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A Tribute to Hadassah from Ilana Beller, a current Year Course participant

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 Hadassah.

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.

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