Inside Hadassah: On Learning and Leading the Way
Ninety-five years ago on Purim, Hadassah was founded and named for Queen Esther, who personified vision and courage. It began as a study group, and with pride we celebrate the power of wise women who study together, who continue to strengthen our projects in Israel. We highlight, too, our executive director, Morlie Levin, whose vision and knowledge help lead us forward. As we celebrate Hadassah’s 95th year, we remember Isaiah’s words: “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent. And for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest until her triumph goes forth with brightness.” Purim sameah!
Thriving at Thirty
For over 30 years, members of the San Diego Hadassah Study Group have been meeting regularly to discuss topics of interest. The group was founded in 1975 by Harriet and Murray Schneider and has been going strong ever since, with many of its original members still faithfully attending each month.
“We have lively discussions,” says Sam Sultan, a Hadassah Associate whose wife, Charlotte, has been leading the meetings for the past 10 years. “Because we have been together for so many years, a close bond of friendship has been formed.”
The group gets together in a member’s home, and the hosts choose the topic of study and provide refreshments; over the years, subjects have included Torah, literature, politics, Judaism, music, science, philosophy and travel, to name just a few.
Designing Women of Israel
Twenty Ethiopian women from the city of Kiryat Gat, ranging in age from 30 to 60, are making good use of their talent for embroidery, thanks to a generous grant from the Hadassah Foundation.
Their original, intricate handiwork (right) will appear on high-end wedding dresses, handbags, bracelets and belts in the chic fashion emporium Comme Il Faut, located in the trendy Tel Aviv port area.
These women are part of the Rikma project, run by Ahoti–For Women in Israel. This is one of six new projects to receive a 2007 grant from the Hadassah Foundation. In total, the foundation is helping 19 initiatives that provide economic empowerment for women in Israel. Another first-time recipient is a program called Working It Through, designed to help female soldiers in the Israel Defense Forces to manage the challenges of working in male-dominated fields.
Additionally, the foundation has chosen five grant recipients in the United States, all of which are ventures that encourage building self-confidence, leadership skills and healthy lifestyle choices among Jewish adolescent girls.
The Hadassah Foundation was established in 1998 and has distributed nearly $4 million in grants since 2000.
Making of a Mitzva
A bar or bat mitzva is not only about the transition to adulthood, but also about accepting the responsibilities of being a contributing member of the Jewish community. While everyone loves a good party, many young people are also looking for opportunities to mark the important milestone in their lives by making a difference in a meaningful way.
“The first big decision I’m going to make as an adult in the Jewish community is to donate a portion of my bar mitzva gifts to tzedaka,” said Elliott from Lafayette, Indiana.
Many children prefer to find a project suited to their particular interests, which makes Hadassah a perfect place for them to turn to for their first taste of philanthropy. Whether the youngster has an affinity for animals, an interest in sports or a flare for fashion, the Mitzvah of Tzedakah program can help find a project that will resonate, either at Hadassah’s hospitals, Hadassah College Jerusalem or a Youth Aliyah village.
For example, Marissa Stark from Westchester, New York, a dancer, collected used dance shoes as well as a substantial sum of money for the Bonnie Lipton Center for the Performing Arts at Meir Shfeya Youth Aliyah Village in the months leading up to her bat mitzva.
“Mostly, the kids want to help other kids,” explained Rita Gottlieb, who cochairs the Mitzvah of Tzedakah project with Fern Tannenbaum. In addition to this initiative, through the Joy of Judaism and Matnat Mitzvah programs, a child makes it possible for an underprivileged peer at a Youth Aliyah village to have a bar or bat mitzva celebration.
For more information about these projects, or to request a Hadassah Mitzvah kit for someone you know, contact the grassroots fund-raising department at 866-229-2395 email@example.com.
Newly sworn-in Senator Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) greets guests at a reception in his honor on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in early January. Beside him is his wife, Myrna Cardin, sporting her Hadassah four-generation life member pin on her lapel. The pin was presented to her earlier in the day by Hadassah’s Washington Action Office Chair Sandy Goldstein and Washington Advocacy Chair Debi Shendelman. Veteran Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) is seated in the foreground.
