President’s Column: Hard Times, Good Lessons
Much of the Bible is devoted to a short stretch of time. Roughly 20 percent of the Tanakh and about 80 percent of the Five Books of Moses tell the story of our liberation from Egypt and wandering in the desert. That’s less than one century in a history of millennia.
The value of what we learn from that epic struggle is something that most Jews understand, even if not on a conscious level. Passover, the story of our quest for freedom and peoplehood, is the most widely observed Jewish holiday. For those who rarely enter a synagogue and have never been to Israel, attending an annual Seder is often the last vestige of Jewish connection.
Our struggle and the lessons we learn from the Exodus define us. The chapters on Moses arguing with Pharaoh, the powerlessness of slavery, the miracles, the challenges and setbacks in the desert and the forging of our legal code are a part of us. Forget them and we forget what made us a people.
Our history explains why Jews have a knack for mobilizing in a crisis and for finding solutions. That is why the difficult financial times we have seen over the past year—which, of course, pale in comparison with what our forebears went through—are instructive. How we fare and what we learn from hard times continue to shape us.
In a faint echo of Sinai, Hadassah, too, is learning new ways to structure itself, to organize and set priorities and to fulfill its central goal. The mission of Hadassah is strengthening the Jewish people and building Israel. We strengthen by healing. We fortify through education. We ensure the Jewish future through youth and identity programs. Our hospitals, educational institutions and Young Judaea are projects that address our core goals.
Just as the Bible takes us into the process of becoming a nation, of striving to fulfill our destiny as a people, so do we have the opportunity to see how Hadassah works to reach its goal. If you take advantage of one of our Hadassah missions to Israel, you will literally step into the pages of the story. In our Jerusalem hospitals, we walk the corridors and see the hard work, the pain and the joy that go into treating the people in our care. Then we step into the construction site of the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower, today a place of concrete, steel and hardhats but soon to be the most advanced hospital facility in Israel. Being there connects us to the people we help.
At Meir Shfeya, one of our Youth Aliyah villages, we see at-risk children being educated, getting another chance after all of the previous chances proved illusory. Some of the youngsters came to us with little or no knowledge of Judaism or Jewish history and have learned, under our tent, who they are.
We tour ancient sites and modern cities to see the work of Zionism. Our forebears prayed for a return to the Land of Israel for 2,000 years, but it was modern Jewish pioneers who made the leap from prayer to programs, understanding that a people dispersed around the world needed a safe place to live together. When it comes to building the Jewish homeland, no organization has done more than Hadassah to make it feel like home.
The Promised Land is not just a place. It’s also an ideal. Sixty years on, we are still building Israel—and ourselves. Much more often than the generations before us, we have been able to see and enjoy the fruits of our labor. But make no mistake: Hard times still come. They are, to a great extent, the cauldron of our culture and our creativity. They connect us, as much as anything, to the people whose shoulders we stand on, whose memories we cherish and whose struggles we justify.
Every Jew has a role to play in building the future, and all of us feel pride in the opportunities Hadassah offers to express ourselves in a bigger, collective way.
May we all have a warm, happy and delicious Passover. We will certainly see more good times but—as the Haggada shows us—it’s the tough times that will teach us and future generations how to thrive.