President’s Column: Perpetual Mission
During the 85 years of Henrietta Szold’s life, the horse-and-buggy world of her youth gave way to the age of air travel and global communication. But it’s safe to say that if the world of the American Civil War, which began three months after she was born, had skipped straight to World War II, which ended three months after she died, she—or anyone of her generation—would have been disoriented, if not disbelieving.
Hadassah is on the threshold of its centennial, and all of us are justly proud of this organization’s long list of accomplishments. As we put the final touches on the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, we speak with vision and conviction about our second century.
I have nothing but confidence in Hadassah’s future. But I am also quite certain that just as Hadassah looks very different today from what it looked like in 1912, so it will look different a century from now. That’s a good thing—but trying to imagine Hadassah in 2112 would be as strange to us as 1945 would have looked to someone who stepped out of 1860.
There is a difference, at once large and subtle, between mission and programs. Hadassah is one of the few Jewish organizations from a century ago that still flourishes. Our mission of building the Jewish state and connecting hundreds of thousands of American Jewish women to Israel in practical ways, has not changed. But the ways we fulfill that mission have changed constantly. It’s like the earth orbiting the sun; we don’t feel it, but we are moving fast.
If the hyper pace of change in our own time teaches us anything, it is that Hadassah will experience more transformations in its second century than in the first.
During the British Mandate, Hadassah built a network of more than 130 hospitals, clinics, infant-welfare stations and dispensaries across the Land of Israel. These outposts became the foundation of Israel’s health care system. Once that foundation was completed, our role changed.
After independence, we turned most of our infrastructure over to Israeli government and local authorities and concentrated on being the pacesetter of medical treatment, research and education in Jerusalem. Obviously, our medical center today is far more sophisticated and complex than anything our founders imagined when they sent those first two Hadassah nurses across the ocean.
Youth Aliyah has an illustrious history but it, too, has gone through dramatic transitions. In the 1930s and 1940s, the at-risk children we nurtured were refugees from Hitler’s Europe. After statehood, we began taking in underprivileged children from immigrant families and at-risk youth born in Israel. Today, the population at Hadassah’s Youth Aliyah villages includes youngsters from Ethiopia and Russia, as well as Israeli Arabs and non-Jewish refugees from Africa.
Hadassah College Jerusalem is today a highly respected, degree-granting institution of higher learning. But it is a direct descendant of a vocational high school for girls.
In the course of Hadassah’s history, everything around us has changed, and we have changed with the world. Israel has produced an economy and a society with many more resources than the Yishuv in which we began building. At the same time, it has faced strategic and political challenges that defy resolution and tax those resources. After a century of action, Hadassah still has a key role to play, but the dynamics keep changing.
There was a time when the entities Hadassah was most likely to partner with were governmental or quasi-governmental organizations like the Jewish Agency. Today, we are just as likely to join forces with nonprofits like Susan G. Komen for the Cure and educational institutions like Harvard and the University of Maryland. And as Israel has prospered, entrepreneurs from companies like Iscar, El Al and Amdocs have joined with Hadassah in pursuing common goals.
Hadassah will celebrate its centennial not because achieving this milestone was something our founders planned, but because they dedicated themselves to a mission with a clear purpose. Whatever the world looks like a century from now, we will reach our bicentennial with the same day-to-day passion for our mission.