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Over 200 Hadassah women will descend on Netanya's Galil Hotel next week, January 15-16, for the national conference of Hadassah-Israel. They will both honor the aliya of the organization's membership and examine its support for specific issues on the national agenda, such as health and medical research, the empowerment of women, helping women and children at risk, Youth Aliya and education.
Hadassah's goal is not only to bring such issues to the public's attention, but to seize the potential to act to change facts on the ground. This was the goal of Baltimore-born Zionist Henrietta Szold when she came to visit the Holy Land in 1909 and found an appalling lack of hygiene and medical care. Instead of lamenting the fact, she took action and in 1912 created the Hadassah organization in the US, which has since been responsible for building the two internationally renowned Hadassah hospitals in Jerusalem, instituting the Tipat Halav baby clinics system and establishing educational centers for the Youth Aliya movement, among other achievements.
"Membership in Hadassah captures you," says Shirley Fishman of Netanya. Mrs. Fishman was a Hadassah member in Queens, New York, before she and her husband made aliya 20 years ago. She points out that Szold's words are as meaningful today as they were almost 100 years ago.
"Henrietta Szold believed that she could dream great dreams and translate them into reality," says Fishman. "This is what inspires me. When we raise money for a piece of diagnostic equipment in Hadassah hospital that will help thousands of people, or erect a building on the Hadassah medical center campus for mothers and babies, or staff and support centers for abused women and their children, we see first-hand the fruits of our labor."
The Hadassah-Israel branch was established in 1983 by women who were new immigrants from the US, and wanted to continue their Hadassah affiliation and commitment. Today there are 24 Hebrew and English speaking chapters throughout the country, from Eilat to Beersheba, where members are active both in Hadassah projects and other branches of social service.
Jean Sadwin, co-chairwoman of the Hadassah-Israel conference in Netanya, was director of the Head Start project in Woonsocket, Rhode Island before making aliya in 1979 to Kibbutz Ein Shemer with her late husband, Dr. Robert Sadwin. "Our two daughters had come to Israel on a Hadassah-sponsored year course consisting of Hebrew language studies, Jewish history and volunteer work, and both girls wanted to stay. One day, my husband - who was a dentist - and I looked at each other and said, "We could each be following our professions in Israel, and be near our daughters - so we came!"
Attendance in the year course program has swelled from 35 US students in the 1970s when the Sadwin daughters came, to 430 students in 2006. "I think this program is terrific," says Sadwin. "The students not only get university credit at their American university, they also gain a sense of personal achievement through their involvement in volunteer work. This year the Hadassah year-course tutored English at a high school in Bat Yam, and the bagrut [matriculation] scores of those they tutored were up 15 percent from the previous year."
Of special interest to Sadwin and her late husband have been the medical research programs in the Hadassah medical centers. "Last year, we were able to raise funds to buy an electrocardiogram unit for the neonatology unit in Hadassah hospital, in memory of our past president, Sylvia Jacobs. This year our funding will support the stem cell research being done through Hadassah. We believe that this research will be of benefit to the world, and are pleased that it has already achieved conclusive results in the areas of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Disease," she says.
Sadwin thinks that the experience of living in Israel, to which the worldwide Hadassah organization directs its support, is a very exciting "perk" for Hadassah-Israel members. "We have this wonderful experience of being at the helm of Hadassah activities and have the hands-on awareness of seeing projects come into fruition. In the Diaspora, the gauge of success was much more by long distance. In Israel, it is before our eyes."
The Hadassah-Israel conference will honor members who came on aliya from all over the world. The program will feature music and dance by recent olim of the Caucasian Dance Troupe and the Mandolin Orchestra of the Nordau School in Netanya. A panel discussion entitled 'Women Immigrants in Israel Society' will be moderated by Marit Danon, Executive Director of the Authority for Advancing Women's Status, with panel participation by the Prime Minister's Advisor for Social Welfare, the director of the National Ethiopian Project, and the director of Nefesh B'Nefesh's absorption department. Also addressing the conference will be Netanya mayor Miriam Fierberg-Ikar and former Ra'anana mayor Zeev Bielski, Chairman of the Jewish Agency. Earphones providing simultaneous translations will be available throughout the conference.
"Not only did Hadassah initially give us, a group of English speakers, a social network, it enables us to feel part of Israel society. Even though many of us are not fluent in Hebrew, Hadassah's community action efforts enable us to assist and understand many facets of Israeli society which we would otherwise be unaware of," says Fishman
For those members who are interested in education projects, Hadassah has projects for children of new olim and clubhouses (moadoniot) for children from problematic homes. The boarding school Hadassah Neurim, outside Netanya, is another way Hadassah has helped shape Israeli youths - both new olim and sabras - for successful careers. This year Hadassah has added a new program at Neurim, in conjunction with the Wingate Sports Institute and English Premiership soccer club Arsenal FC, whereby students can earn a certificate to coach and play soccer.
"Hadassah gives one many options," says Cynthia Selwyn, who made aliya from England after she retired. She had never been an "organization person," but after moving to Netanya, she looked for a network that was not purely fundraising, which supported women's rights, was Zionist, pluralistic and interested in health issues. After joining Hadassah, she pleasantly affirms, "This is it - Hadassah is exactly what I wanted!"
Cushioning the risk
Hadassah-Israel will also be saluting members who volunteer in the community action program called 'Women at Risk.' "The program gives Hadassah members a real way to assist the community at large," Fishman points out.
Hadassah-Israel extends a supportive and helping hand to battered and abused women and their children through a network of centers staffed by professional social workers supported by volunteer Hadassah members.
Margolit Ziman, President of the Netanya Hebrew speakers Hadassah chapter, says that her group is very active in this area. She points out that Hadassah's goal is to provide a welcoming location, called Caf Si'ach, (a Hebrew acronym for 'conversation and friendship'), where these women can come weekly for a lecture, music program or art activity, have coffee and cake provided by Hadassah volunteers, and use the opportunity to connect with a social worker.
The volunteers also have a roster of those who will accompany a woman who feels at-risk to the police or courts. The Netanya Hadassah branch was the first to establish a Caf Si'ach, and now there are ten others in cities throughout Israel.
Once a week, the Caf Si'ach location is reserved as a safe and pleasant place for visitations for divorced fathers and their children, while the mothers wait in a nearby room.
Ziman points out that a child could be at risk not only due to abuse, but also a difficult family or financial situation. For this reason, Hadassah has opened a chain of clubhouses in Netanya, Petah Tikva, Jerusalem and Karmiel for children grades one through six, where they come after school for a hot lunch, help with homework and special holiday activities. Netanya has five such staffed clubhouses that welcome 95 children every day.