We Mourn the Passing of Bernice S. Tannenbaum z"l

Monday, Apr 6 2015

Bernice S. Tannenbaum, who served as National President of Hadassah, the Women's Zionist Organization of America, from 1976 to 1980, and who later founded Hadassah International, passed away April 6. She was 101.

"We mourn the loss of a great leader not only of Hadassah but of the Jewish people," said Marcie Natan, Hadassah's current national president. "Bernice was one of the most beloved and productive Hadassah figures of the past half century. She was a tower of strength and a fount of wisdom. The legacy of accomplishment and inspiration that she leaves is immeasurable."

Mrs. Tannenbaum's service to Hadassah, Israel and the Zionist movement spanned nearly seven decades. During her presidency, she initiated the practice of Hadassah periodically holding its annual convention in Israel, convening the first such Jerusalem gathering in 1978. She also launched Hadassah's first strategic planning initiative, resulting in key structural changes that affected the organization for many years and an approach to governance and innovation which guides Hadassah to this day.

From 1980 to 1984, Mrs. Tannenbaum served as chair of the Hadassah Medical Organization. In 1983, she founded Hadassah-International, transforming Hadassah from a U.S.-based Zionist movement into a global network that is currently represented in 21 countries. She served as international coordinator of Hadassah International for 10 years.

After the United Nations General Assembly approved Resolution 3379, equating Zionism with racism, in 1975, pro-Israel groups around the world, supported by the American government and many others, mobilized to have the resolution overturned. Mrs. Tannenbaum spearheaded the U.S. campaign for repudiation, which came to a successful conclusion in 1991 when the UN repealed the resolution.

In 2000, Mrs. Tannenbaum played a central role as spokesperson for Hadassah's successful campaign to achieve NGO consultative status in the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

By the time she took on the campaigns against Resolution 3379 and in support of Hadassah's NGO bid, Mrs. Tannenbaum was a veteran activist in international circles. She represented Hadassah and the World Jewish Congress at the UN Mid-Decade Conference for Women held in Copenhagen in 1980 and the End-of-Decade Conference for Women held in Nairobi in 1985.

Mrs. Tannenbaum co-chaired the Strategic Study Research Committee on Hadassah's Israel projects, which led to the creation of the Hadassah Foundation in 1998. The purpose of the Foundation was to provide funding to initiatives that share Hadassah's mission but are beyond the scope of its projects. Mrs. Tannenbaum served for many years as the Foundation's liaison to the Hadassah National Board.

Beyond Hadassah, Mrs. Tannenbaum held a variety of leadership positions. She was elected twice as Chair of the American Section of the World Zionist Organization, serving from 1982 to 1992. She was a delegate to every World Zionist Congress from 1956 to 2010 and was named an Honorary Fellow of the WZO.

She was co-president of the World Confederation of United Zionists for 15 years, after which she became honorary president. She served as vice president and national secretary of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, vice president of the United Israel Appeal and National Vice President of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

Among the many Hadassah projects and departments Mrs. Tannenbaum chaired were Youth Aliyah, Zionist Affairs, Hadassah Magazine, Membership Division and Press/Radio/TV. She also served terms as Hadassah's National Secretary and National Vice President.

More than any particular post she held, however, Mrs. Tannenbaum was most frequently lauded by people who knew her as a mentor, counseling women at all levels of involvement in Hadassah, from upcoming leaders to those who succeeded her as National President.

Beginning in 1997, Mrs. Tannenbaum chaired the project to update, publish and then disseminate the definitive history of Hadassah. The book, It Takes a Dream, was written by Marlin Levin and published in English and Hebrew. It has been updated and reprinted multiple times.

In Israel, the Bernice S. Tannenbaum Day Center in Kiryat Shemona is named in Mrs. Tannenbaum's honor. The Tannenbaum Conference Hall at the at the Ein Kerem campus of the Hadassah Medical Organization in Jerusalem is named in honor of Mrs. Tannenbaum and her late husband, Nathan Tannenbaum.

