On Sunday morning we marked the beginning of a new week - and another new beginning - with the opening of the new entrance to the campus through the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower. When I arrived earlier, workmen were already beginning to dismantle the pedestrian bridge we have been using for so long.
About an hour later, we gathered at the far end of the commercial center where a ribbon had been stretched across the opening. The wall that had been there had been removed and we could see beyond the stairs and the two sets of escalators to the spacious and elegant corridor that brings people to the information center - and from there to different parts of the campus.
Surrounded by the dedicated people who had invested many hours of thought and planning in the entire Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower, I recited Shehecheyanu and cut the ribbon. Then I joined the people who were waiting patiently to enter - the first time the public has entered the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower. It was a very moving moment for all of us who have worked on our new building for so long - even though we were only opening a passageway and not the Davidson Tower itself. I thought back to the early days of this enormous undertaking.
The idea was proposed during Bonnie Lipton's administration. Under the dynamic leadership of June Walker, z"l, who succeeded her, the National Board approved the project and we began construction, which continued - on time and on budget - through Nancy Falchuk's term. Now we are nearing the home stretch, and Hadassah's new National President, Marcie Natan, will have the privilege of presiding at the dedication of the project her predecessors began and nurtured.
Today, July 29th will be the third anniversary of June's death; this year, the Hebrew date, the 26th of Tammuz, coincides with the English one, a fitting time to remember her and all she accomplished. The new entrance is more than a new way to access the campus. It is a passage from the past to the future. In many ways it is the embodiment of all June believed in, all she espoused and all she fought for.
Sunday's small ceremony reminded me of other ribbon-cutting occasions - the opening of Judy and Sidney Swartz Center for Emergency Medicine and the dedication of the Charlotte R. Bloomberg Mother and Child Center - when June Walker was with us to celebrate those Hadassah milestones. During those years, she was battling a recurrence of the cancer that would ultimately take her life, but she never displayed evidence of her pain - or the tremendous effort involved - as she served as Hadassah's National President and subsequently as President of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations - only the second woman in that organization's history to be named to that position.
It was June - with her broad professional medical knowledge - who advocated for a new inpatient tower - "a citadel of healing," she called it. And it was June who co-opted several stalwarts on the HMO Board to support her position, lobbying together for that most ambitious project.
"As a woman and lifetime activist, I bring to the table a pragmatic view of the world," June said in a newspaper interview when she assumed leadership of the Conference of Presidents. "I look to the end product and the way to achieve it. Rather than look at what divides us, I look for what unites us."
I came to know June when she served on the HMO Board as National Treasurer and even better during her tenure as National President. I saw how she pursued that "end product" with intensity and determination, sometimes under very difficult circumstances. But she tempered her energetic efforts with a healthy sense of humor, frequently turning tense moments into productive talks with her no-nonsense approach. "Leadership often means taking risks," she said, "being able to face criticism, developing vision and carrying through a project despite all complications."
In the midst of the campaign to build the Center for Emergency Medicine, she was already urging the HMO Board to enact the "Long Range Plan" presented a few years earlier. Her attitude toward her illness best sums up her attitude toward life. "In my experience, people take two approaches when learning they have cancer. They either make cancer the center of their lives or move ahead, determined not to allow the cancer to be any more than an unhappy detour."
For June, cancer was "an unhappy detour," one she confronted courageously while fulfilling the responsibilities she had assumed - always, always looking ahead. A week before she died, she presided over a farewell reception for outgoing Israeli U.N. Ambassador Dan Gillerman. Two days later, she chaired a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Once describing herself and her beliefs, June stated: "I am a Jew, and basically my motivation is the preservation of the Jewish people. To me, the most potent expression of that is the State of Israel. "Whether it be the concrete and mortar - or the theoretical building of minds, skills and self esteem though our various educational and youth programs - we are building for the future of our great organization and for the State of Israel," she said of her vision for Hadassah.
A focus on the future was a recurring recurrent theme of June's life. Her grandchildren, a constant presence at Hadassah National conventions, were actively involved in Young Judaea. As Chair of the Hadassah College Jerusalem, the students and staff were recipients of her resolve that Israel's young people receive an outstanding education - and with it, the opportunity for a meaningful career and a successful and satisfying life.
And it was through the Hadassah Medical Organization that June's vision for the future is being realized - the future of Hadassah, the future of Jerusalem, the future of Israel.
"Few dreamers get to see their see dreams fulfilled," she said when we cut the ribbon opening the Judy and Sidney Swartz Center for Emergency Medicine, "but for all of us privileged to have been dreamers and builders of the Center for Emergency Medicine, we are so blessed."
Sadly, June Walker will not be with us to see the fulfillment of her dream of a "citadel of healing" when we dedicate the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower in October 2012. Sadly she was not with us this week when we marked another new beginning. Yet, when we move in the first patients just 33 weeks from now, they and the medical staff that treats them, will be the beneficiaries of her accomplishments as a dreamer and a builder.
The Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower that stands tall at Hadassah-Ein Kerem is tribute to this remarkable woman, her strength and her perseverance.
Prof. Shlomo Mor-Yosef