Janice Weinman, a Fond Farewell
After Janice Weinman became the executive director of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, in 2012, this magazine ran a profile of her titled “Sisterhood of Shared Values” that explored her deep commitment to Israel, to the welfare of women both in Israel and the United States, and to Hadassah itself. Indeed, her connection to Hadassah began decades earlier, when her mother made her a life member. Now, as Weinman is set to step down at the end of June, the executive director/CEO spoke with us once again to share some highlights from her time at Hadassah as well as her plans for the future. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
What are some of your proudest accomplishments from your nine years at Hadassah?
I am deeply proud of having initiated our role in leading the passage, in 2020, of the Never Again Education Act. I consider this a major accomplishment for Hadassah, as it reflects our commitment to teaching future generations about the consequences of hate, bigotry and antisemitism—thereby preparing them to be both better citizens as well as more conscious of the way they treat others.
More recently, I am very proud of how this organization successfully pivoted from an essentially in-person to online organization during the pandemic. Working closely with others, we seized the opportunity to expand our services and created a national virtual community as well as more prevalent and active local involvement, resulting in a truly interconnected Hadassah.
And I consider having created a truly integrated team of professional leaders to be a significant accomplishment, with these professionals now working together across their divisional lanes to achieve solutions to challenges and mutual plans for implementation to enhance Hadassah’s impact.
What have you enjoyed most at Hadassah?
The opportunity to meet with Hadassah members across the country. Each unit, chapter and region is different, but each brings with it a sense of purpose and commitment, passion and determination. I have truly appreciated the chance to get to know the uniqueness of each community’s needs, to find solutions together to meet challenges and to build relationships throughout the United States that I deeply cherish. The women of Hadassah are special in their willingness to roll up their sleeves, push forward an agenda and see the role that they play as a step toward enhancing health care in Israel, providing greater attention to women’s health needs in America and promoting the importance and legacy of Zionism.
What have been the biggest challenges?
Hadassah is blessed with support from people throughout the United States and the world. However, our organization needs to develop an enhanced culture of philanthropy. We are fortunate to have some donors who have contributed significantly to the sustainability of the organization as well as a large reserve that has benefited from investment strategies and large bequests. However, we need to continue to buttress our unrestricted grassroots fundraising, annual giving and direct-response contributions in order to maintain financial stability.
Of course, our hospitals are the cornerstone of our practical Zionism. Given the external challenges that are occurring with Covid-19, the instability of the Israeli government and the absence of Palestinian patients and medical tourism, the Hadassah Medical Organization is faced with financial challenges. HWZOA has always wanted to move its support from operations funding to investment in the growth and development of the campuses so that we can create a greater international center of excellence. This is a goal that hopefully will be more easily achieved in the future.
What do you think Hadassah can do to engage new and younger members?
Hadassah has an immense amount to offer younger women: the opportunity to have their voices heard in state and national capitals, the chance to learn leadership skills and to practice practical Zionism by visiting Israel with Hadassah. When a younger woman visits Israel with Hadassah, she sees the ways in which we have built the modern health care system of the country, developed our youth villages and cultivated the land in partnership with Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund.
The challenge is to make younger women aware of Hadassah’s reservoir of resources. One of the wonderful outcomes of the trips to Israel that we run in partnership with an organization called Momentum is that younger members become inspired on the tours and then, when they come back, they follow a curriculum that exposes them to Hadassah. In order to build a greater pool of younger women, we will need to expand this model, or create one independent of another organization, so that young women’s chapters evolve out of the Israel experience and then flourish into sustainable Hadassah communities.
How do you see the relationship between volunteer and staff at Hadassah?
Where trust exists between the volunteer and professional, the two can serve as two sides of a coin, reflecting and supporting one another. But that trust is critical if the partnership is to be effective. With different skills, backgrounds and experiences, the two bring distinct perspectives to a variety of issues and thereby strengthen their respective contributions to the organization.
I have found working with three national presidents to be the most gratifying aspect of being the CEO of Hadassah. On most occasions, the national president and I can finish each other’s sentences. In other cases, a behind-the-scenes, open and frank discussion can help get to the heart of complex issues and solutions to Hadassah’s future.
What role can Zionist organizations play in strengthening support for Israel?
We tend to cower under accusations and misinformation about Israel. Students on college campuses are intimidated by groups that accuse Israel of disparaging behavior. Yet, we must stand up to those accusations with facts, history and examples of what Israel does and how it contributes to the well-being of the world. Examples of Hadassah’s hospitals, examples of the diversity in our youth villages, examples of the clinical trials and treatments that have never been limited to certain populations. The Pollin center, which serves every woman from haredi Jew to traditional Arab, is one example, as is Hadassah’s medical personnel acting as first responders during natural disasters in Africa, Haiti and elsewhere.
Education is another critical factor in framing opinions and justifying positions. Several years ago, we produced a guide on “How to Talk About Israel,” which should continue to be widely disseminated. And, with the passage of the Never Again Education Act, we must work at the local level to ensure that school curricula incorporate the principles of that bill, debunking hate, bigotry and discrimination.
What are your plans for the future?
I look forward to taking a little time off over the summer and spending it with my family before continuing to work on the issues that matter to me: antisemitism, social justice, women’s equity and education. I have spent over 50 years as a volunteer and professional committed to these matters, and I plan to engage further in addressing them.