President’s Column: A Time to Kvell
“Kvell,” says Leo Rosten’s The Joys of Yiddish, is “to beam with immense pride and pleasure, most commonly over an achievement of a child or grandchild.” As we approach Rosh Hashana, let me share some of the reasons I’m kvelling.
Hadassah’s 91st national convention in Washington was planned with great care, and it showed. Nonetheless, there are always unplanned moments. We couldn’t have foreseen the thrill we all felt as a group of young women stepped forward to take on a fund-raising campaign for stem cell research in our “Take a Stand” initiative. Their message: Enough! Diseases like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s can and must be cured in our generation. (For a full report on the convention, see page 12.)
The women spoke emotionally of parents, siblings, children and their own battles with disease. They were inspired by the convention appearances of Benjamin Reubinoff, the soft-spoken director of Hadassah’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, who derived some of the world’s first stem cells in a Singapore laboratory and carried them home in his shirt pocket. Nearly 100 women pledged a minimum of $360 a year for three years to empower the Hadassah Research Center for Human Embryonic Stem Cells. I’m so proud of these committed women.
Supporting stem cell research requires a sophisticated understanding of its potential, and few if any women outside of Hadassah would have taken on such projects. There’s no substitute for education, not in Hadassah and not in Israel, where higher learning plays a pivotal role in social and economic development. In 1970 we pioneered the creation of a community college that would make job-centered higher education accessible. Today it is an academic college in Jerusalem proudly bearing our name.
Who are our students? In a recent study published in Ha’aretz, the leading Israeli daily, Hadassah College was rated first in providing higher education to the have-nots. While other colleges and universities had as many as 52 percent of students from “higher than average” socioeconomic backgrounds, 87 percent of our students were from average or economically deprived homes. At the same time, there has been a dramatic improvement in the high school records and test scores of applicants. Many of these bright Israelis simply wouldn’t go to college if it weren’t for Hadassah’s support. The college has proven its flexibility in reaching groups outside the usual paths to higher education. One example: It developed the first science-based academic tracts for very religious women who are often the sole supporters of their large families.
And speaking of kvelling, summer is over, but my grandchildren are still talking about Young Judaea camp. One of my granddaughters began her scientific career by wrapping all the wet clothes she had worn canoeing on the Delaware River inside a towel. Not in all my years working in a hospital did I see such colorful mold. Despite the laundry, we send the kids back each summer because, in addition to the personal growth campers experience, we and their parents see how they are bonding with the Jewish people. My granddaughter Lauren gave me my biggest hug ever. “Grandma,” she said, “I had the happiest time of my life. Thank you for Young Judaea.” It doesn’t get much better than that!
In Israel, we hope this will be a time of healing after the traumatic Gaza disengagement. The Hadassah Career Counseling Institute offers professional retraining seminars for those who were uprooted. Our hospitals served some of the evacuees who needed treatment while temporarily housed in Jerusalem. In one of those odd juxtapositions for which Hadassah is famous, during the week of the disengagement we had three Palestinians from Gaza in our intensive-care unit in Ein Kerem. Nothing political—just men and women who needed the top-tier medical care available to all at Hadassah Medical Center.
We have so much to be thankful for, and so much still to do. May we all be written and inscribed for a sweet, healthy and prosperous year, and may 5766 be a year of peace and growth for Israel and the Jewish people.
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