Though I was a married man, I began a long-standing passionate affair while yet in my early 20s. More unusually, my wife and daughter were deeply involved. The name of the object of my love was Hadassah.
Here’s how it all happened. Because of the fame (or notoriety) my reporting for this newspaper created, I was asked to become the part-time press relations officer for the Hadassah Council in Israel.
That was in 1953-54. As a result, I had the opportunity of working closely with some of the true doers of good of Jerusalem. Together, for example, we helped create Ya’al, acronym for Yad Ezer le-Hadassah (a helping hand for Hadassah), which recruited well-meaning volunteers to visit the hospitalized, bring round newspapers and books, and help doctors and nurses. The name and function has been adopted and adapted by many hospitals in Israel.
In December 1954, some of the leaders of Hadassah in the States, headed by Rebecca Shulman, its president, together with heads of the Hadassah Hospital, Hebrew University and members of the Hadassah Council boarded a crotchety old bus. It had wooden seats, worn springs and a filth-spewing diesel engine and bounced and swayed its way up along an unpaved track to a windswept hill far from the small center of Jerusalem. We were going to lay the cornerstone for what became the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Kerem.
The 1949 Jordan-Israel armistice lines had cut off Hadassah Mount Scopus and the Hebrew University, which became an enclave surrounded by Jordanian– occupied Jerusalem. Meanwhile the hospital (and the university) lay scattered in a number of rented old buildings in the heart of Israeli Jerusalem.
Besides the precious other passengers on that bouncing bus, was my unborn eldest daughter carried by a very large nine-month pregnant mother, Hannah (my late ex-wife). I was sure she would give birth on the spot. The consolation was of course there was no lack of Israel’s finest doctors on hand.
Shoshanah, my first-born daughter, waited another month to be born. We then lived in what I called the last house in Jerusalem: at the furthest southwest corner of the city, in Kiryat Hayovel.
In that 49-square meter unheated apartment, we eventually lived with three children. To toddler blonde-curled Shoshanah we would point out the slowly rising structure of the round glass building – the hospital under construction. Naturally one of my daughter’s first words was – yes – “Hadassah.”
For some decades, many of the doctors at Hadassah, with exceptions like the late Ted Fink, saw themselves as the princes of medicine. Some were so impressed with themselves that they barely deigned to speak to the patients, let alone explain their procedures.
As the “princes” abdicated, a new generation or two of doctors appeared in Jerusalem. And, suddenly, my old love affair with Hadassah hospital was rekindled. To spare you all the boring details, I was hit by a killer bacterium, one which we all carry in our inners, which threatened my mobility and could do even worse. Then I met the new Hadassah: the most wonderful, dedicated, human and humane team of doctors, residents, nurses and nurses’ aides – including the cleaners – that one could possibly wish for.
Unfailingly polite, seeming effortlessly making every effort, checking every possible lead in every possible way, moving with amazing rapidity and knowledgeable prognoses, the team identified the danger, wasted no test or device to diagnose and treat and defeat it. I could contact any of my main doctors by email or phone at any hour, and always, with concern and in good humor, they gave me the correct counsel. Finally three months later, and multitude tests and examinations, I stand free and clear.
I have heard my fellow Israelis over the years complain about this health service provider, and that doctor or hospital. But Hadassah and the Clalit medical provider worked seamlessly in tandem so that hospitalization and home care meshed perfectly and without fail. It helped of course that a supportive wife and family made sure my incurable optimism would remain incurable.
My wife is named for Henrietta Szold, perhaps that is more than a coincidence, and she holds a life membership in Hadassah. More than 100 years ago, Henrietta Szold founded the first Hadassah group. It is the largest Zionist organization in the world; for my money, the only true Zionist membership organization in the US. Since – with due honest disclosure – Hadassah was a major component in the non-party Confederation of United Zionists, which I represented in the Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization for a decade, I will not expand on this theme. Let’s agree that its impact on US Jewry and on US policy has been overwhelming.
In my various capacities, I have known – some better and some less well – every Hadassah president from Tamar de Sola Pool to Marlene Post, covering a period of about half-a-century. Seldom have I met a more dedicated and intelligent group of people.
The face of Israeli medicine was created by Hadassah and its innovations: great medicine, outreach clinics, well-baby care, and home visiting nurses.
These blazed trails for the health services of this land. Together the Sick Fund created by the Judean Union of Agricultural Workers founded in 1911, and the American Zionist Medical Unit (which later became the Hadassah Medical Organization) sent here in 1919, laid the groundwork for all that we have today. Thanks in particular to Hadassah, the pre-state Yishuv and Israel kept pace with the rapid scientific and medical advances of our time.
Israel can now boast of having one of the finest levels of medical care in the world. Having seen the care given by private medicine in the US, socialized medicine in Canada and state services in Europe, I can say this unequivocally.
Hadassah has known years of distress in the US.
Here in Israel it has had its setbacks. Speaking from the inside out, as it were, and as a Zionist with more than six decades in Israel, I am sure that its future will not betray its glorious past.
This column is dedicated to the memory of Ruth Popkin, a two-term Hadassah national president in the 1980s, who died this week at age 101. It is written in gratitude to the people whose names I have not mentioned on Mount Scopus and at Ein Kerem. It is also a salute to the hundreds of thousands of US women across a century who comprised and comprise the great Hadassah family.
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