Young Judaea as Leadership Incubator
Growing up in the tiny Jewish community of Lexington, Ky., in the 1960s and 1970s, Greta Rothschild was reticent about expressing her Jewish identity. Then, at age 14, she went to Camp Young Judaea Midwest.
“My life changed,” she said. “YJ gave me an outlet to learn where I came from and to find a comfort level in being Jewish.”
Decades later, Rothschild’s love for Young Judaea still shines through when talking about the lifelong friendships that have sustained and nurtured her; the index cards she created in a pre-technology era to lead programs on “practically anything,” from Israel to social action; and her experience on Year Course, including working the land and learning to drive a tractor at Kibbutz Ketura.
A Jewish educator with a master’s degree in social work now living in Deerfield, Ill., Rothschild, 60, has returned to Israel 20 times since then. When she met her current spouse, Rob Eisenstadt, she noticed that they had they both “liked” Camp Young Judaea Midwest on its Facebook page. “We discovered both our sons were named Ari and had been in the same bunk at camp!” she said. “It was bashert.”
In what she calls a “natural progression,” Rothschild has transferred the skills she learned in Young Judaea to the Hadassah positions she has held—from her current roles as National Grassroots Fundraising vice chair and Young Judaea-Young Women’s Team member to her immediate past presidency of the Chicago-North Shore region. A Keeper of the Gate donor who has designated her recurring gift to Young Judaea scholarships, Rothschild says she is giving back partly in gratitude for the Hadassah scholarship that enabled her to go on Year Course.
Like Rothschild, other Hadassah leaders across the country say that their transformative Young Judaea experiences shaped their identities, created unbreakable friendships and forged their leadership skills.
Elaine Silver, 53, president (and formerly Young Judaea chair) of the eight-state Hadassah Great Plains region, is also a Deerfield resident who grew up in Lexington. A compensation consultant today, Silver said that “learning about leadership, experiencing it and practicing it, put me ahead in school and expanded to the real world.”
The third generation in a four-generation Hadassah family, Silver is inspired by her mother, Gail Cohen, who has been a member of the Hadassah National Board and National Assembly for 40 years and is a past president of Hadassah Central States.
“A lot of her Hadassah work was in support of YJ,” Silver recalled. Indeed, she fondly remembers some of the teen movement’s T-shirts that read, “Backed by Hadassah.” “I had to own all the T-shirts. That was my wardrobe. And I always knew that Hadassah was there for me in the future.” She has passed her love of Young Judaea and Hadassah to her children, Robin and Melanie, who was named a Hadassah Leader of Tomorrow runner-up in 2018.
Dana Kapustin, 48, of Charlotte, N.C., says her Young Judaea years “gave me a community of well-educated, Zionist, motivated women.” An educator specializing in Holocaust education and senior engagement, she has served in numerous capacities on Charlotte’s Hadassah board, from Young Judaea liaison to president, and is past chair of Hadassah’s Young Women’s Cabinet. “There’s a certain quality of woman in Hadassah. You can start a relationship with the foundation of Zionism. It’s like you’ve known them forever—yet you just met them.”
Kapustin and her husband, Andrew, met in 1989 at Tel Yehudah, the movement’s national teen leadership camp in Barryville, N.Y, and married in 1996. Their three children are all active in Young Judaea.
The former Young Judaeans who are now Hadassah leaders are deeply committed to strengthening the bond between the two organizations: “Today’s Young Judaeans,” said Rothschild, “are tomorrow’s Hadassah leaders.”
Rahel Musleah leads “NamaStay at Home” virtual tours of Jewish India and other cultural events.