President’s Column: A Time to Build
And so, the most successful leaders are those with the capacity to combine inspiration and perspiration. Henrietta Szold was just such a leader, and she created Hadassah with a mandate for Zionist vision achieved through practical action. The result was revolutionary, but the revolution so completely eclipsed what went before it—disenfranchised women with no role to play in Jewish communal affairs—that today we take our place in the world as a given.
But the women of Hadassah still do things that remind us all of that potent combination of vision and prudence that we applied to building so much of Israel’s medical and educational foundations and elevating the role of women in Jewish life. I am sure that Henrietta would have approved of what Hadassah’s national board did at its January meeting in Atlanta.
You all know of the difficult financial climate. At Hadassah we’ve had to restructure our organization, cutting costs and, sadly, trimming staff. At the same time, our core mission is to build. Central to our dream for Israel and for ourselves in the 21st century is the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower—the new anchor of the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem—for which we broke ground last year. Hadassah is the second largest employer in Jersualem and the tower is the largest single infrastructure project currently underway in Israel.
The question asks itself: Can we continue with a project that will cost more than $300 million in one of the most austere times in memory?
In Atlanta, the women of Hadassah answered with a resounding, “Yes, we can!” By an overwhelming majority, the national board voted to continue the work.
As decisive as the vote was, as much as it validates our Zionist commitment, I can assure you that it was not based on blind confidence. Because of our determination and our diligence in recent years, we already have commitments for $190 million toward the tower from donors around the world, plus $40 million from the Israeli government. In addition, though our goal is to dedicate the tower for Hadassah’s centennial in 2012, we have contracts that allow us to pause construction if the cash flow isn’t sufficient to proceed.
This is Henrietta Szold’s practical Zionism in action. Yes, we dream big, but we also plan. As I’ve noted before in this column, this past year Hadassah’s leadership has drawn inspiration from what our grandmothers did during the Depression. In the 1930s—watching the rise of Hitler and living through harsh economic times—we broke ground and built our first hospital on Mount Scopus. We also took on responsibility for Youth Aliyah, which went on to rescue tens of thousands of Jewish children from Europe. And we made our first commitment to Young Judaea, eventually becoming the sole organizational sponsor of America’s leading Zionist youth movement.
We did all of this the same way we are going to see our way through today’s financial storm and dedicate our new center of healing—by hard work, determined fund-raising and careful planning, all guided by our core values.
It wasn’t easy for Hadassah to accomplish all that it did in the 1930s, and I won’t pretend that our multitasking today is easy. In fact, “easy” has never been a word that applies to our dreams. But our pioneering generation steered us through the most difficult economic times of the last century and Hadassah emerged stronger, larger and more central to the Zionist enterprise than ever. It’s a good lesson to follow.
Just as Hadassah learned to marry vision to practical action, today we also combine the best educated and best equipped membership we’ve ever had with a core mission as relevant as it was when we began. On our watch, and with our help, Israel and the Jewish people will continue to advance. H
To respond to Nancy Falchuk’s column or view her monthly podcast, go to www.hadassah.org/podcast. You can also contact her via Hadassah’s or her own Facebook page.