Hadassah members understand that their organization is more than a cause. It is a belief system, a shared experience—and a lot of fun. And so, naturally, those closest to them might wonder what the thrill is all about. That is how it was for Joel Marks, president of Hadassah Associates, the men’s network affiliated with Hadassah.
“We tend to follow our women,” says Marks, a retired restaurateur from Florida who always admired the devotion to Hadassah exhibited by his wife, Fern; mother, Gertrude; and mother-in-law, Ruth Steyer. “They were day-to-day volunteers…. It’s something that permeated their social being, their volunteer-work being, their family life. That’s typical of Hadassah.
“They hang together and that’s what has made the organization so successful,” he adds, noting the members’ will to create strong institutions. “They are true builders.”
Because of their admiration for Hadassah’s achievements, Marks and other Associates like him wanted to help further Hadassah’s impact around the world.
And they have. Today the associates’ network stands at 30,000 strong—and growing. Since the formation of Hadassah Associates in 1966, the men have raised some $62 million for the organization’s projects.
Their achievements include funding the original coronary care unit at Hadassah–Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Kerem, initiatives to support Hadassah College Jerusalem, the Goldyne Savad Genome Project and the expansion of the medical center and its Center for Emergency Medicine. The Associates have also made a key contribution to Hadassah’s “Keepers of the Gate” fund-raising program in which donors pledge a minimum annual contribution of $1,000—a commitment recognized by a pin in the shape of David’s harp. Notes Marks, “One hundred and eighty men are proud to wear their harp pin.”
Meanwhile, the Associates are gearing up to raise $2 million over the next two years for stem cell research.They are also planning an Associates mission to Israel this spring.
“Men have always supported the women of Hadassah,” says Haren Haber of New York, who chairs Hadassah Associates. “Time is so valuable [and] families like to do things together. Hadassah can be a vehicle for families supporting Israel together.”
The Associates began with just a minyan after Hadassah’s national board responded to requests to involve men in the organization. According to minutes from long-ago meetings, national board members made it clear from the beginning that the Associates’ role was not to be confused with membership. In the 1960s, memories were still fresh of the way men in the early years of the Zionist movement had belittled women’s roles and how Hadassah fought an uphill battle for its leadership position in the Jewish community and in the building of a Jewish state.
The expansion of women’s rights—or maybe the extent to which the women’s movement caught up with Hadassah—changed the climate. The role of the Associates began to grow, starting in 1994, with the creation of the National Committee of Hadassah Associ-ates, linking men from across the country.
“It is time officially to recognize that our Associates are a very important element in our work,” said then-chair of the Associates Linda Minkes when the committee was formed. “There is untold potential for them, through increased enrollment and fund-raising, to become even more important to us in the future.” Since then, the Associates have grown to become more than 10 percent of Hadassah’s numbers.
The men of Hadassah consider a relationship that looks more like partnership a logical step, especially given the way families determine charitable donations. “It’s usually a decision made between both parties [in a couple],” says Marks. “That’s what’s always happened at Hadassah. We’re just continuing to try to show the impact of men in the lives of their women.”
Still, the question remains: Why function in an auxilliary role rather than be part of another organization as a full-fledged member?
It’s about the work of Hadassah and the value men can add, Associates say, given their assets and the professional and financial networks they can bring to the organization.
Take, for example, Howard Kaplan of Chicago, immediate past president of the Associates, whose professional expertise spans multiple sectors as an attorney, certified public accountant and real estate developer. His devotion to the Jewish community is similarly varied. Kaplan is the international treasurer of Israel Bonds, past chairman of the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago and former president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism for the Midwest United States.
Hadassah, he says, gets Zionism on a gut level. “There’s no broader Zi-onistic organization in this country,” he asserts. Kaplan’s wife, Marlene, chairs Hadassah’s Society of Major Donors and Guardian Donors.
“Hadassah has one of the best stories,” he continues, referring to its leadership in medical research that works on a “human level” and a “futuristic level.” The organization’s medical influence runs so deep that in Israel, he adds, “if you mention Hadassah, everyone says, ‘Yeah, I was born there.'”
For Dr. James Smith of St. Paul, Minnesota, who preceded Kaplan as president, the chance to work alongside his wife, Joanne, meant sharing in Hadassah’s rewarding service.
“It’s not just her organization,” says Dr. Smith, an internal medicine specialist. “It’s our organization. I think we get hung up on whether you’re a member or an Associate. Those, to me, are semantics. The challenge that we’re going to face with an ever-shrinking Jewish population is to realize that we need as many voices, as many people [as possible] working in a collaborative way to support the work of Hadassah.”
Dr. Smith adds that strengthening the supportive role of the Associates amounted to the proudest achievement of his presidency.
But their success and growth are due to backing by Hadassah leadership. “The Associates are an integral part of the Hadassah family,” says Nancy Falchuk, Hadassah’s national president. “Their energy, their dedication and their partnership are crucial to our future.”
Hadassah’s leadership “understands that we are an untapped resource,” says Marks, observing that Falchuk’s attitude reveals the “synergy that shows the willingness of men and women to work together.
“We’re not looking to take over leadership of Hadassah,” Marks adds. “It’s the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. But I think there’s a very prominent role for men to take and to share responsibilities.”
Part of the associates’ goal is to grow in number. Although they are reaching out to men to join the organization, they say the optimal strategy is for Hadassah members to ask the men in their lives to join.
“If you’re selling it to people who already know something about Hadassah, it’s an easy sell,” says Dr. Smith.
Still, the Associates’ work appears to be somewhat low profile. Both Haber and Marks refer to the group as one of Hadassah’s “best kept secrets.”
But as communities “see the benefit of working together, then I think change will happen and is happening,” Haber says. “We want Hadassah to keep succeeding for another 100 years, and if we work together, we feel we’re going to get there.” H