Through the Glass Ceiling: Not a job, but a commitment

Audrey Shimron, the executive director of the Israel office of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, is in conference when I arrive for our appointment. However, as usual, the door of her office is open.

audrey shimron 88 298 (photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
audrey shimron 88 298
(photo credit: Courtesy Photo)
Audrey Shimron, the executive director of the Israel office of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, is in conference when I arrive for our appointment. However, as usual, the door of her office is open. After a few minutes, the chairs on the outer side of her desk are vacated and it's my turn to sit down. "You don't mind if I show you some wedding photos," she says as she swivels around towards her computer screen. She clicks the mouse, and lo and behold a smiling Shimon Ohana, the border policeman who six years ago was critically injured when a Palestinian gunman pumped two bullets into his heart and one into his throat. Ohana was rushed in critical condition from the scene of the shooting in the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo to Hadassah Medical Center Ein Kerem, where he was pronounced clinically dead. None of his vital signs were working, but Dr. Avi Rifkind, the head of Hadassah's Trauma Department, refused to give up on him. He opened his chest and began massaging his heart. Ohana's heart began to beat and doctors then moved in to perform the various surgeries that saved his life. He remained unconscious for more than two weeks. He is now a fully functioning human being. His wedding took place in Beersheba on August 31. Shimron and other members of her office continue to maintain contact with scores of patients and families that spent a long time at Hadassah, including former athlete Steve Aberbach who was seriously injured three years ago in the terrorist explosion at Mike's Place, a well-known bar and night club on the Tel Aviv beachfront. She regrets that Hadassah was not able to perform the same kind of miracle for Aberbach as it did for Ohayon, who runs and rides horses. Aberbach is unfortunately paralyzed. Born in Salisbury, Rhodesia, "the country that no longer exists," Shimron comes from an old Sephardic family that can trace its roots back to the Spanish Inquisition. The way of life was so genteel and laid back in Rhodesia, she recalls, "that we used to tell visitors to put their clocks back a hundred years." A staunch Zionist, she came to Israel in 1974, enrolled in the preparatory course for overseas students at the Hebrew University and subsequently earned a bachelor of arts degree majoring in English literature and archaeology. While at the Hebrew University, she met and married her husband, lawyer and vintner David Shimron. Before linking up with the Hadassah Medical Organization almost 23 years ago, Shimron taught English, ran a bookstore in the Jerusalem suburb of French Hill and worked in a travel agency. It was after this experience that she joined the Hadassah Tourism Department, working her way through the ranks until she was appointed director of the Donors Department. This put her in direct contact with donors large and small, with projects within the Hadassah Medical Centers and with physicians and senior nurses throughout the hospitals, so that she was constantly updated on developments and always in a position to answer the questions of existing and potential donors. An important lesson she learned was not to reject ideas that might seem outlandish. One day her department received a letter from Turkey with a request for a proposal for a major project. When she enquired about the amount of money the potential donor wanted to contribute, she was told to prepare proposals in three different price ranges. In consultation with her superiors, she prepared three proposals ranging from hundreds of thousands of dollars to over $1 million. The donor, who wished to remain anonymous, opted for the most costly project, a hospital wing. It transpired that he had written a similar letter to several organizations in Israel and Hadassah was the only one that took him seriously. None of the others had responded. The donor had suffered a rare blood disease and had pledged that if he recovered he would do something of major philanthropic proportions. The hospital wing was the first of several projects that he donated to Hadassah. Anyone who has traversed the corridors of any of the Hadassah facilities, be they health, education or youth oriented, will see countless plaques featuring the names of donors from almost every state in the United States as well as from Israel and other parts of the world. However, the American donors dominate, and very often there are signs of genealogical philanthropy with three and even four generations of the same family continuing to contribute. All in all Hadassah receives in the vicinity of $100 million per annum for its various projects. Six years ago, Shimron moved to her present position, which is even more demanding than her former position and defies definition because there are so many components. "It's not a job," she says, "it's a way of life. You need total commitment to Zionism, to the people of Israel and the building of Israel. So many people are cynical about that, but if you don't have it, you can't do the job." There are no set hours. She is available around the clock and often gets calls from America in the middle of the night. She has to always be ready for the unexpected, to work simultaneously on several fronts, to come up with instant responses, to exercise "an incredible amount of patience" and to guard her tongue and her facial expressions when people come up with stupidities. The office that she works in represents America in Israel, and in particular the donors of projects. "We have to give them a sense of what is happening with and in their projects and we have to give them a sense of what is happening in the country. At the same time you have to understand what makes them tick and their desire to be part of what's happening here." Among the people that Shimron deals with on a regular basis are members of the Hadassah National Board, as well as current and former national and regional presidents, heads of local chapters, members of Hadassah missions coming to Israel, and of course literally hundreds of people connected with Hadassah facilities in Israel as well as leading Israeli personalities or people in the news who address Hadassah missions, of which there are several in any given month. In addition she supervises all Hadassah projects from design through construction and financing, and sends regular reports back to the US. It's not a one-woman show. It's teamwork, but Shimron has to be aware of everything that's going on. She's also involved with the public relations side, but acknowledges that all the credit for Hadassah's PR successes belongs to public relations director Barbara Sofer. Working for Hadassah is like being married to Hadassah, a factor that initially weighed heavily on her family, particularly her husband. Her children, when they were younger, used to laugh at her, "but it was important for me to teach them Zionist passion and Zionist commitment." Barring an emergency situation, she does not work on Fridays and Saturdays, and that includes answering phone calls from the US. Those days are entirely reserved for her family, including her daughter-in-law Moran, who she says is the best daughter-in-law that anyone could wish for. Shimron has another 16 years to go before she reaches retirement age. Although that seems a long way off, it will eventually catch up with her when she's least prepared. Will she be forced to retire or will she be allowed to carry on? "I don't think you ever retire from Hadassah," she says. "Whether as an employee or a volunteer, some way I'll always be involved with Hadassah." Profile of a powerhouse: AUDREY SHIMRON Profession: Executive Director Age: 51 Status: Married to lawyer and vintner David Shimron and the mother of Yariv, 30, who is married to Moran; Shaul, 28, Galia, 26, and Nadav, 20. Education: BA, Hebrew University, Jerusalem Professional milestones: Director Donors Department Hadassah Executive Director Israel Office Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization of America. Professional Challenges: To make the public more aware of the fact that Hadassah's projects and activities in Israel are not limited to health but include youth villages and institutions for immigrant youth and youth from dysfunctional families and economically deprived backgrounds; youth at risk, educational facilities and youth groups.