Remarks at Kehillah Hadassah Donor Brunch, May 5, 2019
It’s my honor to be here today in support of Hadassah. I also extend my congratulations to Dodo Friedman, who is a devoted member of my synagogue, Congregation KTI. Dodo, I love seeing your quiet smile every Shabbat. It is my honor to be celebrated with you today and to be your rabbi.
When Kathy Salom asked me if I would agree to be honored this year, I immediately said yes. She thought that this chapter was merely honoring one of the new rabbis in the area. Little did she know that I have a longstanding personal connection to Hadassah. Five generations of women in my family, from my great-great grandmother to my sister, have been Life Members of Hadassah, and I am proud to be a Life Associate.
I grew up hearing stories about these women’s commitment to Hadassah, especially that of my great-grandmother Rita Oxman. We called her Nana and she and I had a wonderful relationship until she died when I was 13. Family lore has it that she would take her daughter, my grandmother, around in a baby carriage. Women would stop to admire the baby, and then Nana would get them to join Hadassah.
A generation later, my grandmother was very active in her local chapter in Philadelphia, and she would keep its belongings in her car. These included a portrait of Henrietta Szold that lived in their car trunk for months at a time. One day, she took my aunt to the central Hadassah office in Philadelphia, which had that same portrait of Szold on the wall. “We have her in our trunk!” my aunt exclaimed.
Because of their mother’s leadership in Hadassah, my mother and her siblings learned from an early age to answer the phone, “Chicken or fish?” as people called to RSVP for Hadassah events. I’m so pleased that my grandmothers, aunt, and mother are here today as the connection with Hadassah continues to the next generation.
My own connection to Hadassah was forged by reading every issue of my mother’s copy of Hadassah Magazine when I was a teenager, which connected me to Israel and to the broader Jewish world. I am also a graduate of JTS, the same institution where Henrietta Szold broke barriers by studying Jewish texts with men, on the condition that she not seek rabbinic ordination. During my rabbinical school year in Jerusalem, the wife of one of my classmates had her appendix removed. When I visited her at Hadassah Hospital I was very proud to know that generations of my family had supported and sustained that world-class facility.
So because of this long-standing connection, Daniel and I are proud to contribute to Hadassah on a regular basis. But I support Hadassah not only because of this family connection, but also because of my firm belief in the importance of Hadassah’s ongoing work. I want to highlight three aspects of Hadassah’s work that can teach all of us in the Jewish community how to achieve our goals and strengthen our communities.
The first is the importance of meaningful volunteer work. Hadassah has given generations of women meaningful opportunities to improve their communities and feel that they are joining with others to support a cause. Especially in its early decades and even now, Hadassah has empowered women in particular to take leadership in the Jewish community.
Voluntary work in the Jewish community enables all of us to use skills that otherwise lay dormant, and to forge deep bounds that allow us to be there for each other in good times and bad. In my first year with KTI, I’ve been so impressed and inspired by our dedicated volunteer leaders who donate their time and effort to keeping our synagogue strong and vibrant.
The second is a focus on practical problem-solving. While European Zionists were sitting in salons debating the theoretical foundations of a Jewish state, Hadassah women were busy stitching bandages and raising money to send to support the impoverished communities in the land of Israel. At a time when lots of flashy and so-called innovative projects get lots of attention and money, the legacy of Hadassah reminds us of our important responsibility as a Jewish community to make sure that the hungry are fed, the sick are healed, the young are educated, and the elderly can age with dignity.
To this day Hadassah remains true to its mission of providing world-class medical care and social services to everyone in need in Israel, regardless of background. Hadassah has not forgotten the basics and neither can we. In that respect, I am so proud of my synagogue’s excellent Early Childhood Program and Religious School, and charitable work in the community, through our support of the Food 2 Grow On program, the interfaith soup kitchen, and our Mitzvah Madness day of service.
Finally, we all can learn from Hadassah’s broad-minded love of all things Jews. From reading Hadassah magazine, I was introduced as a young person to an all-encompassing vision of Jewish life, which includes religion and spirituality, but also literature, politics, the Hebrew language, history, food, travel and the arts.
Hadassah celebrates the totality of our heritage and culture as Jews, and promotes a sense of responsibility and connection to all Jews everywhere, especially but not only in the State of Israel. Likewise, I am so proud of KTI’s efforts to instill an appreciation for our rich heritage, in particular through our electives in the Religious School, which use cooking, art, dance and drama to teach Jewish traditions and history.
These basic ideas behind Hadassah remain as inspiring today as they were more than a century ago when Henrietta Szold and other pioneering woman founded it. They provide instruction for us all as we work to sustain and grow our Jewish communities into the future.
Today we celebrate Rosh Chodesh Iyyar, the new month on the Hebrew calendar. On this day, we pray that are lives be renewed with “goodness and blessedness, joy and gladness, deliverance and consolation, sustenance and support, life and peace.” May Hadassah continue to experience all of these good things for many, many years. Thank you again for this honor.