A talk with Hadassah's national president

As their 100th anniversary approaches, Hadassah's president discusses current projects and hopes for the future.

A talk with Hadassah's national president (photo credit: courtesy of Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization )
A talk with Hadassah's national president
(photo credit: courtesy of Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization )
Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, will be celebrating its 100 year anniversary at its Centennial Convention in Jerusalem October 15-18, 2012. One hundred years ago the late Henrietta Szold and a group of women from her Daughters of Zion study circle founded Hadassah and proposed that expand their purpose to embrace "practical Zionism" -- proactive work to help meet the health needs of Palestine's people.
By 2012, the small group of 1912 has become the largest Jewish women’s volunteer organization in the United States, and its contribution to Israel as a whole and to the health services of this country in particular is immense.
In this interview, Hadassah National President Marcie Natan expresses her views on Hadassah of today and the organization’s commitment to the prosperity and well-being of Israel.
“Hadassah was founded 100 years ago to promote the Zionist ideal through education and public health initiatives,” says Natan.
“What was true then is true today. Our commitment to Israel and the Zionist ideal is total.”
The goals of Hadassah in supporting Israel in general and health services in particular have not changed. But 100 years is a long time, especially in this age of rapid change. While the goals remain the same, the means by which they are achieved has changed. Furthermore, Hadassah, like any philanthropic organization, faces new challenges and must adapt to the times.
The changing technological environment and with it, the way society interacts, poses challenges to a voluntary organization that spans across the United States and is based on meetings, lectures and study groups. New technologies alter the way people interact with one another; and accordingly, Hadassah has created new models to take advantage of a new, ever expanding generation of communicating with one another.
The global economic crisis has created an enormous challenge for philanthropic organizations to raise the funds necessary to finance projects and activities, and Hadassah is no different.
Hadassah’s National President is well aware of the changing world in which we live. That is why in her view, the greatest challenge facing Hadassah today is to “ensure that the organization remains vital and attracts the younger generation from which will emerge our future leaders and thus ensure the organizational robustness and vitality, which, in turn, will ensure another successful and fruitful 100 years,” she says.
“It is true that the global economy is going through difficult times,” says Natan. “The US economy is also going through difficult times. The United States is the base of Hadassah, and the economic situation has had an impact on our current fundraising activities. We have two main financial commitments: the ongoing support we give to various projects in Israel; and special projects such as the new Davidson Tower in the Hadassah Hospital compound in Ein Kerem, which is Hadassah’s largest project ever.”
Despite these challenges, the women of Hadassah are in the final stages of raising funds to finance the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower, at a cost of $363 million when completed.
“With that project, we have been fortunate in our fundraising because we obtained some very large donations,” says Natan. “The largest one was given by the Davidson family, who donated $75 million, and then an additional $12.5 million. We received another donation of $25 million from a donor who wishes to remain anonymous. Others donors have also been very generous, although not on the scale of the first two. Up to now, we have raised $305 million, and I am confident that we will make up the difference soon.” These large donations made up for a certain decrease in grassroots income and also made it possible for Hadassah to finance the Davidson Tower project.
“In a normal average year, and independent of special projects like the Davidson Tower, we spend $19 million in supporting our various projects in Israel,” says Natan. A significant part of that $19 million goes toward supporting the two Hadassah hospitals in Jerusalem -- one in Ein Kerem and the other on Mount Scopus.
But at these times of escalating health costs and constant changes in technology, it is impossible for a voluntary philanthropic organization -- even one as strong and solidly established as Hadassah -- to finance a modern hospital by itself. Hadassah is not and was never meant to be a profit-making concern. However, the escalating costs have increased the difference between the income of the hospital and the amount of money it takes to run it. This means additional outlays on the part of Hadassah.
“At present, it is very difficult, if not impossible, for a philanthropic organization to finance a hospital,” says Natan. “New technologies cost a great deal of money, new medicines are very expensive, and costs are rising constantly. A case in point is the modernization of the operating rooms in the hospital in Ein Kerem," says Natan. “They have to be modernized to adapt them to the needs of robotic surgery. All this new equipment and modern technologies cost a great deal of money. We are making the effort because it's our goal that the Hadassah hospitals will always be at the forefront of technological developments and at all times will be one of the leading hospitals in Israel and the world."
 In pre-state Israel, the women of Hadassah established hospitals, clinics and medical infrastructure from Safed in the North to Beersheba in the South. With Israel's independence in 1948, Hadassah turned over all of their hospitals and clinics, except for maintaining ownership and operation of the Jerusalem hospitals, to the State. Hadassah projects like Tipat Halav, the well-baby clinics of Israel, were also turned over to the government at Statehood.
"We have maintained our ownership of the Hadassah Hospitals in Jerusalem as the standard bearers of our goal of development in Israel through advanced treatment and research. We began with providing basic health care and nutrition, and today look towards Israel to find cures for intractable diseases not only for Israel, but for the whole world. We are a unique model of advocacy and pragmatic Zionism; standing for Israel and supporting health, education and child rescue. Our members continue to be committed to these goals. Hadassah provides vision and leadership as well as the funding to catalyze growth in partnership with the state of Israel.
Hadassah has been growing strong for 100 years, with a ten percent increase in membership in the last year, but Natan recognizes that the organization needs to evolve with the times as it has in the past. “I am satisfied that the organizational changes we have made over time are serving us well,” she says. “We can do even better in the area of social networking on the internet. In my second year as National President, I intend to devote myself to using the new social media among members and between members and the leadership both in the chapters and on the national level. Because the vast majority of Hadassah members work outside the home, "virtual meetings" will replace some of the get togethers on Chapter, Region and even National levels. I'm not saying that they will replace face-to-face meetings, but these new tools will enable us to supplement the older models. Hadassah members are computer savvy."
Hadassah has been supporting Israel for the past 100 years. Natan believes that the most important achievement has been in creating a partnership through building projects together between the Diaspora Jewish Community and Israel – connection between American Jewish organizations and Israel based on its needs.
“Our contribution to Israel has been immense. The country’s medical and health services grew from the clinic we founded in the Jerusalem of 1913 to what it is today. We have financed the draining of swamps and the reclamation of land, the gathering of exiles through our involvement with Youth Aliyah. We have also supplied medical services to the olim from Yemen in 1949 and to the olim from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union. We pioneered the college system of post-high school education, career development programs and supported Young Judaea. So you can see, although Hadassah Hospital is our major involvement in Israel, we have been and are involved in other aspects of Israeli life as well,” says Natan. "We're already looking forward to the next hundred years”.