President’s Column: Planting, Building, Renewing
The story began with three brown seeds. Dr. Sarah Sallon asked Israeli archaeologists for a handful of 2,000-year-old date palm seeds discovered in the excavation of Masada 30 years ago and sitting in a drawer. Dr. Sallon, who heads the Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Center at Hadassah Medical Organization, delivered the seeds to her collaborator, botanist Elaine Soloway, who runs the experimental farm at Kibbutz Ketura in the Negev. Soloway planted the seeds last January, on Tu Bishvat, and five weeks later a green shoot sprouted.
The Hadassah tree is now over a foot tall. Today’s Israeli date palms come from California seeds, but the Hadassah tree comes from ancient Judaean dates that were renowned for their succulence and medicinal properties. Said Dr. Sallon, “Perhaps one of our ancestors was sitting there on the battlements of Masada, eating his dates, nonchalantly spitting out a pip.”
I love the image, and I can’t wait to taste the dates.
I spoke with Dr. Sallon in June at the dedication of the Borick center. My main business in Israel was participating in meetings of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency. Zev Bielski, the charismatic mayor of Ra’anana, was elected the new head of the Jewish Agency. Delegates designated the Negev and the Galilee as the two strategic areas most needing strengthening and development.
I met prospective students from both areas at an open house for Hadassah College Jerusalem, which attracts young people from all over Israel. They were drawn by the college’s high academic standards, student-friendly environment and professional training that almost guarantees a good job. I was also delighted to meetharedi women, many of them graduates in laboratory sciences. These young women will now be able to earn a decent living for their large families.
What fun it was this summer to hear the reports of students at Hadassah–Neurim Youth Aliyah Village bringing home gold medals from this summer’s Maccabiah Games. We are so proud of our young athletes that we’re building an athletic field to be dedicated in honor of former national president Marlene Post. Hadassah–Neurim received another surprise gift: Eitan Bender of Puerto Rico decided to forgo his bar mitzva party; instead, the almost-13-year-old Hadassah Associate used the money to open a workout room for the athletes. At the Founders Dinner at Hadassah’s 91st convention in Washington, D.C., Eitan spoke of how he wanted “to give those guys the same opportunities I had.” Talk about seeds sprouting!
As a people, we’ve had more than our share of firsts. But the latest was heart-wrenching. At our convention, Shlomo Avineri, the Hebrew University political scientist and former director-general of Israel’s foreign ministry, noted that Israel’s Gaza disengagement marks the first time in history that an army was dispatched to remove its own people from its own land. What a difficult and painful call for the government of Israel. I’m sure you, like me, have been following the situation closely and, no matter what your political views, have heavy hearts.
At our convention we presented the Henrietta Szold Award to outgoing American Ambassador to Israel Dan Kurtzer and his wife, Sheila, who heads Hadassah’s Corps Diplomatique. Ambassador Kurtzer told us about addressing IDF officers and assuring them that the intifada ended with an Israeli victory. We shouldn’t lose sight of the bravery of Israel’s soldiers or the steadfastness of her citizens. (You’ll see a full report on the convention in next month’s issue of Hadassah Magazine.)
Summer is never over for me until my grandkids return from Young Judaea camps. They have a wonderful time, but to me the real thrill is to watch them develop as Jews and Zionists. I hope you, too, have recharged your energy over the summer. An early Shana Tova for a year of peace and prosperity for the people of Israel.