A Focus on Young Women at ‘Mission Possible’ Gathering
Challenge yourself to listen and to create safe spaces for young women to have explorations within Hadassah. That is the urgent message that EVOLVE Hadassah: The Young Women’s Network is sharing with leaders eager to engage future generations.
Currently, 15 percent of Hadassah’s 300,000 members are between the ages of 18 and 49. Increasing those numbers and creating a space that speaks to younger women’s interests require new thinking and programming, according to Stephanie Bonder and Anne Tishkoff, the chair and director, respectively, of the Young Women’s Department.
Enter the Young Women’s Cabinet, a strategic-planning group of 18 women charged with accomplishing those goals. Among their initiatives are a series of pop-up events around the country that have included, for example, cocktail and learning gatherings focused on Jewish holidays.
For more coverage of Hadassah’s 99th National Convention, read our report A Mission ‘Driven by Love’ at Hadassah’s Convention.
Successfully reaching these women is so crucial to Hadassah’s future that several sessions at the organization’s 99th National Convention in New York in July either were geared to that demographic specifically or focused on how to attract them to local events.
For the more than 100 young women who attended Convention and took part in the young women’s track on Tuesday, July 16, empowerment was a unifying theme.
Rabbi Rebecca Sirbu, director of the division of member and unit services at Hadassah, kicked off the day with a session entitled “Empower Yourself by Building Your Strengths.” Using the tenets of positive psychology—a discipline that focuses on what is already working in a person’s life by identifying strengths—Sirbu took attendees through an exercise to assess their character traits. As it turns out, she said, we are more likely to feel fulfilled if those traits—for example, creativity, bravery, humility and prudence—align with our daily tasks, whether they be in the home, the workplace or a volunteering sphere like Hadassah.
Sirbu emphasized the emotional benefits for women when they come together in sisterhood. Simply put, she said, “You are helping your mental health by being at this conference.”
Minimizing discord and enhancing discourse lie at the heart of Chloé Valdary’s Theory of Enchantment, a curriculum on engagement that she shared in the session “Your Mission? Embrace Your Power as a Change Agent.”
Using pop culture references, Valdary outlined her three essential points to approaching conflict: Remember that we are human beings, not political abstractions; criticize to uplift and empower, never to tear down or destroy; and root everything you do in love and compassion.
Valdary is a standard bearer for the causes of Zionism and empowerment. At 26, the New Orleans native, who was raised in a Christian faith similar to Seventh Day Adventism, is a vocal African-American champion of Israel after having spent years working with pro-Israel causes.
As evening fell, it was time for Hadassah’s younger members—who came from as far away as Los Angeles and San Antonio—to have some fun. Glasses of wine in hand, the energized crowd at the cocktail networking reception traded contact information, reunited with college friends and reminisced about missions many had taken to Israel with the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project, which is now called Momentum.
The atmosphere was relaxed and full of ruach when celebrity dietitian Tanya Zuckerbrot, author of The F-Factor Diet, took to the dais for a Q&A with Devra Miller, chair of the Young Women’s Cabinet. The poised and fashionable Zuckerbrot spread her gospel of fiber and protein—as well as her strong support of Israel, where she recently celebrated her twin daughters’ b’not mitzvah.
Marlene Post, past national president of Hadassah and current chair of Hadassah Magazine, followed with a direct—and oftentimes humorous—appeal to the standing-room-only crowd. “You are the most important people in this entire organization,” she said. “I’m here because we need you. You have to believe that Hadassah is really an organization for women of all ages and that together the future is yours, the leadership is yours.” Several younger convention-goers appeared eager to take up Post’s challenge.
“This is your grandmother’s Hadassah,” affirmed Leslie Gonzalez of Newton, Mass., before connecting the volunteerism of previous generations to the many “young women today who are continuing the legacy that our grandmothers and great-grandmothers began.”
“We need to emphasize the leadership skills that come with being involved with Hadassah,” added Dr. Randi Lampert, a pediatrician in Las Vegas. “I got involved when I was home with my kids and wanted to meet other smart, interesting women. And what really got me interested were the leadership training opportunities.”
And then there is the unmistakable spirit of sisterhood that connects all members—no matter their age—at Convention. “Dancing with my Hadassah sisters each night and feeling supported,” said Dr. Traci Portnoff, a dentist who lives in Hopinkton, Mass., “was the highlight of my time in New York. Supported not only in our shared passion for Hadassah and Israel but also supported personally—I feel as if I’ve gained incredible friends who now feel like family.”
Libby Barnea is the associate editor of ‘Hadassah Magazine.’