Yesterday, I found
myself on a hill in Jerusalem, placing a piece of rosemary on the the grave of
a woman I had never met, and just an hour before knew nothing about, and
thinking, “Thank you for my identity, my friends, and my future.”
Who is this woman, who has long been gone, and how does she
touch the life of an 19 year old girl from New Jersey so deeply? Her name was
Henrietta Szold, and she was a smart, strong, independent woman, who founded an
important group of women in a time when women were often disregarded. This group was and still is called
My connection with Hadassah, and unbeknownst to me, my
connection with Szold's legacy began when I was a very young girl, when my
mother, another smart, strong, independent woman got involved in Hadassah. Even at my young age I saw the
importance of the work that the women of Hadassah do for Israel, Zionism, and
Jewish youth. Every year they work tirelessly, always with spirit and a smile,
raising massive amounts of money to fund two hospitals in Israel, that are
amongst the most advanced in the world.
They also fund programs helping youth in Israel including a village for
children who do not have homes, and a college, and they fund zionist programs
for youth in America.
However, it was not until the summer of 2002 that Hadassah
truly, cliché as it sounds, changed my life. I was 11 and it was my first time at sleep away camp. My mother, ever more involved in
Hadassah, decided I would go to a Young Judaea camp, funded by none other than
Hadassah. Walking into camp that
first day, I would never have guessed that my next 7 summer would be spent in
YJ camps, and eventually a YJ summer program in Israel. I would never have guessed that I would
find people that I had so much in common with, that I would meet my best
friends there. At Young Judaea
camps I made connections with other Jewish kids, something that wasn't possible
at my 98% secular public school.
At Young Judaea camps I learned about peer leadership, Jewish identity,
and the importance of supporting Israel.
I came to see the beauty in Shabbat,in Hebrew songs and the Hebrew
language. Every year I came home
and tried to get my family to see the beauty of Shabbat too, and taught them
the values I learned. Every year
when I came home they commented on how much more grown up I seemed. At some
point in my life, YJ became my connection to Judaism. Eventually I would write
college essays about YJ, convince my brother to go to YJ camps, and build much
of my identity on values I learned in YJ.
This year I am on Young Judaea Year Course, a 9 month gap
year program in Israel, with the same best friends that I made so many years
ago in sleep away camp. I am a
strong, smart, independent woman just like my mom and Henrietta Szold. I am, in typical YJ style, volunteering
as much as possible-- working with the sudanese population, working on
Ambulances, and now, working at Hadassah hospital, volunteering in the labor
and delivery ward. I am considering
being a doctor in the future. My
experiences volunteering in different medical positions throughout this program
have not led me to a conclusion on whether or not I want to be a doctor.
However, I do know that no matter what I do after this year, I need to continue
volunteering and helping people, because those experiences are some of the best
I have had on this program.
Yesterday, we had “Hadassah Day.” We visited the Hadassah Hospitals, and, more significantly
for me, Szold's grave. We heard
the story of her life and Hadassah.
As her story was told, it became clear to me just how much I owe to this
woman, now a stone surrounded by a rosemary bush. My experiences, my future, my summers, my friends, my daily
work at the hospital, and my values stemmed from this woman's work. So, thank you Henrietta. You were a
woman who's legacy has saved, bettered, and touched truly millions of lives,
whether in hospitals, colleges, or summer programs. I am proud to be one of
those millions, and so from one smart, strong woman to another, thank you.