President’s Column: Hadassah’s Plymouth Rock
Just as American political leaders often try to divine how the Founding Fathers would have viewed a modern issue, so do Hadassah presidents try to see today’s projects and problems through the eyes of Henrietta Szold. a I’ve been doing the what-would-Henrietta-think exercise with a new Hadassah initiative under consideration, a study and discussion program on Queen Esther and Jewish values, conducted via webinars and chat rooms.
The ultimate aim of the program is to produce a Hadassah Megillah.
I have no doubt of how Henrietta would view the content. The woman who gave this organization Queen Esther’s Hebrew name and who built her study group into a Jewish renaissance movement, would approve. But what would she think of the means of communication?
We all know that technology has given us a lot of virtual worlds that are a poor substitute for the real worlds they are meant to replace. And like most of us today, Henrietta would hold a traditional view on the value of face-to-face discussion.
But I’m just as sure she would be thrilled with the idea of women being able to communicate with one another in real substance and real time from distant states or nations. Our founder was from the Victorian era but her approach to problems was revolutionary. She was not only Hadassah’s visionary, she was also a pioneer in adult and immigrant education, a scholar and translator and someone who simply ignored barriers to women’s achievement.
Ninety eight years after Henrietta Szold called Hadassah’s first meeting to order, 98 Purims after she and her circle of friends put a world of glass ceilings on shatter alert, we might ask ourselves a deeper question: What would she think of her Hadassah today?
This issue of Hadassah Magazine looks at how well we’ve adhered to her dream. When it comes to Hadassah’s role in the advance of health care and education, preserving Jewish tradition and building Israel as a just society, I know she would be pleased.
I’m sure she would find our commitment to Hadassah’s mission—to ensure Jewish continuity and unity, to promote the centrality of Israel in the lives of American Jews and to strengthen the Israel-diaspora relationship—very much in tune with her vision.
If anything in today’s Hadassah would surprise her, I think it would have less to do with technology and more with geography. The Hadassah idea was a peculiar blend of Jewish and American values. Our founding mothers saw America as uniquely hospitable to Jewish aspirations. The emergence of Hadassah International and the notion that this organization could take root in places that were—historically and sometimes currently—not conducive to the Zionist mission might seem beyond belief.
Hadassah’s founder saw women’s rights as more than an abstract idea. To her, it was not just about liberating women but about what women would accomplish once freed from the prejudices of Jewish and general society. It was about allowing Jewish women to empower themselves, individually and collectively, to repair the world.
The evidence of our success is clear on the horizon of Israel. The emergence of Israel as a modern society and the leadership Hadassah has shown in both the American Jewish community and on national issues like stem cell research, literacy and voter registration (to cite just three examples) are direct results of the values and actions of our founding mothers.
Henrietta would likely see chat room exchanges on Queen Esther as the harnessing of modern communication and the imagination of Jewish women as a means to strengthening all that is good in our tradition. And she would likely view our countdown to the Hadassah centennial as a time to count our blessings and as a call to look much farther into the future. H