A Century of Tikkun Olam

Jerusalem march; photo courtesy Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America.

by Darryl Egnal

Hadassah Neurim Youth Village played host to 2,000 Hadassah delegates in Israel for the Hadassah Centennial celebrations last week. The event, which was sponsored by Keren Kayemet LeIsrael/Jewish National Fund (KKL/JNF), included various activities that recognized Hadassah’s commitment to education and immigrant absorption.

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, visited Hadassah Neurim Youth Village near Netanya to celebrate Hadassah’s Centennial through four of its projects – Youth Aliyah/Children at Risk; Young Judaea, the American youth movement; Hadassah College Jerusalem; and Keren Kayemet Leisrael/Jewish National Fund (KKL/JNF), who sponsored the event.

Hadassah’s partnership with KKL/JNF dates back 80 years. Over the past eight decades, Hadassah has supported KKL-JNF in its endeavors to buy land, drain swamps, rehabilitate river beds, plant forests, create picnic areas and parks, making sure they are all wheelchair accessible, and make desert soil fertile.

“I am glad that from the very outset, Hadassah joined hands with KKL-JNF, and together we paved the long road leading to the establishment of the State of Israel,” said Efi Stenzler, World Chair of KKL/JNF, in his address to the Hadassah delegates at the opening of the day’s events. “I review in my mind innumerable projects, on a national scale, which KKL-JNF succeeded in carrying out for the people of Israel, thanks to Hadassah.”

According to Marlene Post, Hadassah Centennial conference co-chair and past Hadassah president, Hadassah’s relationship with the JNF is a really special one. “We have an incredible partnership that goes back to the days of Henrietta Szold. The leadership communicates frequently with one another and we try to support most programs that are being planned in the best way we can.

“We have Hadassah members who sit on the board of Keren Kayemet in Israel and in America. Hadassah has had two national presidents of JNF in America, one of whom was Charlotte Jacobson (z”l), the first woman president ever of JNF in America. For us, it’s a natural relationship. We talk about the people of Israel, we talk about the land of Israel, we have projects in Israel and we have American projects that are connected to Israel,” she said.

Stenzler mentioned some of the areas of cooperation between the two organizations, which have “completely changed the face of the country”.

KKL/JNF purchased the land on Mount Scopus upon which the Hadassah Medical Center was founded. This cooperation brought the establishment of Jerusalem’s first modern medical facility in 1938, marking the beginning of modern medicine in Israel.

“During the 1970s, we prepared large tracts of land, with Hadassah’s help, in the Arava. Today, the Arava is a flourishing area, which exports more than 60 percent of Israel’s fresh agricultural output,” he said.

Long before anyone used words like “ecology” and “environmentalism”, Hadassah women cooperated with KKL-JNF in forestation in Israel. In 1934, the partnership resulted in the planting of the Hadassah forest near Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim, and to date, with Hadassah’s help, KKL/JNF has planted more than 240 million trees in Israel, covering more than a million dunams.

Hadassah has enabled the KKL-JNF to make forests accessible to people with physical disabilities. Fighters’ Park in the Haruvit Forest near Kibbutz Kfar Menahem is one example, with paths, picnic tables and observation posts that are all wheelchair accessible.

“This is a very moving site, dedicated in its entirety to IDF disabled veterans,” Stenzler said. “This accessibility now accompanies us in all KKL-JNF forests.”

He spoke of Hadassah’s help in draining and drying the Hula Valley swamps and the re-flooding of part of the valley to create the Hula Lake and revive the nearly extinct ecosystem; the water reservoirs Hadassah helped construct; and the supply of special fire engines that can maneuver on forest paths and fight forest fires; and most recently, the Nahal Be’er Sheva River Park.

“There is much that KKL-JNF and Hadassah have in common. The path and the goal – that much is clear. But beyond this, both organizations seek to view the broader picture, and have the ability to fill in what it lacks. My wish for all of us is that this cooperation should continue. It is critical for the Israeli people and the Jewish nation as a whole,” concluded Stenzler.

Round robin at Hadassah Neurim

After the KKL-JNF presentation, delegates experienced the different youth projects, run as a round robin.

Young Judaea year-course participants explained a little about the program, taught delegates some Hebrew and had fun teaching them Israeli dancing. Three professors from Hadassah College Jerusalem gave lectures to the participants so they could be students for 20 minutes, and the residents of Youth Aliyah showed them around their dormitories, and spoke about their experiences and what Youth Aliyah has done for them. They also met with the students from Meya Shfeya Village who make wine at the new winery that has opened at the village. Photographic exhibitions depicting the history of Youth Aliyah were on display near the dormitories.

During the morning, the Hadassah New York Chapter held a ceremony at the Marlene Edith Post Athletic Center to dedicate the new sports equipment storage facility built next to the race track and sponsored by Ruth Gursky from New York.

Barbara Goldstein, deputy executive director of Hadassah Israel, opened the dedication ceremony. “Ruth wanted a place here [on Neurim] that saw some action because Ruth is a woman of action, and what better place than where all the equipment is stored and all the kids have to come all the time.

“Maybe, from this field, we will win an Olympics [event].” In fact, as was pointed out by Eli Wagner, supporter of Hadassah Neurim and Youth Aliyah: “We’ve just won two medals in the Olympian Championships (in Israel). So this goal doesn’t seem too far off.”

According to Wagner, every year, since Neurim has had this track and field, the students win 90% of all first and second places in the athletic track and field for High School in Israel. “These children had never won a medal in their lives. What gives them the confidence to compete and to meet today’s competition levels is this track and field. And every year, we are producing children here that are merging into our society, something that, without this [place], wouldn’t have happened because they were on the streets.”

An activity-filled convention

A march along the streets of Jerusalem with Hadassah donors, volunteers and members of the organization along with local supporters, to emphasize Hadassah’s partnership and relationship with the State of Israel, officially opened the three-day centennial convention. The march ended in Safra Square, where 2,000 people, wearing red Hadassah Centennial T-shirts and waving flags, were greeted by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

At the first gala evening, President Shimon Peres dedicated the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower at the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital campus in Jerusalem, Hadassah’s most ambitious project in Israel to date, at a cost of $363 million.

Peres and Hadassah President Marcie Natan also unveiled the Hadassah stamp and First Day Cover, produced in partnership with the Israel Postal Service in honor of Hadassah’s achievements and its centennial celebrations. The stamp features symbols of Hadassah’s activities in Israel, which together form a Magen David on a blue background with the Hadassah and Hadassah Medical Center emblems.

The convention also included the opening of the Hadassah Heritage Center, an interactive museum using advanced technology to feature the organization’s century of achievement, which is located in the lobby entrance to Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital adjacent to the Chagall windows. The exhibit is intended to keep the history alive while Hadassah moves into its next century of Tikkun Olam.