“There were giants in the land at the time,” said Temple Emanu-El’s senior rabbi, David Posner, at the New York synagogue’s February 24 Sabbath service in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The biblical allusion was to modern-day “giant” and Hadassah founder Henrietta Szold, who on February 24, 1912, told a group of 38 women gathered at Temple Emanu-El: ‘If we are Zionists…what is the good of meeting and talking and drinking tea? Let us do something real and practical: Let us organize the Jewish women of America and send nurses and doctors to Palestine.’”
Following Posner, Hadassah’s president, Marcie Natan, addressed the congregation, which included daughters, granddaughters and great-granddaughters of original Hadassah members. “Our story begins in 1907, when Judah Magnes, rabbi of this congregation, suggested to a women’s study group that they invite Henrietta Szold to become a member…. Ask anyone in Israel — or even some of Israel’s critics — which institutions are known for making no distinction between the Jews, Muslims and Christians they serve. The top two names are likely to be Hadassah Hospital and Hebrew University.”
“I’d like to reference another date from 1912, one that is sadder and also universally remembered, that links this congregation to Hadassah,” Natan said. “On April 15, 1912, the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic. The list of those who perished included names from this congregation, names like Straus and Guggenheim. Isidor Straus was offered a place on a lifeboat but took the rule of ‘Women and children first’ seriously. His wife, Ida, refused to leave the ship without her husband. Isidor and his brother Nathan, co-owners of Macy’s, had traveled to Europe together. Instead of returning on the Titanic, Nathan went on to Palestine. When he learned of the selfless example set by his brother and sister-in-law, he resolved to devote the rest of his life to philanthropy. Nathan knew Hadassah’s founder, Henrietta Szold…. In November 1912 he offered to fund a medical clinic in Jerusalem if Hadassah could find a nurse to staff it and pay the nurse’s salary for five years. He estimated the five-year salary at $10,000. At the time, Hadassah had $283 in its treasury. Six weeks later, Straus sailed for Palestine with not one but two nurses dispatched and funded by Hadassah. That was the beginning of Hadassah’s medical mission.
“Between 1912 and 1948, Hadassah opened more than 130 hospitals, clinics, infant welfare stations and dispensaries in Palestine — a network that became the health care infrastructure of the emerging nation. I stand on the shoulders of 24 other women who have served as Hadassah’s national president over the last century. I want to thank the three past presidents who are with us: Ruth Popkin, Marlene Post and Nancy Falchuck.
Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, designated February 24 as Hadassah Day. The Sabbath service was led by Emanu-El’s cantor, Lori Corsin, cantorial intern David Mintz and the Emanu-El choir. Honored guests included Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and four of Szold’s grand- and great-grandnieces.
“For a speech to be immortal, it need not be eternal,” said Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, keynote speaker at the National Jewish Outreach Program’s 18th annual dinner, held at Grand Hyatt New York. “Shabbat is a gift of time, of spending time with family. It is not a day of denial. We rest on the seventh day so that our existence is not accidental but intentional.
“Freedom offers us an opportunity to respond to assimilation. In this country, we have the freedom and respect of non-Jews… to go out and speak of the beauty of Judaism…. God’s promise to the Jewish people was that we’d be an eternal people. I have no doubt the Jews will be an eternal people.” Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and a fourth-term senator, is also the author, with David Klinghoffer, of “The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath”(Howard Books, 2011). Many of the event’s 350 guests had brought along copies of the book for Lieberman to sign.
“When we started the National Outreach Program in 1987, we began sowing with tears, but we are now reaping joy,” said Ephraim Buchwald, NJOP’s founder and director. Citing escalating assimilation statistics, Buchwald declared: “Enough is enough! NJOP was established to address the issue of these spiraling losses of Jews from Jewish life due to assimilation and abysmal lack of Jewish knowledge. It was bleak. It was dark. It seemed hopeless. Now, 24 years later, we have reached more than 1, 300,000 North American Jews and engaged them in Jewish life. We are in 39 countries and in the U.S. operate in 4, 759 locations.” He touted NJOP’s expertise on Twitter and on the organization’s blog, Jewish Treats.
Rabbi Buchwald lauded NJOP benefactor Sam Domb, whom he has dubbed “NJOP’s Angel.” Domb, whose mantra is “Assimilation is the current Holocaust,” was born in Pultusk, Poland, and was 5 years old when a Nazi shot his mother as she carried him. Rescued by his father, he was later hidden by friendly Poles and reunited with his remaining family members. Buchwald noted that Domb’s philanthropy extends as far as Sri Lanka and “to other non-Jews who are in need.”
The evening’s honorees included Dr. David Samadi, who fled Iran after the overthrow of the shah. Samadi, who trained in surgery, urology and oncology, specialized in robotic radical prostatectomy and performed the world’s first 11 robotic da Vinci prostate surgeries. He is the vice chairman of the Department of Urology and chief of Robotics and Minimally Invasive Surgery at the Mount Sinai Medical Center, in New York.[ Samadi and his wife, Sahar Danielpour, who also attended the NJOP event, are active members of Temple Beth Shalom, in Roslyn, N.Y.