Annabelle Bienenfeld Yuval and National President Marcie Natan.
Annabelle Bienenfeld Yuval recently surprised her colleagues by stepping down from her long-held position as Hadassah's representative to the World Zionist Organization. "You have to know when to leave," said Yuval, a lively octogenarian who seems to know everyone by first name basis who passes the Jerusalem coffee shop where we're reminiscing. She served as Hadassah's rep for 22 years.
The WZO was founded in 1897 at the initiative of Theodore Herzl at the First Zionist Congress, in Basle, Switzerland. It aimed at promoting Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel, and boosting Zionist commitment around the world.. Hadassah holds a central position on this decision-making body, and Yuval—who lives in Jerusalem-- represented Hadassah on the key committees of finance, budget and audit. She was also a member of the planning committee of four World Zionist Congresses.
Such commitment is grounded in exposure to the best Jewish and Zionist educators of her time, she says. She was born in the West Side of Chicago to parents who emigrated from Eastern Europe. Her parents became glass contractors for the building trade. Among their suppliers were the Detroit-based Davidsons who owned Guardian Glass, the largest donors to the Sarah Wetsman Davidson Hospital Tower.
In 1937, when she was 11, the family business took them east to Hartford, CT.
"I was fortunate that we joined the Emanuel synagogue headed by Rabbi Morris Silverman, (an author and the editor of High Holiday Prayer Book, "Silverman Machzor" and the Sabbath and Festival Prayer Book which was also the official prayer book for the Conservative movement) and his wife Althea, a children's author. My Hebrew school teacher was from the family of Shalom Aleichem. She ran a Yiddish radio station and had me on a few times singing. We already had a Young Judaea chapter, and I was involved from the moment I arrived."
After enjoying the plethora of Jewish and Zionist exposure in Connecticut, when they had to move again, this time to Long Island, her mother carefully chose a community that would continue their family's growth. Their next Rabbi was the famous Professor Robert Gordis, founder of the first Jewish Day School and the President of the Rabbinical Assembly. "I learned from my mother that there's no replacement for fine Jewish leaders and educators," said Yuval.
When World War II loomed, her family sent affidavits to Europe to try and rescue their relatives, but their efforts weren't successful. "It was heartbreaking," said Yuval. "Both my mother and I became devoted to Youth Aliyah through Hadassah, and my father worked to help set up ZOA's youth village in Kfar Silver. People didn't have much money in those days, and we went door to door collecting dollars."
At 15, she was a leader in a combined chapter of USY and Young Judaea. Rabbi Gordis insisted that she add Hebrew School teaching her after school activities. Subsequently, Yuval won a competition to attend Brandeis Camp, an intensive Zionist experience in the Poconos. "The camp had famous names in Zionism education, Shlomo Bardin, and dance and music greats Fred Berk and Max Helfman, and it had a tremendous impact on me." When she began Hunter College in New York, she led campus Zionist activities, went to Israel for the first time, and became President of the Long Island region of Junior Hadassah, at a time when Junior Hadassah had 25,000 members, more than its older sister Hadassah.
That was also around the time, she recalls, that Golda Meir borrowed a million dollars from Hadassah to buy wheat for the fledgling State of Israel.
"In 1951, Ben Gurion came to the United States. I was involved in organizing the rally at B'nai Jeshuran synagogue. He said we all had to come to Israel, so we did," said Yuval.
So she packed her bags. Through Jerusalem roommates, she met the late Jerusalemite David Youlus, a sixth generation sabra, who'd fought in the Haganah. He worked in the State controller's office, and changed his name to the Hebrew Yuval when serving for Israel abroad. Annabelle Yuval, who graduated with degree in sociology, held different jobs and volunteer positions, a long-standing member on the committee for Meir Shefeya and the Hadassah Council, helping to set up Hadassah-Israel, serving as its president. Their married son and daughter live in Jerusalem, and two of their four grandsons are currently serving in the IDF.
For more than two decades, Yuval had the stamina to "attend a million meetings, taking notes, summarizing and adding ideas." He was also the Internal Comptroller of the Hadassah Medical Organization for many years, thus cementing another Hadassah connection for Annabelle. A true highlight of her work was attending the100th anniversary of the Zionist movement's founding in Basle. She's also proud of the modern, interactive Zionist museum on Mount Herzl that the WZO has created in recent years.
Looking back, she has no regrets about following her Zionist idealism to Israel. "My friends who didn't come are, on the whole, richer in money and property, but I have had the satisfaction of watching the State of Israel grow and prosper close up and personal."
Give me that old-time Zionism, anytime.