By Stacey Dresner
JERUSALEM – Nearly 2,000 members of Hadassah — all dressed in matching commemorative red t-shirts – marched joyfully through Jerusalem last month to celebrate Hadassah’s centennial – and several members of local chapters in Western Massachusetts were right there in the middle of it all.
They were among Hadassah members from around the United States who traveled to Israel for the celebration which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the founding of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.
The main event of the Oct. 15-18 convention was the long anticipated formal dedication of one of Hadassah’s most significant projects, the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower at Hadassah Medical Center’s Ein Kerem campus.
Sue Polansky of Longmeadow, president of the Hadassah Western New England (WNER) Region attended the convention along with Springfield Hadassah members Reva Kleppel and Wendy Libowitz.
Experiencing the celebration in Israel with so many other members of Hadassah was “awesome” said Polansky.
“It was amazing. It’s not just that we were all together there, but that we were all together and are just regular people who have built this incredible $363 million facility.”
Julia Kaplan of Pittsfield, co-president of the Berkshire Hills chapter of Hadassah attended along with Berkshire Hills members Ellen Masters, Ellen Silverstein, and Marilyn Wolf.
“It was incredibly powerful and we felt so welcomed. There were signs in all the little shops on Ben Yehuda saying, ‘Welcome Hadassah.’ It felt great,” Kaplan said.
In all, 20 members attended from the Western New England region – which includes not only the towns in greater Springfield and Longmeadow, Pittsfield, and Northampton, but also Rhode Island. Some attendees also brought their spouses, who are associate members in the organization.
The convention’s opening ceremony on Tuesday, Oct. 16 in Jerusalem’s International Convention Centre, was “like a Broadway extravaganza,” Polansky said, with a multi-media presentation that showed the history of Hadassah and its accomplishments and included a tribute to the nurses of Hadassah over the years. That evening President Shimon Peres welcomed the group to Israel and presented the stamp created by the Israel Postal Company to honor Hadassah’s and Hadassah Medical Center’s combined contributions and accomplishments in Israel.
“This moment is the culmination of 100 years of achievement,” said Hadassah National President Marcie Natan at the event. “I cannot wait to begin our second century alongside almost 2,000 of my fellow Hadassah members as we commemorate our shared Judaism and love for Israel. Together, we will embark with renewed focus on our critical work advocating on behalf of women’s health issues in the United States, training young women to become the next generation of leaders, and leading the medical research making Israel one of the world’s most significant innovators in healthcare today.
“In honor of our centennial year, we will present our centennial gift to the people of Israel – a state-of-the-art medical tower that is but the first step in the next century of innovations in medical treatment and research,” she continued. “This convention will surely be an event to remember, something that happens but once in a lifetime.”
On their second day in Israel, Hadassah members toured the new medical center. The 19-story structure (five floors below ground and 14 floors above ground) features 500 beds, 20 operating rooms, 60 intensive care beds and an ultra-modern Heart Institute. It houses centers for Invasive Angiography, Immune- mediated Disorders, Minimally Invasive Surgery and Computerized Assisted Surgery, Cell Therapy, and Molecular Medicine and Gene therapy. It features advanced imaging in operating rooms, robotics and computer- guided surgery, cutting-edge monitoring and telemedicine.
“We already had the best medical center in the Middle East. Now we really have one of the best medical centers probably competitive with Europe, maybe competitive with many in America,” Polansky said. “It was quite extraordinary to tour. The work and the research that they do is just unbelievable. They are up to human trials in a variety of diseases, they do really breakthrough things with stem cells, with genetic work. It is a marvel.”
Julia Kaplan said that the most memorable part of the entire convention for her was standing in the lobby of the new medical center tower.
“The lobby actually used to be a road through the Hadassah Hospital complex, and they tried to keep that open feeling in the lobby,” Kaplan said. “All of the light that they were able to bring in made it feel lively, not sick. You really felt like you were in a good place. Even though you were inside you still felt like you were outside in the bright sunshine.”
“It was amazing being there with Hadassah and seeing such a wonderful facility,” said Ellen Masters of Pittsfield, a member of Berkshire Hills Hadassah. “In the hospital you see Arabs and Chasidic Jews and everyone in between. You have Arab doctors taking care of Israelis and Israeli doctors taking care of Arabs. There is no distinction – it is a first class medical center that takes care of everybody according to their medical problems.”
Masters, who has been a member of Hadassah for 50 years – starting with Junior Hadassah and in various chapters before settling in Pittsfield 36 years ago – was elected to the national board of Hadassah at the convention.
“Wherever I have been, the people that I meet at Hadassah are truly wonderful volunteers who all believe in what we do for the betterment of all humankind,” she said. “It was just a privilege to be there for the 100th year celebration and the opening of this fabulous medical facility.”
After touring the new medical tower, all of the Hadassah members donned their red t-shirts, met in the center of Jerusalem and marched to Safra Square where they were greeted by the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat.
“Needless to say there were a lot of horas being danced and people were in very high spirits,” Polanky said. “There were elderly people there who have given their lives to helping build this organization and this is such a culmination for them to celebrate a centennial, to celebrate this gift of the medical center to the people of Israel. It was such a splendid day for them.”
On the third day of the conference, the group visited Hadassah sponsored youth aliyah villages.
“The youth aliyah villages were originally established in 1933 to rescue European Jewish children from the Nazis, and now we work to rescue children at risk,” explained Polansky, whose group spent time at the Neurim Youth Aliyah Village. “We got to meet with a number of kids. The goal of the villages is pretty amazing. They take these children from very damaged broken environments…we rescue these children and put them in a really safe environment with the goal that they will graduate high school, that they will be able to go on to the army, then go on and have normal lives.”
“We met with some high schools students from the former Soviet Union,” Kaplan said. “It was nice to see they are very happy and very well-adjusted.”
On the final evening, the group headed again to the International Convention to attend the gala “Founders Dinner,” where Benjamin Netanyahu was honored with the Henrietta Szold Centre Award. One by one, members took to the microphone to pledge even more money to Hadassah Hospital. Nearly $18 million was raised that evening alone.
“The beautiful thing about Hadassah is that at a time before American women had the vote, American women were building the infrastructure of health and education for the future state of Israel,” Polansky said. “Hadassah has always been and always will be on top of issues having to do with pluralism, with health, with women and children’s issues…when the Middle East is at peace, it will look like Hadassah.”
Who went from Western New England?
Sue and Stan Polansky, Longmeadow, Springfield Chapter
Reva Kleppel, Longmeadow, Springfield Chapter
Wendy Libowitz, Longmeadow, Springfield Chapter
Allan and Nan Lipton, Becket, Mass., Berkshire Hills Chapter
Ellen and Stuart Masters, Pittsfield, Berkshire Hills Chapter
Julia Kaplan, Pittsfield, Berkshire Hills Chapter
Ellen and Paul Silverstein, Pittsfield, Berkshire Hills Chapter
Bonnie Lipton, formerly Pittsfield,
former National President of Hadassah
Sydell Roth, New York, Berkshire Hills Hadassah
Jane Fine Levine and Ed Levine, Worcester Chapter
Marcia Burick, Northampton/ Amherst Chapter
Carol Goodman Kaufman and Joel Kaufman, Worcester Chapter
Betty Ann Israelit, Rhode Island Chapter
Deborah Gerstenblatt, Rhode Island Chapter