President’s Column: To Build and To Be Built
For generations, the women of Hadassah have viewed Henrietta Szold with justifiable reverence, but we often forget that she started out like many of us. As an educated young woman in Baltimore during the 1880s, she taught simultaneously in a secular girls school and the school of her father’s synagogue.
What propelled her onto a unique path was a combination of her intellectual hunger and the world around her. Moved by the needs of the masses of Jewish immigrants streaming into the United States, she began her successive careers as a pioneer in immigrant education, as an editor and translator and, finally, as the founder of Hadassah in 1912.
I spent 10 years in Baltimore as a young wife and mother, and it was in Henrietta Szold’s hometown that I discovered the organization she started. My own hunger called for something more stimulating, to balance the concentration on cooking and diapers. I found what I was looking for when a neighbor invited me to a book discussion. It turned out to be a Hadassah book club; I joined the night I attended that first meeting.
I grew up in a Zionist home, and my father had always told me of my obligation to make a difference in the world. In Hadassah, I found the means to do what I had been raised to believe in.
Many years have passed since my family and I lived in Baltimore. But today I feel the power of those years acutely. I am deeply honored and profoundly humbled to have been chosen Hadassah’s national president, following in the footsteps of Henrietta Szold.
Much has changed in the 100 years since hadassah’s founding, but part of my agenda as president is focusing on things that have not changed. Some of my goals—rejuvenating Jewish and Zionist education, bringing in a new generation of Jewish women—were key to Hadassah’s early development.
I want to engage everyone in Hadassah, from the grass roots to the top leadership. I want to see all members accept responsibility as annual givers, not feeling exempt simply because they paid dues. And as much as I value new leaders, I want to draw on the wealth of wisdom of our national board members and past national presidents.
Another focus—to ensure that Hadassah remains a vibrant force in Israel and in Jewish life for another century—is to continue to closely monitor our expenses and keep Hadassah on a healthy fiscal course.
These commitments provide a means to a Zionist end: livnot u-lehibanot—to build and to be built. Hadassah’s projects touch and save lives every day. Whether in patient treatment or research at our hospitals, in training doctors and nurses at our schools of medical education or teaching students at Hadassah College Jerusalem, or in nurturing at-risk youngsters in Youth Aliyah, our institutions in Israel balance the necessary and the miraculous.
In building and maintaining these institutions, we do more than help others. Our activism, our learning from one another, our leadership development, yield enormous benefits not only for Hadassah but also for the Jewish community and for us as individuals.
The best way to understand our work—the babies delivered in our hospitals, the soldiers whose lives we have saved, the immigrant children whose lives we’ve turned around, the greening of Israel we promote through the JNF, the continuity we support through Young Judaea—is by going to Israel and seeing it with our own eyes.
There’s never a bad time to go, but I’m asking that you come for what will be the largest Hadassah gathering ever held inIsrael in October 2012. That’s when we will dedicate the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower and celebrate Hadassah’s centennial.
Whenever I am in Israel, it is enormously gratifying to see how much Israelis treasure our work and value our presence. For them and for ourselves—as well as for Hadassah’s founding generation that gave us so much—let’s satisfy our Zionist hunger once more. Let’s make sure that next October we are all where our hearts tell us to be.
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