President’s Column: Fountains of Youth
My visits to Israel are rich in personal connections but usually short on time between meetings. One of my secret pleasures is having dinner at a beachfront restaurant in Tel Aviv, watching the sun sink into the Mediterranean, hearing the music of the waves, seeing Old Jaffa in the distance and pinching myself at the beauty and comfort of such a moment in a Jewish state.
Fortunately, I can indulge this pleasure with some frequency. Though Hadassah is firmly rooted in Jerusalem, our contributions to Israel are increasingly tied to partnerships with the nation’s business community. And since Tel Aviv is Israel’s banking and business center—and a city of growing importance on the global business map—I often find myself commuting between two cities so different in history, attitude and aesthetics but less than an hour apart.
Tel aviv, the city of jewish renewal, celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. Jews have made great contributions to many cities, but Tel Aviv is the one world-class metropolis where our contribution is an integral part of Jewish destiny. It’s where everything from sandwiches to skateboards to stocks are valued in a biblical currency, where the works of Shakespeare and Israeli playwrights are performed in Hebrew, and where the urban rhythms are in sync with the Jewish calendar.
This is not an anniversary we observe with detachment. Hadassah has roots in Tel Aviv and, it might be said, Tel Aviv has roots in Hadassah. We founded one of the city’s leading hospitals, Ichilov, which bore our name for many years after we handed the keys over to the municipality in the 1930s. Wearing my Hadassah hat, I often visit Tel Aviv hospitals and clinics, only to find connections—directors, doctors and nurses who are graduates of our medical programs or veterans of our hospitals in Jerusalem. As Tel Aviv has nurtured its sense of youth, Hadassah has played a key role in its health.
But if Tel Aviv is remarkable for projecting a spirit of youth after a century, it is not unique. That’s because this month marks the centennial of another great Zionist initiative—Young Judaea.
For a century, Young Judaea has been a bridge to pre-state and modern Israel for American Jewish youngsters, not only building Jewish identities but also producing generations of Jewish leaders. With Hadassah’s support—we gave our first contribution to Young Judaea in the 1930s and became its sole sponsor in 1967—it has grown into the largest Zionist youth movement in North America.
Aside from being virtual fountains of youth, Tel Aviv and Young Judaea are alike in another way. Though both are great success stories, they are still hidden from the view of many who would appreciate what they have to offer. Many visitors to Israel bypass Tel Aviv, focusing on the spiritual or the historic. And though Young Judaea has a sterling reputation in the Jewish community at large, many within the Hadassah family are barely aware of it.
So I am hoping that 2009 will be a year not only for festivities but also for exposure. On your next trip to Israel, get to know Tel Aviv a little better. Go to a theater or museum, do some shopping and walking, spend a day on the beach or have dinner at one of its gourmet restaurants.
You don’t have to go nearly as far to get better acquainted with Young Judaea. You can go straight to its Web site, www.youngjudaea.org, and browse through its fascinating array of programs. If you have children or grandchildren between camping age and 30, you will undoubtedly find something that will not only occupy their time but might also change their lives.
As a people we have survived for millennia, but most of the institutions that have sustained us have also been swept away by our history of homelessness. As we mark the centennial of two institutions so closely linked to Jewish independence, we can certainly enjoy the beauty and comfort of the moment. H
To respond to Nancy Falchuk’s column or view her monthly podcast, go towww.hadassah.org/podcast.