President’s Column: Homeward Bound
The popular saying, “It’s the journey, not the destination,” probably goes back to Socrates. But, as in so many instances in human culture, the Jewish people have an example that came first. If you follow the Passover story carefully, you can easily conclude that the journey out of Egypt was more important than arriving in the Land of Israel.
Indeed, the Bible itself devotes far more space to those years of wandering in the desert than to the first 40 years after the establishment of Jewish sovereignty.
The lesson here is not that Israel—the goal—is of less importance but that preparation is key to success. After Sinai, the Jewish people had to study for years before taking the test of national independence.
In the year of Hadassah’s Centennial, this lesson stands out more than ever. After the birth of the Zionist movement, modern Israel, too, required an extended generation of preparation—from the first Zionist Congress in 1897 to the declaration of independence read by David Ben-Gurion in 1948. Like the Jews in Sinai who needed to unlearn the habits of slavery, our more recent forebears had to unlearn the mentality of exile.
During that generation, the Jewish people built the institutions of nationhood—schools and hospitals, kibbutzim and cities, unions and self-defense organizations. Streams of immigrants arrived in Palestine, joining the Jews already there. They revived the Hebrew language and built the foundation of a national culture. Without those years of preparation, it’s unlikely a Jewish state would have emerged.
Hadassah, of course, played a central role in those preparations. I’m sure all of you realize, as do I, how privileged we are to live in an age of Jewish national independence. I get teary just at the thought of how many Jews dreamed of Israel rebuilt and restored over the past 2,000 years.
And precisely because of the success of Zionism, our greatest debt is to the generation that prepared the foundation. As we celebrate Hadassah’s 100th anniversary, our thoughts turn to the women who started with nothing—not even the right to vote—who educated themselves, ventured out, pounded on the doors of power and insisted on being heard. They built some of those schools and virtually all of those hospitals so that Israel would not only be born but would also thrive.
Between 1912 and the birth of Israel, our founding generation built a network of more than 130 hospitals, clinics, infant welfare stations and dispensaries across the length and breadth of Palestine. We were so integral to the emerging nation’s idea of health care that some Hebrew purists insisted that a sneeze be answered not with “Gesundtheit!” but with “Hadassah!”
We take great pride in Hadassah’s presence on the Israeli landscape and permanence in the Israeli imagination today. People marvel at our pacesetting hospitals, our medical, nursing and dental schools, our academic college, our Youth Aliyah centers, our environmental projects. In March, the first department moved into the gleaming Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower, the state-of-the-art inpatient center that now anchors our Ein Kerem campus. We will officially dedicate the tower at our Centennial Convention in Jerusalem this October.
And yet, whenever we tell the story of Hadassah, we have a tendency to spend so much time talking about Henrietta Szold and the founding generation that we often leave little room for the present. It is not that we are living in the past, any more than America lives in the past by devoting so much space in its history books to the Founding Fathers, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It is that the past is so rich—and without it there would be no present.
Israel the destination—the reality—is not only with us, it is an essential element of Jewish life everywhere. But we can never forget the journey. Just as we recount the Passover story every year, we need to keep retelling the story of the Hadassah journey to fully appreciate what we have and the people who gave it to us.