Hadassah Executive Director and CEO Janice Weinman spoke passionately at “Sustaining & Growing Our Jewish Institutions,” hosted by Hadassah Nassau at Temple Beth Sholom in Long Island, NY, on April 19. This year’s Myrtle Wreath Award, given in recognition of significant contributions to Jewish life, celebrated Janice Weinman, as well as Claudia Gould, executive director of the Jewish Museum, and Zalmen Mlotek, artistic director of the National Yiddish Theater-Folksbiene. The following are Janice's remarks.
In Her Own Words
On April 12th, 1951, the Knesset declared the 27th Day of Nissan as Yom Hashoah and in 1959 the Knesset legislated a national public commemoration of the day. As the only child of Holocaust survivors, the obligation to recapture the future that was lost for 6 million Jews runs deep through my veins, continually in my heart and profoundly through my soul.
Yom Ha’Atzmaut, according to Yitz Greenberg who I am quoting, “occurs one week away from Yom Hashoah, and nothing could more profoundly capture the fundamental relationship of the Holocaust and the state of Israel than that positioning. The State of Israel is not a reward or a product or an exchange for the Holocaust; it is a response. The Jewish people responded to the total assault of death by an incredible outpouring of life. The survivors came and rebuilt their lives. Jewish life was made precious again…”
I was four years old when I first went to Israel. I remember the smells of the dill and the salt of the ocean, I remember the big ice bar that my uncle and I carried in a pick from the market to his home, I remember the way my mother fell to her knees and kissed the ground when we landed on the tarmac. Since that day, my love of our homeland and my pride in the contribution that it has made to the world remain ever present in my being.
Yom Hazikaron, on the fourth of Iyar, the day preceding Israel’s Independence Day, was declared by the Israeli Knesset to be the Memorial Day for those who lost their lives in the struggle that led to the establishment of the State of Israel and for all the military personnel who were killed while in active duty in Israeli’s armed forces. Joining these two days together conveys a simple message: Israelis owe their independence and the very existence of the Jewish state to the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for it. For me, in the diaspora, this day not only symbolizes a recognition of the continued frailty of Jewish life but the need therefore to commit ourselves to the continuity of our people.
Most of you have been active in our organization for many years. You know of the satisfaction that Hadassah provides in seeing a building that serves thousands of people with medical needs rise to completion. You know of the gratification that occurs in supporting breakthrough research that would otherwise not be undertaken. You know of the pride that whelms up when we celebrate both here and in Israel Israel’s 70th Anniversary, HMO’s 100th anniversary and our school of nursing and ophthalmology department’s 100th anniversary.
Prior to my tenure at Hadassah I spent over 40 years pursuing a double track in my life – as a professional and as a volunteer. I simultaneously ran not-for-profit organizations while I paralleled that experience with a deep and abiding commitment to, and participation in, Jewish and pro-Israel causes. So, while I was the CEO of an organization called K.I.D.S. – which provides new product to families around the world – I also chaired the Board of the NY JCRC. While I served as the EVP of the College Board, I created and led an organization called Women4Women – an organization of Jewish women liaising with the wives of the UN Ambassadors to expose them to the values and life of American Jews.
Hadassah has provided me with unique and special opportunity to combine the professional experience that I have acquired with the satisfaction that comes from committing oneself to cause the way all of you in this room have done. It is the intersection of the two tracks that I pursued and the culmination of my love for Israel and sense of obligation to the continuity of Jewish life in the Diaspora.
Hadassah gives us an opportunity to sustain the health care system of Israel and thereby make life better for our brethren as well as for others. Hadassah provides us with the chance to ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten by being the organization to work with members of Congress to introduce a bill that will ensure that all students in America have the opportunity to avail themselves of resources and curricula that integrates lessons about the Shoah into their education. Hadassah offers us the unique mechanism to establish a bridge to peace through the care and treatment we provide all people. And, finally, Hadassah allows us to experience the privilege of peoplehood that links us to the past, present and future.
To me, the Myrtle Wreath Award embodies all of this. I am deeply humbled by the recognition, extremely moved by your consideration of me and very lucky to be part of this organization. Over 40 years ago I was married to my husband in this synagogue. As I was embraced by his family, so am I grateful to be part of Hadassah’s.
Thank you again for this very meaningful award.