Meet the Inaugural Class of Evolve Fellows
At a time when a number of establishment Jewish groups struggle to recruit and engage younger members, Hadassah is also asking, “What will our next several decades look like? And who will be responsible for leading our 110-year-old organization in the near future?” Now, a new initiative from Evolve Hadassah: The Next Generation aims to answer those questions through a two-year pilot fellowship involving virtual learning sessions and trips to Israel and Chicago to witness Hadassah’s peerless brand of practical Zionism in action.
The three-year-old Evolve, which caters to members under 55, already offers two signature virtual events per year as well as trips to Israel through a collaboration with the outreach organization Momentum. In 2022, the spring program featured Israeli chef Einat Admony, while an art therapist led the fall one, which explored the role that resilience plays in promoting health and well-being. Evolve makes all virtual programs available for watch parties and for in-person gatherings hosted by Hadassah groups, be they young women’s chapters or others with a sizable number of younger members.
But from its earliest days, said Randi Richmond, the group’s director, a primary goal of Evolve has been establishing a pipeline for new leaders.
“In Hadassah’s current structure, we’re struggling to recruit young members,” said Richmond. “If we start by bringing in strong women to serve as leaders, they will then bring in new women who are friends, or who they know from their local communities. We first need those leaders to build a foundation.”
The 10 women who comprise the first class of fellows are all under the age of 45, hail from around the country and bring with them varying levels of past Hadassah involvement and knowledge of Israel. Some, like attorney Amy Sapeika of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and Jewish school administrator Leah Felner of Jersey City, N.J., have strong family roots in Hadassah. Others, including Houston speech pathologist Sandye Fertman and health coach Pam Brode of Porter Ranch, Calif., were active in Young Judaea before ramping up their involvement in Hadassah.
For Stephanie Malka, who lived in Israel for eight years, her attachment to Hadassah is deeply personal.
“My two eldest sons were born in Israel in Hadassah hospitals, one in Ein Kerem and one in Mount Scopus,” said Malka, who manages several moving companies in the Las Vegas area. “I benefitted immensely from the hospitals in Jerusalem when I lived there, and I am happy to continue to support their efforts to serve the community.”
Still other fellows see their commitment to Evolve as a means to cultivate leadership experience that will empower their owns lives while at the same time bolstering Hadassah.
“I am intrigued by the idea of getting more involved in Hadassah and gaining leadership skills that I can use in Hadassah as well as in my health and wellness coaching business,” said Pikesville, Md., resident Robin Katcoff.
Shoshana Simones, a content marketing specialist in Phoenix, said that she hopes to build connections to help grow and strengthen the network of young Jewish women in her area. “I have been looking for an opportunity to engage more in the Jewish community and advocate for things I believe in—namely, women’s rights and access to health care,” she said. “I’ve spent the last several years focusing inward, caring for my young family, and I am now ready to start giving back to my community at large.”
During the first year of the program, which kicked off in July, fellows will participate in five educational and training sessions, beginning with a leadership seminar that featured Hadassah National President Rhoda Smolow and CEO/Executive Director Naomi Adler. Other sessions plan to provide an overview of Hadassah’s Israel programs, philanthropy goals, advocacy and Zionism priorities and a bootcamp on public speaking and communication.
Two fellows—Emily Shrode, who works in the entertainment industry in Austin, Texas, and Jacksonville, Florida-based health care administrator Emily Godsey—will experience Israel for the first time when the entire cohort travels to Israel for Hadassah’s 100th Convention in November. In July 2023, the 10 women will attend the organization’s national business meeting in Chicago.
In the second year, fellows are expected either to create and lead a project in their local area or assume a leadership position in their Hadassah community.
“I hope that by seeing Hadassah projects firsthand, the Evolve fellows will feel even more passionate about Hadassah’s mission and committed to becoming leaders,” said Debbie Knight, Evolve’s chair. “I love that Hadassah is a sisterhood of women who, like me, value the importance of supporting Israel and advocating for causes important to women and to the Jewish community.”
Fellow Nicky Colley of Irvine, Calif., shares Knight’s vision of Hadassah as a network linking like-minded women.
“Being a part of the Irvine Jewish community for the last 10 years, I have made some wonderful friendships and connections,” said Colley, who has a background in event coordination. “I would love to be able to share the incredible work of Hadassah and gather my community’s support for the organization. I would love to see Hadassah as a home for all women, of all Jewish denominations, to come together.”
To learn more about Evolve, including how to nominate a member for a planned second round of fellowships, email email@example.com.
Libby Barnea is the deputy editor of Hadassah Magazine.