and she has “wonderful memories” of it. A film on Ben Shemen is part of Steven Spielberg’s Visual History Archives.
Fajerstein-Walchirk married and joined Hadassah in 1957. One daughter, two sons and seven grandchildren are life members or Hadassah Associates. She served as president of North Shore Hadassah in the late 1990’s, is a major donor and current chapter chair (telephone: 847-433- 6350) of Keepers of the Gate, a higher-level fund-raising activity throughout the country.
Vital and energetic professionals in their seventies, today Roth is a psychologist and Fajerstein-Walchirk is a social worker.
Sick children usually have no appetite, which is why the Charlotte R. Bloomberg Mother and Child Center at the Hadassah–Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Kerem offers them the chance to make their own lunches. Dietitian-planned menus consider special needs and Jewish holidays and offer the kids the chance to peel, cut, mix, knead, bake—and eat—while creating a sense of achievement and fun.
Possibly Predictive Blood Test for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Researchers at the Hadassah–Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Kerem have discovered that a simple blood test might enable psychiatrists to predict—while still in the emergency room—if a person will develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
PTSD is characterized by sleeping disorders, difficulty in concentrating, irritability, nightmares and flashbacks to the traumatic event. These symptoms may persist months and years after the initial event.
The results of these findings, published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry, describe how researchers discovered a physiological signature in peripheral blood cells of activities that take place mainly in the brain. Using innovative methodology, they simultaneously examined thousands of possible markers.
The test group included 24 people who were diagnosed in the emergency room as “shock casualties” after experiencing a traumatic event; 12 of them developed PTSD four months later. One set of blood tests was done while the patient was in the emergency room and a second set four months later. The tests revealed hundreds of markers for PTSD in those who suffered from it and none in the healthy group.
The researchers, led by Dr. Arieh Shalev (above), head of Hadassah’s Department of Psychiatry, believe that after some refinement of the test it will be possible to predict PTSD symptoms. Hadasit, the Hadassah subsidiary that promotes and commercializes intellectual properties generated at Hadassah, has already patented the findings of the research and is in advanced stages of developing a commercial diagnostic kit for PTSD.
“Now that we have found the signals, we are going to concentrate on detecting the genes, to shed more light on the biological processes in our bodies that cause mental diseases, and from this to develop ways to prevent them,” said Dr. Shalev.
Planting With Peres
Tu B’shvat brings out the spring in our step, and 40 Young Judaea teens on Year Course got out their shovels to help clean the park and plant trees in Tiberias together with students, soldiers—and octogenarian Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres.
“Planting a sapling in a beautiful park overlooking the Kinneret made me feel like I was part of Israel’s pioneering history,” says Leor Maizel, 18, of Seattle, Washington, who is spending three months learning Hebrew in the morning and teaching English in the afternoon to elementary and high school students. “The school kids were dressed as little trees and sang Tu B’shvat songs. I was proud to be part of a ceremony with Israeli children and soldiers and Shimon Peres.”
Peres talked of the history of the Land of Israel from Rabbi Akiva until today, declaring Young Judaeans must be part of Israel’s future. At last count, 16 Year Coursers from 2003-2004 have made aliya, so it looks as if his wish will come true.
Stitching in Timee
The Henrietta Szold Hadassah chapter in Philadelphia has been knitting and crocheting for children who lose their hair because of chemotherapy. So far they have shipped 2,900 hats and 650 blankets to 20 hospitals in 11 states and sent duffel bags brimming with knitted goods to children in Hadassah Hospital in Israel (215-464-4793; email@example.com).
Across the state, the Greater Pittsburgh chapter has completed a beautiful hand- and machine-made huppa, which is available to families and friends merely for the cost of a donation to Hadassah (412-421- 8919; bigchapter.pittsburgh@hadas sah.org).
Farther south in Georgia, Atlanta’s Ketura group has been knitting hats, scarves and mittens to benefit a shelter for battered women that helps them find jobs, apartments and furniture, as well as offering free medical care and computer training (770-321- 4025; firstname.lastname@example.org).
Lifestyle Choices=Healthy Living
It’s hard to believe there was a time when Hadassah, an organization founded to provide health care, did not have a Department of Women’s Health and Advocacy. But it’s true. It was only in 1995 that the department—under the leadership of then-Hadassah national president Marlene Post—came into existence. “We started with two programs,” recalls Dale Mintz, national director of the department from the beginning. “Now we have 12. Simply put, healthy life choices lead to disease prevention; screenings and self-examinations lead to early detection.”
CHECK IT OUT ®, a teen health-awareness program begun in 1992 and chaired for the last six years by Doris Greenberg, continues to flourish. The first program of its kind from Hadassah, CHECK IT OUT ® educates high school teens about healthy life choices. With the help of a video, they learn to notice changes in their bodies and how to communicate their concerns to their parents and physicians. It is exciting to note that over a million young people have participated in high schools, Jewish community centers and youth programs across the United States. The curriculum can be modified for use by college students and adults (for more information, contact womenshealth@ hadassah.org; 212-303-8094).
Naturally, the department has close ties to the Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) in Israel; it also has strong connections with United States policymakers and physicians. To introduce government leaders to the HMO, the department is hosting a by-invitation-only mission to Israel in 2006. Explains Janice Greenwald, R.N., national chair of Women’s Health in Israel: “We sit on many government and corporate committees and task forces and we have relationships with a number of movers and shakers. Although many of them know we have a facility in Israel, they don’t understand the extent and the depth of the work of the HMO. Our invited guests will see how trauma is handled in Israel and the cutting-edge research we are doing there.”
As serious as health education is, Hadassah also knows how to have fun. At national convention this summer, the department will host a caucus to raise awareness of heart disease in women by exhibiting four of a collection of 26 specially created red designer dresses. These gowns, part of the government’s Heart Truth campaign, are traveling around the country as a symbol of heart disease awareness.
Most of us have no idea that we can change some of the risk factors for heart disease (such as sedentary lifestyle) and that women experience heart attack symptoms differently than men do (such as pain in the gut or between the shoulders). Says Estie Lipsit, national chair of the department, “When you see that red dress symbol you know what it means: Take care of your heart.”
Hadassah has just signed a contract with Jossey-Bass to publishThe Hadassah Jewish Family Guide to Health and Wellness in the fall of 2006. Why emphasize Jewish health? Because, aside from obvious Jewish subjects such as circumcision and genetically linked diseases, there is so much more that we experience as Jews in relation to our bodies and souls.
Why emphasize family health? Because, as Mintz observes, “When a woman is educated on how to take care of herself, she uses what she learns to take care of her family.”