President’s Column: Diversity and Division
And then there were the demonstrations in front of Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and Hadassah House in New York by people who accused our doctors of experimenting on children and hurled the names “Queen Esther” and “Zionist” at us as if they were epithets.
The demonstrators were from an extremist Jewish sect called Toldos Aharon. They are fervently anti-Zionist, but that doesn’t stop them (nor should it) from coming to Hadassah Hospital for treatment. What brought them to our doors as protesters, however, had less to do with anger than with shame.
Earlier this year, a 3-year-old boy from a Toldos Aharon family in Jerusalem arrived at Hadassah-Ein Kerem severely malnourished. Our medical staff gave him the loving care he needed and he left healthy. During the course of the boy’s treatment, hospital staff began to suspect that his mother was withholding food; they alerted Israeli authorities who eventually charged the mother with abuse.
Apparently shamed not only by a troubled mother from their community but also, as a result of the mother’s arrest, the spotlight on the boy’s treatment in a Zionist hospital, the community turned on Hadassah.
The demonstrations had a sense of the bizarre. In the Jewish community, around the world and even from some of Israel’s adversaries, we are accustomed to admiration for the work we do. Now here were Jews accusing us of doing harm when, in fact, our doctors and nurses did exactly what they were supposed to do.
It is tempting to write off the protesters as the fringe group that they are, but I can’t quite do that. In some ways, of all the difficult moments of this difficult year, the demonstrations by Toldos Aharon were among the most painful.
We tend to think of ourselves as a small people. Through 2,000 years of exile, we lived as a minority in many host nations. Even as a sovereign nation, Israel is dwarfed by its many neighbors, whose attitudes range from barely friendly to genocidal.
But the truth is that we have characteristics of both a large people and a small one. The incredible diversity of the Jewish world—ethnic, linguistic, political, religious—is surely an index of strength.
And yet, our history has taught us to hold on to our small-people sense of Am Yisrael, seeing ourselves as having a family connection to all Jews, no matter how different. Zionism has only strengthened the sense of Jewish kinship, putting different kinds of Jews under a common umbrella.
So the discomfort over the demonstrations against us and the accusations that are patently ludicrous stem from a knowledge that they came from members of the Jewish family. Diversity enriches us, but division can only undermine us. Just think of how enemies from Arafat to Ahmadinejad have co-opted fringe Jewish sects for their own propaganda purposes.
I am quite sure there will be peace between Israel and the Palestinians before there is understanding between the diverse mainstream of world Jewry and marginal groups like Toldos Aharon. But I am not ready to write anyone out of the Jewish people.
Meanwhile, Hadassah will continue doing exactly what it was founded to do and exactly what we are proud to do: building Israel, nurturing Israeli society, treating everyone who comes to us for care, regardless of what they think of us.
Our hospitals exist as an expression of our Zionism because of the strength we derive from all of you. We’ve just passed out of a hard year into one that is beginning with hope. Our new hospital tower in Jerusalem—Hadassah’s biggest project in 50 years—is now on 24-hour construction shifts. Because of you and Hadassah, it will open in our centennial year of 2012.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all of our members, associates and supporters for helping us get through good years and bad. All of our institutions are built with your sacrifice, faith and love. Bad years come and go. But when it comes to the dedication of those who sustain Hadassah, every year is good. H
To respond to Nancy Falchuk’s column or view her monthly podcast, go to www.hadassah.org/podcast.