‘We’ve had four of the best days, with 10 women on a bus, a million and one ideas, and lots of deep conversations. We’re all excited to be here!”
On a sunny winter morning, I’m sitting in the Dan Panorama Hotel lobby with three members of Hadassah’s Evolve Leadership Fellows. It’s only 7 a.m., and even before they have had their morning coffee, their enthusiasm and ebullience about being in Israel bubble over. These are American women in their forties, with careers and children, who are the up-and-coming leaders of the largest Zionist organization in the United States – Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America with its 300,000 members.
Hadassah enhances the health and lives of Israelis, Americans and others around the world through advanced medical care and research at its two hospitals in Jerusalem – Hadassah Ein Kerem and Hadassah Mount Scopus.
In the US, Hadassah members fight for women’s healthcare rights, combat antisemitism, support Israel and the Young Judaea Youth movement. The Evolve Leadership Fellows’ trip was timed to coincide with Hadassah’s 100th annual convention and 110th anniversary. Their trip included travel and events that highlighted the achievements of Hadassah’s hospitals and the role Hadassah has always played in rescuing young people in its Youth Aliyah villages, and activities that range from providing shelter to Holocaust survivors to helping people escape the war in Ukraine.
The Evolve Leadership Fellows are a cohort of young women from across the United States who are participating in a new two-year initiative to cultivate and inspire emerging leaders. The women with whom I am speaking have participated in an educational trip through Israel, visited Hadassah’s hospitals and youth villages and heard from experts on key issues Israel confronts today.
Why do these busy American women with careers and families want to become Hadassah leaders?
Robin Katcoff from Baltimore is a health and wellness coach, assistant kindergarten teacher and pharmacist. She has two teenagers at home. “As someone in the health field, I’ve always known that Hadassah equals healthcare, which has helped build Israel,” she says. Katcoff joined Hadassah after touring Israel in 2018 with her family for her daughter’s bat mitzvah. “I said, ‘It’s my turn. What can I do for Hadassah now?"
Nicky Colley, an events coordinator and public relations executive from Irvine, California, grew up in South Africa. She says the Evolve Leadership Fellows are proud to be part of Hadassah’s next generation of leaders. “Hadassah gives women a voice,” says Colley. “It allows us to use that voice to stand up for and support Israel, instill Jewish values, advocate for women’s health and fight antisemitism and hate.”
Emily Godsey, a healthcare administrator from Jacksonville, Florida, leads an outpatient practice in hematology, blood and marrow transplantation and cellular therapy. For Godsey, this Israel trip – her first – has been eye-opening. She has been impressed by the diversity of people and the different points of view among Jews, Arabs and Druze. “You see a spectrum of Judaism on the street,” she says. “Being a part of Hadassah is a natural fit for me with my Judaism and the type of work I do.”
Hadassah has always stressed commitment through its life membership program, which is often passed down from one generation to another to strengthen commitment to Zionism. But not all life members of her generation take an active role, says Katcoff. “This is one of the main reasons I want to be in Evolve. My thought is, let’s make it clear that there are no excuses for not being involved and standing up for Israel. Many of us at this stage in our lives have younger children than our mothers did at our age. We need to find ways to get the entire family involved.”
“Hadassah realizes that we need to make changes to suit women today,” says Colley.
During the pandemic, Hadassah adapted by producing hundreds of meetings and programs on Zoom. “Still, nothing substitutes for a close-up and personal visit to Israel to see and feel proud of the work of generations of Jewish women who are partners in building Israel,” says National President Rhoda Smolow, in Israel to lead Hadassah’s convention.
The trip to Israel provided an opportunity for Evolve Leadership Fellows to learn from each other
Godsey believes that most women will find a place in Hadassah, saying, “We want to work to create the world that we want to live in, and we want to create the world that we want our children to live in.” Paraphrasing the Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot), she adds, “While it’s not our job to complete the work, neither can we desist from it. We have to keep working toward the goal and to make the world a better place.”
The Hadassah Evolve Leadership Fellows program, they say, is helping them hone their leadership skills – organizing, public speaking and outreach. Godsey says the trip to Israel provided an opportunity to learn from each other.
“I am here to learn about what makes Hadassah tick,” Godsey says. “I also want to hear what my colleagues are thinking. From that, I want to synthesize what I learn and what I hear to come up with a plan for my place in my Hadassah and to develop my personal vision for the organization.”
Says Colley, “Hadassah is a home for women from all Jewish denominations, all fighting for the same thing.” She lauds Hadassah’s national leadership, the volunteers who “have paved the way for Evolve” and embraced the Evolve Leadership Fellows.
“I am working on increasing my leadership skills,” says Katcoff. “My biggest goal is to bring in younger women who are also passionate and understand that they can make a difference.”
As our interview comes to a close, the Evolve Leadership Fellows are about to embark on an early morning tour of Hadassah-University Medical Center on Mount Scopus to hear about the achievements and challenges and to meet doctors and nurses.
Their message to their contemporaries?
“Joining a large organization can be intimidating,” says Katcoff. “Don’t be intimidated. Get involved. We are stronger together.”
This article was written in cooperation with Hadassah