100 and still going strong

Hadassah convention chairwoman Miki Schulman discloses some secrets of the organization’s longevity.

Miki Schulman 521 (photo credit: Courtesy Hadassah Women’s Organization)
Miki Schulman 521
(photo credit: Courtesy Hadassah Women’s Organization)
The world-renowned Hadassah Women’s Organization, which has played an essential role in the development of state-of-the-art medical and social services in Israel, has just celebrated its centennial year in Jerusalem with impressive events over five days.
On March 3, 1912 in New York, a group of idealistic women with the Zionist spirit, under the leadership of visionary Henrietta Szold, a Baltimore schoolteacher, activist and scholar, founded Hadassah to spearhead better health and education services for women and children in what was then Palestine. The first mission involved sending two nurses to provide pasteurized milk to infants and new mothers and to treat eye disease.
Today Hadassah boasts 330,000 members worldwide. It has grown to become one of the largest volunteer organizations in the world and the largest women’s organization in America. Over the past century, it has launched outstanding philanthropic and humanitarian initiatives, many of which were suited to a particular era. During World War II, for example, Hadassah chapters around the US sold a total of $200 million in war bonds. In the 1930s, with a German colleague, Szold helped organize the rescue of thousands children from Nazi Europe, bringing them to Palestine.
In 1983, Hadassah International was founded; that same year, the local Israeli branch was launched by a group of American members of the organization who had made aliya.
Hadassah has partnered with the Jewish National Fund in several Israeli initiatives.
Its Young Judaea movement has brought tens of thousands of teens to participate in volunteer programs here over the years.
Hadassah’s growing success continues today. Here in Israel, among other efforts, it operates three villages for atrisk youth: Meir Shefeya outside Zichron Ya’acov, Hadassah Neurim near Netanya and Ramat Hadassah Szold in Kiryat Tivon. The Hadassah Medical Organization (HMO) is one of the world’s leading healthcare institutions, boasting two medical facilities in Jerusalem – Hadassah University Medical Center in Ein Kerem and on Mount Scopus.
Hadassah also pioneered the college system, which provided many Israelis with a first opportunity for higher education.
Hadassah College Jerusalem combines high level studies tailored to the country’s hi-tech market.
HADASSAH’S CENTENNIAL program included not only festivities, but also a three-day symposium to discuss major strategic issues related to Israel.
More than 2,000 men and women came from abroad, mostly from the US, to join in these landmark events.
President Shimon Peres addressed guests at the dedication of the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower at Hadassah Medical Center, Ein Kerem. Personalized dedication ceremonies were held for donors.
Hadassah’s continued support of youth aliya was acknowledged, as was its partnership with the Jewish National Fund.
The Israel Postal Service launched a stamp to honor Hadassah’s 100-year commitment to the State of Israel. A parade of the organization’s volunteers from Israel and abroad was held throughout the streets of Jerusalem.
At the closing gala event on October 18, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was presented with the Henrietta Szold Prize.
In Jerusalem spoke with Miki Schulman, Hadassah convention chairwoman, who lives in Great Neck, New York, and is director of sales for Manhattan Shade & Glass, a family business. Following are excerpts of the interview.
Can you describe the process of organizing such a massive project? It was actually four years ago when we first started planning for Hadassah’s centennial.
The Israel trip was central to the planning process. About three years ago I became [convention] chair. About 45 minutes after I accepted the portfolio, I had a vision of what the event should look like, how it would be the most attractive to our members and the most meaningful.
And I’m proud that this vision has become a reality.
We worked very closely with Ayelet Tours from America and partnered with [tour operator] IGT in Israel. We worked together for three years on all the details.
The process also included a huge number of volunteers who have worked on the project on both the national and the regional levels. It was this help from every arena that made this all possible.
As a busy career woman, why would you take on such a demanding and time-consuming volunteering responsibility? I have been a Hadassah volunteer for over 35 years. I always held a major portfolio on the local level, the regional level and the national level. This is what I want to do – a volunteer position that will make a difference.
Were any of the delegates wary of coming to Israel, given the shaky political situation and talk of war? We received a few phone calls and emails from people asking whether something might be canceled or whether we intend to make any changes. We responded no, and we worked very closely with the Israeli government and the Ministry of Tourism. They assured us at the time that everything was safe. No one called [to cancel] for this reason, although there were a few cancellations for other reasons, such as illness.
What’s the secret of Hadassah’s success and the fact that after 100 years, it remains a vibrant and powerful organization? It’s what we do. We support the State of Israel. It’s our projects – medicine, education, child rescue and American activism – our Zionist activity and what we do in America. We address issues and we are activists. I think it’s our mission that attracts people and keeps people in Hadassah.
I also think another area we can be very proud of is our legacy. I joined Hadassah through my mother-in-law.
My daughters and daughters-in-law have all become part, as well as all the men in my life and my grandchildren – every one of them. They continue the legacy and philanthropy. It’s not just my family, but so many others as well.
Can you elaborate on the American activism? We address issues that are appropriate and relevant for women in particular, such as stem-cell research, promoting equality for women… We do get involved in issues, but we never endorse a [political] candidate.
We encourage people to vote.
According to statistics and research, it seems that the younger generation of American Jews has grown increasingly indifferent to the Jewish state. Could you comment on this issue? We have such a strong Zionist movement, Young Judaea, which is very committed to Israel and to Hadassah. Many young women are members and leaders.
So I would say to you that we think we’re doing a great job.
What are the plans for the future? To continue to recognize Israel’s needs and to meet them in the best way that we can.