Hadassah confronts financial problems, dwindling membership

Leading Hadassah supporter urges immediate efforts to bring in new members and additional income.

hadassah 88 (photo credit: )
hadassah 88
(photo credit: )
Warning that the largest Jewish organization - and largest women's organization - in the US was on "the tipping point" into decline, a leading supporter of the Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization urged immediate efforts to bring in new members and additional income. Stewart Greenebaum, a member of the Hadassah University Medical Center's board of directors and a multimillionaire real-estate developer based in Baltimore, sounded a warning at the closing dinner Tuesday night of Hadassah's 94th national convention. The event was attended by more than 2,000 delegates from around the country, representing the organization's 300,000 members. Greenebaum, who with his wife, Marlene, has been a generous donor to Hadassah as well as to other Jewish and medical causes, was clearly expressing his concerns under the approval of Hadassah national president Nancy Falchuk and other heads of the organization. He said not only had the shekel value of the dollar declined by 30 percent in the last year, pinching medical, educational and social projects in Israel, but Hadassah membership had declined by 6%, reflecting the aging of the American Jewish population and its surging intermarriage and assimilation rates. In fact, a large share of the group's active, pro-Israel members have non-Jewish grandchildren or none at all. As a result, dollar donations to Hadassah have decreased by 20% in the past year, Greenebaum said, describing problems that affect nearly every US Jewish organization. "It is a good thing that we Jews are an increasingly welcome part of American society, but this brings with it much more assimilation," he said. "And young Jewish women may think that Hadassah is more suited to grandmothers than to young singles and working mothers, but it isn't true." The vast majority of members do not pay dues, as they purchased or were given "life memberships" years or decades ago. While this has bound them to the voluntary organization, it has also jeopardized its future income, he said. Much of the other income is tied up as bequests and annuities. In 1912, founder Henrietta Szold charged $15 dues, the equivalent of $600 today. Greenebaum called on the delegates and all Hadassah members to voluntarily pay annual "sustaining dues" of $100 each, despite life memberships, to help boost the organization's finances by $27 million, eliminating the need to cut programs and even allowing expansion. He also urged them to approach friends and relatives - even non-Jewish ones - to become members and supporters. "Stop being afraid to ask out of fear of being rejected," he said. Taking an optimistic view, Falchuk said, "We [of Hadassah] are here and we are ready" to battle US Jewry's existential problems. She presented the organization's highest prize, the Henrietta Szold Award, to Stef Wertheimer, the Israeli billionaire founder of Iscar - a precision-metal tool company he started in a backyard workshop, 80% of which was sold a few years ago to one of the world's richest men, Warren Buffett. Wertheimer was given a standing ovation for his decades of building five industrial parks in Israel and one in Turkey that employ tens of thousands of workers of all faiths and backgrounds. "Industry and jobs are the way to peace," Wertheimer said.