(February 27 – New York, NY) - Deborah B. Kaplan, 91, who served as the 20th national president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. (HWZOA) from 1991 to 1995, died peacefully on February 27 in Teaneck, New Jersey, announced her daughter Miriam Kaplan Aron, past president of Hadassah Northern New Jersey. Kaplan was also a passionate Zionist and active in the World Zionist Organization, the World Zionist Congress and the Jewish National Fund.
“We are deeply saddened by the loss of such a great leader,” said Ellen Hershkin, Hadassah’s current national president. “At the same time, we are thankful for the rich and committed life Debbie led. She was a passionate Zionist and became the matriarch of a family committed passionately to Israel and the Jewish people.” With 330,000 members, Associates and supporters, Hadassah is the largest Jewish women’s organization in the United States.
In 1995, at Hadassah’s national convention in Jerusalem, Mrs. Kaplan officially opened the Charlotte R. Bloomberg Mother & Child Center, an innovative pediatric treatment and research facility on Hadassah Hospital’s Ein Kerem campus. The center was named in honor of a longtime Hadassah activist and leader who was also the mother of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Prior to the opening, Mrs. Kaplan had been instrumental in the building of the center.
During Mrs. Kaplan’s four years as Hadassah’s 20th national president, the organization increased its concentration on women’s health and education, spoke out in favor of more AIDS research and advocated for U.S. loan guarantees for Israel. In 1992, she led more than 1,500 Hadassah members from across the United States in the “March for Women’s Lives” in Washington, organized by NOW.
As president, Mrs. Kaplan represented Hadassah numerous times at the White House, including at the signing of the first Israeli-Palestinian agreement in 1993 and at the signing of the peace treaty between Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel and King Hussein of Jordan in 1995.
Her election to Hadassah’s highest office followed decades of Zionist service and activism that began in her teens. In her native New Jersey, she was a leader in Hadassah’s youth movements -- Young Judaea and Junior Hadassah. She served as president of her local Hadassah chapter in Bayonne and later became president of Hadassah’s Northern New Jersey Region. Mrs. Kaplan also held many national Hadassah offices, including vice president and treasurer and was coordinator of the Fundraising, Education and Hadassah-International divisions.
Mrs. Kaplan was also active in the greater Zionist movement. She first served as a delegate to the World Zionist Congress in 1978; in 1987, she was elected to the Zionist General Council of the World Zionist Organization. Five years later she was elected a member of the Executive of the WZO and also assumed a leadership position on the Jewish Agency for Israel Board of Governors.
She served on the boards of many major organizations, including the American Friends for The Hebrew University and the Jewish National Fund.
After her term as president, Mrs. Kaplan remained active in Hadassah’s Leadership, serving as chair of Hadassah’s 90th anniversary celebration in 2002, of the Henrietta Szold Award Committee, of the Planned Giving and Estates Department and as Hadassah’s Jewish National Fund chair. Over the years, she also demonstrated her commitment to future leadership by mentoring young and future members of Hadassah’s National Board.
In 2006, after rocket fire from Hezbollah in Lebanon sparked widespread forest fires in northern Israel, Mrs. Kaplan led Operation Northern Renewal to help the Jewish National Fund rebuild in the areas affected. Part of the operation was the gift of a fire truck to the JNF firefighting center at Hatzor HaGlilit.
In recognition of her leadership, the conference and play area at Hadassah Hospital’s Mother & Child Center was named in Mrs. Kaplan’s honor, as was the sports center at the Meir Shfeyah Youth Village.
Mrs. Kaplan was born February 8, 1926 and raised in Jersey City, New Jersey. She spent her adult life in neighboring Bayonne. Her husband, Aaron Kaplan, died in 2007. She was predeceased by two sons, David and Philip. She is survived by her daughter and son-in-law, Miriam and Marc Aron, nine grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America, Inc. (HWZOA) is the largest Jewish women’s organization in the United States. With 330,000 members, associates and supporters Hadassah brings Jewish women together to effect change and advocate on critical issues such as medical care, research and women's empowerment. Through the Hadassah Medical Organization's two hospitals, the world-renowned trauma center and the leading research facility in Jerusalem, Hadassah supports the delivery of exemplary medical research and patient care to over a million people every year. HMO serves without regard to race, religion or nationality and earned a Nobel Peace Prize Nomination in 2005 for building “bridges to peace” through equality in medical treatment. For more information, visit www.hadassah.org.