Ruth Popkin, who served as national president of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, from 1984 to 1988, passed away on Friday, January 2, 2015 at the age of 101.
“We have lost a leader of great dignity and accomplishment,” said Marcie
Natan, Hadassah’s current national president. “Ruth was a pillar not only of Hadassah but also of the Zionist movement. We are grateful for her years of dedication, her passion for Israel and the example she set.”
During Mrs. Popkin’s presidency, Hadassah’s projects in Israel made advances that are still felt today. At the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, high technology gained momentum, reaching new frontiers in imaging and lasers, in transplant surgery and genetic engineering. Youth Aliyah took in its first wave of students from Ethiopia—students who were later helpful in absorbing a much larger wave of olim in the early 1990s. In America, Hadassah pressed forward in the struggle to repeal the UN resolution equating Zionism with racism—a campaign that came to a successful conclusion in 1991.
Prior to serving as national president, Mrs. Popkin had served as chair of the Hadassah Medical Organization. Among the other programs, projects and departments she chaired during more than 60 years of service to Hadassah were Youth Aliyah, Youth Activities, Fundraising and Purchasing and Supplies for Israel.
One of the things for which Mrs. Popkin is most remembered is serving as co-chair of Hadassah’s first National Convention in Israel, in 1978. Dubbed the “Convention Without Walls,” it was attended by more than 3,000 delegates who were transported on 65 buses to meetings and special events all over the country. She also served as co-chair of Hadassah’s 1977 convention in New York.
Mrs. Popkin was also active on the broader stages of the Jewish community and the Zionist movement. In 1987, she was elected Chair of the Presidium and President of the World Zionist Congress, the first woman ever to hold those positions. She served as a Hadassah delegate to seven Zionist Congresses, from 1966 to 2002.
Immediately after her presidential term at Hadassah, she served as president of the Jewish National Fund (1989-93).
Mrs. Popkin served as vice president of the National Jewish Community Relations Council (NJCRAC). She also held positions on the boards of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the American Zionist Movement, American Israel Friendship League, American Friends of the Hebrew University, United Jewish Appeal, Israel Bonds and Temple Israel of Great Neck. She participated in Hadassah study missions to the Soviet Union in 1966 and China in 1979. She returned to the Soviet Union in 1988 as part of a special mission to visit refuseniks.
Ruth Popkin was born Ruth Willon in Brooklyn. She studied philosophy at Brooklyn College and once worked as a buyer of coats and suits for Stern’s Department Store. In 1939, she married Morris Popkin.
Mrs. Popkin joined Hadassah in Brooklyn, where she was president of the Judith Group. After moving to Great Neck, Long Island, she served as president of the Great Neck Chapter and later of the Nassau Suffolk Region.
Along with her husband, who died in 1979, Mrs. Popkin was a major donor to Hadassah. The Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine has a Ruth and Morris Popkin Chair in Health Administration. There is also a stone-paved mall on the campus of the Hadassah Medical Center named for Morris Popkin. The dining room at the Hadassah Neurim Youth Village is named for Mrs. Popkin.
In addition to her husband, Mrs. Popkin was also predeceased by her daughter, Vicki Popkin. She is survived by her daughter Louise Popkin, son and daughter-in-law Michael and Lisa Popkin, and two grandchildren.