Inside Hadassah: A Winning Author, a Dedicated Volunteer
Our democracy is a stark contrast to the totalitarian regime that is the setting of Nathan Englander’s first novel, The Ministry of Special Cases, winner of the 2008 Harold U. Ribalow Prize. After reflecting on this powerful saga of one Jewish family’s struggle, let’s kindle the lights of our menoras in honor of the Maccabees’ inspiring victory over oppression. Kudos to a talented young author!
—Ruth G. Cole
Health Care as a Human Right
The Department of Public Information of the Non-Governmental Organizations of the United Nations held its 61st annual conference in Paris this past fall, and Hadassah was there.
The theme of the September 3 to 5 gathering at UNESCO headquarters was “Reaffirming Human Rights for All: The Universal Declaration at 60.” Among the 1,400 NGO representatives from 72 countries were Judy Shereck, Hadassah national vice president and IZAIA chair, and Janice Greenwald, Hadassah’s United Nations chair.
Hadassah was one of 33 NGOs chosen to present a midday workshop at the conference. The session, “Community Outreach: The Right to Be Healthy,” was moderated by Nava Braverman, project director of Hadassah Medical Organization’s Women’s Health Center. The two panelists were Rachel Ben Zeev, an Orthodox Israeli who volunteers at Hadassah’s Women’s Health Clinic in Beit Shemesh, and Hiyah Rahman, a Muslim Arab volunteer at a similar Hadassah clinic in Abu Gosh.
Feedback from the well-attended workshop was positive. “Many people came, not knowing which workshop they were wandering into,” said Shereck. “They stayed because they found it fascinating and practical.”
Two women from Africa attended the session because they hope to open a women’s health clinic in their home country similar to Hadassah’s clinics in Israel, Shereck reported.
“A few people commented that they had no idea there could be a Jewish-Arab alliance in Israel,” she added.
Josh Feldman might very well be one of Hadassah Hospital’s most dedicated workers. The 84-year-old Jerusalem resident has been volunteering in the maintenance department of the Ein Kerem hospital for 16 years—and this is his second stint as a Hadassah volunteer!
Feldman and his first wife, Estelle, made aliya in 1973, after he retired from teaching plumbing in the New York City public school system’s vocational division. In October of that year, the Yom Kippur War broke out and Feldman was prepared to do his part. “I was too old to enlist,” he notes, “so I walked to Hadassah [Hospital] and volunteered as a maintenance pipe fitter.” Most of the staff technicians had been called up to reserve duty, so he was welcomed eagerly.
“I and another volunteer from Kentucky worked very hard to maintain heating, cold- and hot-water systems and general maintenance,” Feldman recalls. “We also had to set up burn baths for the badly injured soldiers from the Suez.”
When the war ended, Feldman (below) was given the choice of accepting a wristwatch as a token of thanks or signing on as a full-time employee at the hospital. He agreed to sign on and continued to work at the hospital, even past the mandatory retirement age of 65. Finally, three years later, he felt that the mechanics and technicians he had trained over the years were capable of taking over, and he retired from his second career. But he missed Hadassah and returned three weeks later, once again as a volunteer. Why? “I enjoyed it and found I was still helpful,” Feldman explains. He continues to spend three days a week in his old department.
On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Young Judaea camping, the leadership of camp programming held a unique meeting to “reaffirm the educational power of our [six] camps and Hadassah’s commitment to them, to strengthen the camps’ connection to Young Judaea and to each other and to strengthen the camps’ connection to Hadassah,” explained Ramie Arian, national director of YJ.
The meeting was held during the annual YJ conference, from September 21 through 24 at the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center near Baltimore. About 35 people gathered for the retreat, both professional staff and Hadassah volunteers, including national chairs of the YJ divisions, camp chairs, area chairs, camp directors and department directors. In addition to these meetings, conference participants also discussed the future of regional YJ programs, Israel programs and YJ’s centennial celebrations in 2009.
HCJ Professor Honored
In honor of Israel’s 60th birthday this year, 12 Israelis were presented Lifetime Achievement Awards for Environmental Protection by Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection. Among the winners was Professor Hillel Shuval, head of Hadassah College Jerusalem’s Department of Environmental Health Science.
Shuval has worked to advance the field of health and the environment in Israel for 50 years.
The Memphis Chapter of Hadassah has published a book in honor of its 90th birthday this year. Memphis to Jerusalem: Hadassah Bridges the Generations, 1918-2008 by Perre Magness is an impressive 248-page, hardcover volume chronicling the chapter’s long history.
With photos on nearly every page, the book is a virtual time capsule of bygone eras of women’s fashion and fund-raising; details such as the rise in 1966 of annual membership dues to $7 are sure to evoke nostalgia.
The memoir is a tribute to nine decades of dynamic women who worked hard to create and invigorate this large and still active Hadassah chapter in Tennessee.
Creating Truth and Fiction
Once the book had gone to press, he headed to Argentina again. “As the plane was landing,” he recalls, “I became terrified. I knew there was going to be this moment of truth.”
The Argentina in Englander’s novel is “very much an Israel metaphor,” he says. “I was interested in cities people love that turn on their residents.” He draws a parallel to Jerusalem, where he lived for several years: “The people who live there are super dedicated to the city, but it’s not easy there.”
Another theme Englander was interested in exploring was memory—how we remember things, how we are taught to remember and how truth can be changed. “Argentina created this fake war for evil purposes,” he says. “It was the perfect place” for considering “how truth and reality are formed.” In the novel, the protagonist’s son, Pato, is disappeared, and nobody will admit that he has been arrested—or that he ever existed at all.
Englander first earned acclaim for his collection of short stories, For the Relief of Unbearable Urges (Vintage), in 2000. He won several prizes for the book, including the PEN/Faulkner Malamud Award. He was selected as one of the “20 Writers for the 21st Century” by The New Yorker.
Notwithstanding his impressive credentials, Englander’s love for his work is clear. “Writing is like being a kid all the time,” he says, and with his tousled dark curls and dark eyes that light up when he discusses his craft, the comparison seems apt. “Every idea feels new, and I get excited to start something new,” he adds.
Englander, 38, grew up in an Orthodox community on Long Island and took up writing at a young age. “I was a yeshiva kid with questions that weren’t getting answered,” he says matter-of-factly. “So I read fiction.”
He attended the State University of New York in Binghamton and spent two years in Iowa City at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. “That was the most foreign place I ever lived, and it was in America,” he quips. He now lives on New York’s Upper West Side.
Englander is currently working on a play and a translation of a Haggada as well as doing some investigative journalism. “Right now,” he says, “the more uncomfortable the writing makes me, the more willing I am to do it.” He has taught classes at Columbia University and at Hunter College of the City University of New York and plans to return to Hunter in the spring.
Though his characters and subject matter are overtly Jewish, Englander doesn’t think of himself as a Jewish writer. “I was quoted in a newspaper in Rome saying there’s no such thing as Jewish literature,” he recalls with a laugh; he had been invited there to participate in the International Jewish Literature Festival last September. “I’m always getting in trouble for saying that.”
Englander maintains that classifying his work as “genre fiction is ridiculous. I’m not ‘other.’ It’s like if you asked an African American writer why he writes about black people. It’s natural to him. This is the world I was born into. That’s how I imagine people: They’re Jews.” H