President’s Column: Jerusalem the Eternal—and the Everyday
I was at La Guta, a kosher French restaurant in Jerusalem’s bustling center of cobblestoned lanes and fancy boutiques. As I dined with friends from Boston, the chatter at a nearby table was about high-tech innovations coming out of Israel. In another corner, it was about Jerusalem’s mayoral election, which will be held later this year. At every table the conversation was animated, passionate. The food and wine, by the way, were delicious.
When we speak of Jerusalem’s importance to the Jewish people as the center of our spiritual map, we naturally recall David, Solomon and the leaders and prophets who built and defended the city in ancient times. We recall 2,000 years of wandering, dreaming and praying for our return.
But as deeply as we feel our connection to it, Jerusalem is not just about concepts of sovereignty and faith, exile and return. Today, it’s a feast for all five senses: Touch the stones of the rebuilt city, taste the cholent in a friend’s home or dishes from world-class chefs, look at the human variety and hear the banter broadcasting that you are in the capital of a Jewish nation.
Over the last century, jerusalem has experienced what is arguably the greatest urban revival in history, and Hadassah has played a pivotal role in that renaissance. We have not only healed and educated the city’s people, we have grown with them—and suffered with them. They know both the permanence of our buildings and the presence, during the worst of times, of American women from Maine to California. Jerusalem is in the hearts of Hadassah’s 300,000 members, and so, too, is Hadassah in the hearts of Jerusalem’s residents.
But just as my dinner at La Guta takes our spiritual connection with Jerusalem to the level of the senses, so does Hadassah’s place in the picture. To cite one example, the Israel Ministry of Tourism’s current advertising campaign features one of Jerusalem’s culinary stars, Chef Tamar. We know her as Tamar Bly, who teaches in the School of Culinary Arts at Hadassah College Jerusalem.
The more I get to know Jerusalem, the more I am inspired not only by the holy but by the everyday. One story I can’t get over concerns an upstart soccer team, Hapoel Katamon. When Hapoel Jerusalem was demoted to the third tier of Israel’s soccer leagues—after a long decline and controversial management—700 fans took matters into their own hands last summer by buying a suburban team they hoped to elevate to top rank. Hapoel Katamon won its first five games and its fan base has spread rapidly, with many referring to their new heroes as “the Israeli Barcelona.” (You can find scenes from their first practice online at YouTube.) But their spirit extends beyond the playing field. Each of the new team’s shareholders is encouraged to donate time to soccer clinics for disadvantaged kids and programs to promote Jewish-Arab understanding.
Practical Zionism, the work of Hadassah in bringing dreams down to earth, is more than building. It’s also about people and the connections between them. Hadassah has built some of Jerusalem’s most important institutions and helped make the city a magnet for development. We are the city’s second largest employer, intimately involved with the staffs of our hospitals, schools and youth centers and the people they serve. Beyond that, a central goal of Hadassah is to help as many Jews as possible go to Israel, whether to live or to visit.
Our profile is becoming even more prominent as we build a new tower of healing at our medical center in Ein Kerem and expand the programs at HCJ. In addition to the legions of young people who come to Jerusalem for Young Judaea programs, our youth movement is now a provider of trips for Taglit-Birthright Israel. And our diverse array of missions ensures a constant presence in Jerusalem of Hadassah leaders and members from America.
It all started in 1913, when Hadassah sent its first two nurses to a city with dismal public health conditions. We have helped build what was once a city of dreams. We have filled the frame of memory with an everyday Jerusalem that is a sight to behold.