A Training Ground for Olympic Hopefuls
Young athletes at Hadassah-Neurim are going for the gold. The Marlene Edith Post Sports Center at the Youth Aliyah village was dedicated last January during the Hadassah national board mission to Israel. One of the speakers at the ceremony was Zvika Warsaviak, president of Israel’s Olympic Search Committee, who is keeping his eye on Hadassah-Neurim’s talented teenagers.
Together with the Jewish Agency, Hadassah is giving these hopeful athletes the leg up that they need. Most come from families that cannot buy their children sneakers, let alone afford the great expenses involved in Olympic training.
Typical among these sportsmen is Gadi Ohayon from Akko. “I wasn’t exactly a criminal myself,” he says, “but I ran with a tough crowd.” Now he’s running on Israel’s best track and is the country’s top-ranking youth in the 100-meter dash.
The new sports center was named in honor of past national president of Hadassah, Marlene Post. Also during its January mission, the national board honored immediate past national president, Bonnie Lipton. A tribute to her service and commitment to Hadassah was etched into the wall at the Abbell Synagogue at the Hadassah–Hebrew University Medical Center in Ein Kerem.
At the Helm of Hadassah
One of the most poignant lessons Morlie Levin has learned as executive director of Hadassah is the value of history in shaping the future. “Sometimes people feel constrained by rules, customs or traditions,” she says. “But there is a way to use history and legacy in a way that helps you innovate.” Significantly, she adds,“Hadassah has done this and has the potential to continue to do so.”
Levin joined Hadassah in September 2005, filling a position that had been vacant for several years. Taking stock after a year and a half, she readily admits that she has learned a tremendous amount in her new role.
“[This organization is] extraordinarily complex,” she says. “It has a deep reach within both the American Jewish community and Israel.”Levin joined Hadassah in September 2005, filling a position that had been vacant for several years. Taking stock after a year and a half, she readily admits that she has learned a tremendous amount in her new role.
Though the organization is large and multifaceted, Levin believes that it has created a niche for itself within the Jewish community. “Hadassah’s greatest strength is enduring values and the importance of its mission,” she asserts, “which is, as I see it, connecting Jewish women—and through them their families and friends—to each other and to Israel.” This connection, she explains, is achieved through Jewish education, which she considers crucial, through advocacy and through fund-raising endeavors to support projects that have shaped the very nature of the State of Israel and brought hope to the Jewish people.
Another aspect of Hadassah that has impressed Levin is its unusual situation as a primarily service-based philanthropy, honoring doers as well as donors. “This is both touching to me personally and unique in the Jewish world,” says the Los Angeles native.
Levin has also been struck by Hadassah’s “unbelievably passionate and committed members. It’s a privilege to be in the company of wise women who have a voice and are not shy about using it, brains they’re not afraid to exercise and energy they’re willing to use,” she says. Levin adds that she has been inspired by the devotion of Hadassah’s staff, who often perform well beyond what is expected of them.
Levin’s manner is gentle yet confident. She is not a Jewish community professional by training, but worked in national strategic policy research as a senior analyst at the Rand Corporation until a circuitous path led her to the Jewish communal world about seven years ago. It would be safe to say she’s now firmly entrenched, as Hadassah’s executive director, a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations and, most recently, a member of the board of directors of the Jewish People’s Policy Planning Institute. Levin is also a Wexner Heritage Fellowship alumna and belongs to the Jewish Funders Network, in addition to her involvement in her local synagogue in Riverdale, New York.
Before she came to Hadassah, Levin had been the vice president of donor strategic initiatives at the Los Angeles Jewish Federation, where she launched the federation’s first venture philanthropy fund and was active in outreach to younger donors. Levin points to her husband, Norm, as a “great source of support and strength.” The couple has two daughters: The elder, a rabbi, lives with her husband and two children in Massachusetts; the younger is in college. Although Levin’s current responsibilities leave little time for leisure, she enjoys cooking, reading fiction and traveling.
The path that led Levin to Hadassah may not have been direct, but it certainly prepared her for the formidable tasks that lay ahead. While continuously learning, she applies one principle from her work as an analyst to the Jewish nonprofit world as well: “It’s important to always revisit your assumptions.”