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Hadassah celebrates its centennial in Jerusalem

 Chapters from all across Connecticut join the party

By Stacey Dresner and Cindy Mindell

Hadassah’s Greater Hartford Chapter at the gala. (Front row, l to r): Renee Schwartz, Glen and Deborah Rosenfeld, Faith Helene; (back row, to to r): Jessica Borden, Howard and Barbara Nair, Larry and Edythe Weiss.

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 members of local Connecticut chapters were right there in the middle of it all.
They were among Hadassah members from around the U.S. who traveled to Israel for the celebration commemorating 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 $363-million Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower at Hadassah Medical Center’s Ein Kerem campus.
In all, more than 70 members and associates of the Connecticut Region attended, including several multi-generational families, says regional president Connie Freeman. Chapters represented were Cheshire, Eastern Connecticut, Fairfield, Glastonbury, Greater Hartford, Manchester, Meriden-Wallingford, Norwalk, Shoreline, Stamford, Wepawaug (New Haven area), and Westport.
The convention’s opening ceremony on Oct.  16 in Jerusalem’s International Convention Centre featured a multi-media presentation that showcased the history of Hadassah and its accomplishments, and included a century-spanning tribute to the nurses of Hadassah. That evening, President Shimon Peres welcomed the group to Israel and unveiled the new 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.”
Every year, Hadassah holds its convention in a different city, usually in the U.S. “This year in Jerusalem, the focus was not to sit in a convention center but to get inspired by visiting Hadassah projects all over the city and outside Tel Aviv,” says Westport resident Joyce Backman. “To see the tangible results of all of our efforts in play was truly motivating and energizing.”
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, molecular medicine, and gene therapy. It features advanced imaging in operating rooms, robotics and computer-guided surgery, cutting-edge monitoring, and telemedicine.

Connecticut Region delegates meet up at Jerusalem’s Prima Kings Hotel.
(l to r) Edythe Weiss of West Hartford, Pennie Branden of Cheshire, Connecticut Regin President Connie Freeman, Sheila Horvitz of Colchester, and Barbara Nair of West Hartford

“My best moment was walking into the new Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower Hospital,” says Backman. “Countless hours of volunteer work paid off when I entered the large, sunny, beautiful lobby. Six years ago it was a dream to build a new hospital. I am extremely fortunate to see the dream turn into a reality.”
After touring the new medical tower, Hadassah members donned their red t-shirts, met in the center of Jerusalem, and marched to Safra Square, site of Jerusalem’s city hall, where they were greeted by the city’s mayor, Nir Barkat.
“I was able to see the ends to my hard work,” says Nancy Walzer of Westport  “The programs and new tower made me feel so great about all the silent auction items I’ve collected, the events I’ve planned, and all the nagging I’ve done to get my husband, Adam, to help me with the brochures, signs, and a life-size Henrietta Szold for our chapter’s fall fundraiser last year. I am so glad I went to Jerusalem; the experience really opened a new chapter in my life.”
On the third day of the conference, the group visited Hadassah-sponsored youth aliyah villages.
“Our visit to the Hadassah Neurim Youth Village near Netanya helped us understand Hadassah’s role in rescuing, safe-guarding, and educating youth disadvantaged and ravaged by war, dislocation and poverty,” says Sheila Horvitz of the Eastern Connecticut chapter. “Some of the residents of this village are winning the highest awards in sports competitions in Israel and around the world.”
“This Hadassah convention had a different feel to it than ones in the past,” says Sally Kleinman of Westport. “For one, my husband Larry accompanied me, which was truly wonderful because he got to see first-hand what it is that we work so hard to support. To be in Jerusalem after a nine-year hiatus was simply wonderful. The city is so vibrant and beautiful and special. I got a chance to see things that last time either weren’t there — the Herzl Museum, via the new light rail, for instance – or were not safe or accessible – the Mount Scopus Hadassah campus and East Jerusalem. And instead of just watching a video or seeing a live feed from Israel, as is typical of Hadassah conventions, we were able to experience Hadassah projects in person.”

Hadassah’s Stamford Chapter co-presidents Sandy Speter and Jody Maxner at Safra Square

On the final evening, the group headed again to the International Convention Centre to attend the gala “Founders Dinner,” where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was honored with the Henrietta Szold Award. One by one, members took the microphone to pledge even more money to Hadassah Hospital. Nearly $18 million was raised that evening alone.
“It was inspiring to visit Hadassah’s projects in Israel, receive praise from Israeli leaders, be warmly welcomed by the people of Jerusalem as we marched through the city, and be treated like dignitaries at the airport,” says Jessica Borden of the Greater Hartford chapter. “At the Hadassah business meeting during the convention, we affirmed women’s rights to pray as they choose and we reaffirmed that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and urged the United States government to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. I am proud to be a member of Hadassah.”
Regional president Connie Freeman attended the convention with her husband, two sisters and parents. “On our way to the opening ceremony at Safra Square, I was privileged to walk with my family and especially my 91-year-old mother, Lilli Cirillo, who inspired me by her commitment to join Hadassah in the first place.”
For Horvitz, the experience was a homecoming of sorts. “As I approached the golden city of Jerusalem in the van from the airport, my cell phone rang; it was my dear Israeli friend, Dr. Nimrod Scheinman, who immediately greeted me with, ‘Welcome home!’” she says. “Meeting Hadassah members from all over the world – including Wellington and Auckland, New Zealand – and seeing the high spirit and diversity of Israeli society and life, made the convention week stimulating, inspirational, and terrific fun. It was just great to go ‘home.’

Members of the Connecticut Region will celebrate Hadassah’s Centennial and share convention experiences on Sunday, Dec. 9, 2 p.m., at the JCC of Greater New Haven, 360 Amity Road, Woodbridge. For information call (203) 230-1980 or email cfreeman@hadassah.org.

Comments? Email staceyd.jewishledger.com or cindym@jewishledger.com.

Hadassah’s Westport chapter members in the lobby of the sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower (l to r): Sally Kleinman, Nancy Wahler, Joyce Backman and Claudia Cohen at the opening ceremony in Safra Square.

Connecticut Region delegates touring the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Tower

Sally and Larry Kleinman of Westport pointing to their names, indicating their gift
to the Hospital Tower.

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