Appreciation: In memory of Charlotte Jacobson

No issue was too large and none too small for our feisty Charlotte.

Charlotte Chats 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Charlotte Chats 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Some called her The General. Others called her the ultimate Zionist. She was known as a fighter for ideological and philosophical causes and recognized as the personification of leadership: strong, direct and charismatic. She was wrapped in a cloak of Jewish and American values and carried on the legacy of Henrietta Szold boldly and passionately.
She was never Ms. Charlotte Jacobson. She was “our Charlotte” to the women of Hadassah.
Born in New York City to a Zionist family, Charlotte Jacobson believed that “participation in the Zionist movement allows one to be part of the greatest adventures of history, for to help forge a unified society out of our diverse and wandering people represents one of the most gratifying experiences of human history.”
It was as Hadassah’s national president from 1964 to 1968, chair of the American Section of the World Zionist Organization from 1971 until 1982, the first woman elected to the presidency of the Jewish National Fund – as well as numerous other leadership roles spanning 60 years that Charlotte proved herself as one of the all-time Zionist greats.
Charlotte’s instrumental role in supervising the rebuilding of the Mount Scopus Hospital after the Six Day War in 1967, as well as the building of the Moshe Sharett Institute of Oncology, exemplifies the ways that she threw her heart and soul into the Zionist mission, helping shape the Israel of today.
NO ISSUE was too large and none too small for our feisty Charlotte. No head of state was too high, no institution too sacred for her to speak out on the issues she held dear. Whether it was Soviet Jewry, or anti-Semitism, women’s issues or education, children at risk or in need of rescue, she stood up to be counted, and the women of Hadassah followed her lead.
She traveled the world in support of Jewish rights, meeting with refuseniks and facing commissars in the Soviet Union, and advocating freedom of worship and emigration in front of the leaders of Syria and Egypt. She also defended Israel and the Jewish people in the halls and overseas conferences of the United Nations.
So how does one capture the fire and brimstone that was Charlotte Jacobson? How does one convey what it meant to call her colleague, teacher and friend or how it felt to stand shaking in her presence and dare to disagree with her?
She can probably best be compared to the sabra plant: tough on the outside and sweet within. Charlotte cared about her friends and colleagues.
Ask anyone at Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava, where she was a mentor, for the name of one person who gave them unconditional strength, encouragement and inspiration and you will hear hers. Charlotte loved young people and they loved her.
When she moved to Florida, her dear friend, former national president of Hadassah Rose Matzkin, was determined to get her to take up a more casual dress style. Rose told me she was going to get Charlotte to give up her suits and high heels for slacks and sandals. Rose was unsuccessful. Charlotte was up early and dressed for breakfast in a business suit. She gave the neighbors where she resided a little bit of history, but they never found her formidable; she was simply Charlotte, first lady of Hadassah.
It was often said that the Jewish world got moving when Charlotte opened her eyes in the morning. Now her eyes are closed forever. She passed on May 14. As she brought honor to the legacy of Henrietta Szold, so too it is our honor and our responsibility to carry on the legacy of Charlotte Jacobson, by sharing her vision as we make “our eyes look to the future.”
The writer is a former national president of Hadassah (1999-2003).