By Cindy Mindell ~
Connie Freeman is quick to point out that Hadassah was founded eight years before the Nineteenth Amendment granted American women the right to vote. “This is an organization that empowered women at a time when they had no power,” she says.
Freeman is president of Hadassah’s Connecticut Region, a cluster of 19 chapters, 7,200 members, and 745 associates.
Hadassah began with two nurses providing healthcare in the fledgling Jewish settlement of Palestine; today, Connecticut Hadassah still counts many nurses among its membership, Freeman says. Members range from 30-somethings to 60-year veterans, women who work outside the home, stay-at-home moms, and retirees; representatives of every Jewish denomination.
Joyce Backman of Westport, a nurse by profession, was made a life member by her grandmother on the occasion of her son’s birth, 16 years ago. “My grandmother was a life member and loved Hadassah and wanted me to love Hadassah,” Backman says. It wasn’t until she and her family moved from New Jersey to Westport in 2000 that Backman became active in the organization. “My realtor said that it’s a nice group of women and that I would make friends,” she says. “She was right.”
That new social connection turned into something deeper when Backman was invited to Hadassah’s national convention in New York City by fellow chapter members Susie Blumenfeld and Ilene Frost.
“As I sat there listening to people whose lives were saved by Hadassah Hospital during the second Intifada, I became passionate,” she says. “As a nurse, I always wanted to make a difference. Hadassah gives me the opportunity to do something amazing that helps lots of people.”
“The thing that connects people to Hadassah is that it’s a hands-on effort,” Freeman says.
The intent, simply, is to improve lives around Connecticut and in Israel and beyond. For two years and 2,500 volunteer hours, the Stamford chapter has hosted a regular Tea at Two on the Stamford Hospital oncology floor, serving tea and home-baked desserts to patients and their families and caregivers. Elsewhere, members of the Westport chapter pack and deliver Necessities Bags to women scheduled for mastectomy surgery, volunteer at the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield, and collect books and sports equipment for under-served youth in Bridgeport.
Recent community-wide events, sponsored or co-sponsored by the Stamford chapter, included panel discussions on the legal and medical options for those caring for aging parents, and on Jewish genetic diseases and genetic testing.
As its gift to the organization, Connecticut region members created a “traveling road show,” as Freeman describes it, including an interactive educational presentation on the history of Hadassah – from early milk stations for infants to cutting-edge medical clinical trials – presented in the context of parallel world events.
“I’ve grown so much as a person through Hadassah,” says Backman, who serves as co-president of the Westport chapter and treasurer of the Connecticut Region. “I’ve led 50 women from Connecticut through the U.S. Capitol to meet with senators and Congressional representatives for Hadassah’s Day on the Hill. I’ve been to Hartford to encourage our representatives to vote for stem cell research. I’ve been to Israel with a group of young women leaders from all over the U.S. I’ve been in the same room as Prime Minister Netanyahu, listening to him speak, along with many prominent Israeli and American leaders.”
The Connecticut Region will host a Chai Tea culminating event on Dec. 9 at a central location to be announced, where members will share stories from Hadassah’s Centennial year and engage in community service projects.
Among the Centennial celebrations and commemorations, the organization has compiled “100 Things to Do,” a list of tzedakah suggestions using 100 as a theme: collect 100 boxes of food, donate 100 trees to Jewish National Fund, knit 100 hats to send to soldiers.