In 2003, Mrs. Tannenbaum received Hadassah's highest honor, the Henrietta Szold Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service. Other recipients of the award, established in 1949, have included Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Golda Meir, Yithzak Rabin, Shimon Peres and Elie Wiesel.

In recognition of Mrs. Tannenbaum's lifetime of service to Hadassah, Israel and the Jewish people, in 2009 the Hadassah Foundation established the Bernice S. Tannenbaum Prize, which recognizes innovative contributions to advance the lives of women and girls in Israel and the United States.

Mrs. Tannenbaum was born Bernice Franklin and raised in Brooklyn, NY. She studied at Brooklyn College, earning a bachelor's degree in English literature and art. She joined Hadassah in 1944 and was a founder of the Kew Gardens Chapter in Queens, NY, eventually becoming the chapter's president. She later became president of the Long Island Region and, as a result of Hadassah's rapid growth, helped divide the region into the Queens and Nassau-Suffolk Regions.

Mrs. Tannenbaum's first husband, Hyman Salpeter, died in 1969. They had one son, Richard, who died in 2003.

In 1975, she married Mr. Tannenbaum. He died in 1991.

Mrs. Tannenbaum is survived by her daughter-in-law Deanna Salpeter Warshauer, three grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

If you so wish, please send cards and certificates to her granddaughter:
Ellen Salpeter
120 Central Park South
Apt 14A
New York, NY 10019

Click here to send a Hadassah Certificate in memory of Bernice Tannenbaum


From: Cheryl Silverman on August 5, 2015
I recently learned about the passing of an incredible and beloved woman, Bernice Tannenbaum, who I had the great pleasure of knowing and working with during my tenure at Hadassah International. Bernice Tannenbaum was a great leader among the American Jewish community. She was a role model, an inspiration to me – a brilliant, selfless, humble, kind and generous person to all. We worked together on creating a publication about Hadassah International’s founding and early days. I remember listening to her stories in awe, one about how Einstein didn’t like shoes and wore slippers all the time. I encouraged her to write her autobiography – I wish she did- but she preferred to focus on her commitments to Hadassah. She was modest, unassuming and always approachable; yet she knew prime ministers, world leaders…even Eleanor Roosevelt. Her passing will be a great loss to Hadassah, but her spirit, love and commitment for Israel and the Jewish people will live on in the work of the organization she loved so much-besides her wonderful family. I am saddened that she is no longer with us. She was a great woman – and there are not too many around like her. I feel privileged to have known her and call her my friend. I love you Bernice and will miss you greatly. May her memory be but a blessing to her family and all those whose lives she touched.
From: Bruce Weiner on April 7, 2015
Bernice was a great friend to my aunt, Ruth Saltzman. I feel honored to have met her in Israel, when I had lived there. May her memory be a blessing to all.
From: Judy on April 7, 2015
She was sui generis. An inspiration to many, a friend and a mentor, The greats are passing...are we prepare to carry on her legac?t
From: Norman Lipoff on April 7, 2015
Bernice was a totally committed Zionist ,who spoke softly but was strong and steadfast in her positions for the benefit of Israel.I had the privilege of working with her at the Jewish Agency,UIA and JTA. I join in expressing my regrets to her family and all who knew and worked with her.
From: Lauren on April 7, 2015
Bernice's life and death inspire us to continue to care about and to act with passion to protect and nurture the people, places and values we love .Her life is an example and I feel privileged to have been a small part of the work she and Hadassah do.
From: Sharon Blumberg on April 6, 2015
What an amazing, dynamic accomplished woman! I feel honored & blessed to have met her & heard her speak about our great organization, Hadassah. My sympathies to her family & all that knew & loved her.
From: Shaena Grossman on April 6, 2015
I am honored to have worked as the Hadassah Foundation's Administrative Assistant, carrying out Bernice's vision to advance the life's of women & girls in the US & Israel. May her memory be a blessing.
From: Dorothy Bienen on April 6, 2015
What an accomplished woman...who, I am sure is leaving an incredible legacy to her family! May you always find strength and comfort in her accomplishments!
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