President’s Column: Henrietta, We Are Here
Seneca Falls is the upstate New York village where Elizabeth Cady Stanton founded the women’s suffrage movement. I was there with a Hadassah delegation in October to attend the ceremony at which Henrietta Szold and eight other women were inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. Along with family members and followers of the other inductees, we watched as pioneers of women’s empowerment were honored. (For a report on the Hall of Fame ceremony, see page 67.)
Once the presentations were made, it was Hadassah’s section of the audience that attracted attention. Henrietta Szold was being recognized for creating night schools and immigrant education, for fighting disease and rescuing children from war, but what our new friends at the ceremony couldn’t get over was that, 147 years after her birth, Hadassah’s founder was represented by her community—85 women from a vibrant organization of 300,000.
Perhaps Henrietta Szold’s greatest legacy is the creation of community. Jewish civilization has survived for more than 5,000 years because of our sense of shared destiny and responsibility, and Hadassah was born at a moment when a new kind of community structure was needed to carry us into a modern world, an open society that would—if we insisted—increasingly recognize the role of women. During her lifetime, American Jewry grew from 150,000 to 5,000,000. Much like today’s Internet pioneers who create software and Web sites to help us navigate the new age, Henrietta Szold bequeathed to us a network with a capacity for exponential growth and the ability to change the world. Her legacy extends from the age of corsets to Hadassah podcasts.
The brilliance of Hadassah is that it is a community for its members and also a pillar of larger Jewish, American and international networks. Our members come together for many things: to support stem cell research and protect school curricula from propaganda, to build Israel and advance peace through medicine. They also learn together, aware that knowledge is the basis of effective action.
We are also, by our nature, part of the infrastructure of cities and towns in every congressional district of the United States, which aids us in building coalitions. Our members meet with political, civic, business and academic leaders to address common concerns. Look at Hadassah Hospital’s visitors log and you’ll see that a good many of these people—members of Congress, mayors, teachers, entrepreneurs, firefighters, doctors and nurses—eventually come to Jerusalem to see the work we are so proud of.
Much as our strength attracted attention in Seneca Falls, our work and values often catch the spotlight on larger stages. “Hadassah is more than an organization,” Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland once said. “It is a state of mind and a condition of the heart.”
In this season we are keenly aware of our Jewish identity, and of where we fit in a world of fascinating—and sometimes challenging—diversity. As we offer good wishes to our non-Jewish neighbors on their holidays, we remember a time when our forebears stood up to ensure our survival as a people and to demand freedom of conscience. In Hadassah and around the Jewish world, the sense of community is palpable as millions gather to light the Hanukka candles on the same eight nights.
This is a natural time to reinforce our community. If you have friends or family members who are only marginally connected, urge them to take on more responsibility. If they are already involved, encourage them to add at least one more activity to their calendars. Hadassah has a large menu of projects from which to choose. Every time a Hadassah member meets with a public official, talks to a neighbor about a meeting, sends an e-mail to a newspaper about an initiative, enlists a colleague for a Hebrew class or invites a potential new member to a seminar, she extends our reach. Imagine 300,000 women making three phone calls each and you’ll get an idea of our strength.
And as we light the candles, let us all remember the many ways we bond together to bring light to the world.