President’s Column: Raising the Volume
Natan Sharansky tells the story of how he first heard our name. During his imprisonment, he briefly shared a cell with a Communist Party official accused of a crime. The official told Sharansky there was an organization of Jewish women plotting to take over the Soviet Union by marrying top leaders. Then he whispered the name of this secret society: Hadassah.
We can laugh at the idea that our name was so threatening to our enemies that they spoke it in hushed tones. But some people in the Jewish community—good people—would have us reduce to a whisper another one of our good names: Zionist.
So I’d like to review facts that every member of Hadassah knows. We were pioneers not only in building Israel but also in building it as a caring and ethical society. We laid the medical and social welfare foundations of the state and we remain the pacesetter in medical treatment and research as well as in educating at-risk youngsters and underprivileged college students.
Our reputation for equality in hiring, healing and educating Israel’s Arab community as well as the Jewish population has brought us accolades around the world. In 2005, this reputation earned the Hadassah Medical Organization a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.
And everything we do is Zionism.
Marketing experts tell us the word is a drag—not just uncool, but a weight on our necks. Sorry, but I’m not buying.
Zionism is the belief that Israel is central to jewish destiny. When Jews were victims, it was an honored movement. But Zionism was a revolution that succeeded, and success often breeds contempt. Critics stepped forward, trying to define our national liberation movement by what they perceived as its excesses, rather than by its essence.
Zionism built Israel, and it built us. The once timid American Jewish community came together in the name of a great cause and learned to speak out and take risks.
No American Zionists made greater strides, overcame more cultural obstacles or became more innovative than Hadassah’s founding generation. Young women, many the first in their families to venture into worldly affairs, joined hands to help build a nation 6,000 miles away that most of them would never see with their own eyes.
The male Jewish leadership of the age mostly ignored them, or laughed. Within a generation, our grandmothers had earned their admiration. Today, no name in the Jewish world is more respected than Hadassah’s. Washington knows us for our clout. The women’s movement knows us for our numbers. Israel knows us for our love.
Wherever we go, we carry our name: Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Ask yourself if what Hadassah has done over the past 96 years is anything other than good, for the Jewish people and for the world. And then ask whether the Zionist banner under which we act in any way lessens our accomplishments.
This is the month that makes Zionism’s case. In November we recall Kristallnacht, the night in 1938 that proved the necessity of a Jewish state. Nine Novembers later, the UN voted to create that state. Of the world’s 190-plus nations, only Israel was born with international approval.
Yes, there are people who judge Israel by standards they apply to no other nation, and it is uncomfortable that some who do so seem otherwise so similar to us.
But when did being a member of the Jewish people not carry burdens? Our burdens are light compared to those of our grandparents. We have the privilege of working to strengthen Israel and of seeing the results in person.
The movement that did more than anything to give us this privilege was Zionism. And that movement—to ensure a strong, thriving Jewish nation—is essential to our Jewish identity today. So next time someone asks, tell them that Zionism is alive and well and living in each of us.
And when you tell them, you don’t need to whisper