This Shabbat marks Tu B'shvat. A glorious week of sunshine has followed the rain and snow of last week, so it's a perfect week to enjoy the glories of nature. Our earliest memories are about the trees of Israel, holding the soil, producing fruit. Trees were cut down all over the land by the Turks who used the wood to build a railroad. One of the first projects of the Jewish people returning to the land was tree-planting. Hadassah is the largest organizational partner of JNF, planting tree by tree, holding the soil, greening the planet. Israel is the only country that finished the last century with more trees than we began it with. On Tu B'shvat, the 15th of the Hebrew month,the fruit trees flower. No fruit yet. This is the promise that fruit will come, and we celebrate the beauty and the promise. How proud are we of the instant support of Hadassah members and others who have joined us in planting the thousands of trees in the Beersheva River Park in memory of the children and staff murdered in Newton, CT. Fittingly, National President Marcie Natan, planted a mulberry tree.
Read more about the trees here>>
No subject dominated Israeli news in recent weeks. We Israelis all got the day off on Tuesday. If that sounds excessive, remember that most Israelis grew up in homelands where free voting wasn't routine. You could vote for the single candidate running! So when I lined up to vote in a neighborhood school in Jerusalem, I was thrilled to see Natan Sharansky in line. Now he's the Chairperson of the Jewish Agency, but we all remember when he was a Prisoner of Zion in the former USSR. I couldn't resist mentioning it to him, and also wishing him a Happy Birthday. He just turned 65. Waiting in line to vote with him was the ultimate Zionist experience. I was ahead of him in line, and was gone by the time Hadassah Offices in Israel Deputy Director Barbara Goldstein showed up to vote. She saw Sharansky and said the same thing I did to him. He must have said he was having an ultimate Hadassah Barbara experience.
The election results just go to prove you shouldn't take polls or pundits too seriously!
POLLIN CARDIOVASCUAR WELLNESS INSTITUTE TO OPEN
Meet Dr. Donna Zfat-Zwas: Director of the Linda Joy Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Institute at Hadassah.
Her family's history can be traced back 300 years to the mystical city of Safad. Her parents both escaped Hitler and met in the Lower East Side of New York. She was raised in Michigan, and graduated from Barnard College and Harvard Medical School. Dr. Danna Zwas, her husband and children made Aliyah five years ago from Philadelphia, where she was the director of the echocardiography laboratory at Jefferson University Hospital.
"We're Zionists, so we moved to Israel," says Dr. Zwas, 49 and a mother of four, married to Jonathan Huppert who heads the Clinical Psychology Department at the Hebrew University. "I went into cardiology because we often make very ill people better.
Now that I have seen so much suffering, I want to make sure that they don't need ever need me.."
In the last decade, American physicians and patients have become far more aware of the risks to women from heart disease, said Dr. Zwas. "Visionaries like Irene Pollin have been instrumental in making a difference. In Israel, even with advanced medicine, we're behind in terms of raising the consciousness of women and even many physicians."
In October, Hadassah announced a new $10 million gift from Irene Pollin, founder and chairman of Sister to Sister, for a cardiovascular wellness center at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Hadassah and Sister to Sister also will collaborate to raise heart health awareness in Israel and the United States.
Building on Hadassah's past experience in public health, Dr. Zwas is collaborating with the Fleishmann Women's Health Center at Hadassah, with chief dietician Dorit Adler, and with experts in public health at the Braun School.
Multiple projects are in the works. One project is being developed for 3500 East Jerusalem school children and their mothers. It will focus on keeping hearts healthy with good nutrition and exercise. Other programs are being developed in the Haredi community, in the disabled community, and through the employee health programs at Hadassah.
"Women often blame new problems like shortness of breath on gaining weight, when it's their heart that needs attention," said Dr. Zwas. "They also take longer to get to the emergency room when they are experiencing a heart attack. They are reluctant to come, embarrassed, unwilling to trouble their family members, or worried sure that their complaints will be dismissed. You should never be embarrassed to check on your heart."
"Women-whether from Russia or Ethiopia-and mothers of large families-whether Jewish or Arab-often fail to pursue their own health issues," said Dr.Zwas. "Sometimes it's a question of language and culture, and other times they're so busy taking care of everyone else that they neglect their health. We're determined to come up with solutions, and to design programs that fit into the busy lives of women."
HADASSAH WUJS OFFERS POST-COLLEGE GAP YEAR IN AMAZING TEL AVIV
The World Union of Jewish Students program is run by Young Judaea
David Walsh, 27, from England, wanted to spend concentrated time in Israel.
The opportunity provided by WUJS-Hadassah to live in Tel Aviv work as an intern in the Counterterrorism Institute for five months suited him perfectly, particularly because he speaks Turkish. What he hadn't counted on was the pleasure of bonding with 40 other young people who had come on WUJS-Hadassah with their own personal agendas. "I thought I'd be a loner, do my own thing, but the social side of meeting all these fabulous fellow-travelers way exceeded my expectations." Andrea Nathan, 23, of Massachusetts is interning in Tel Aviv, with a company called Good Vision, which is a Corporate Social Responsibility consulting firm. "At my job I do everything from research/bench-marking to summarizing articles to making presentations to clients at meetings. This area of work was completely new to me but has come to be the best internship I have ever had.
I decided to come to Israel on WUJS because I had heard that they offer you the freedom you want and the support you need when moving to a new place.
There was also Aaron Friedman, a chef from New York, who came "to step out of his comfort zone" in the city where he'd grown up. He interned in the David's Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv. "I learned kosher cooking and Middle Eastern flavoring, but this went beyond professional training, to absorbing Israeli culture.
Karen Ben-Hur, 23, of Cincinnati ,a professional cosmetician, had the opportunity to learn stage make-up in Israel's famed Cameri Theater. "Not only have I expanded my professional abilities, but I've expanded my horizons vis a vis life outside the US and Israel.
All agreed they would definitely recommend WUJS to anyone looking for an unique experience; whether you're a post-graduate not ready to settle down, someone who feels stuck and is in need of a change or someone interested in making Aliyah.
Learn more about WUJS Israel here>>
When the school year began after the holidays at Hadassah College, public relations-intern Beth Zuckerman visited. She knows the campus well. As a young immigrant with a BA in History and Judaic studies as well as a master's of science in organizational behavior, she took the 2010 course to improve her Hebrew and continue to help her acclimate to Israeli society.
"Maybe I gravitated to those who weren't born in Israel because I'm always interested in the process of absorption," said Zuckerman.
Here is her special report:
"There is much discussion in Israel today about the haredi (ultra-orthodox) community's relationship with wider society, as well as about strategies for their integration into it. I know that Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem aims to play a central role in the city's education, including in educating the city's large haredi population."
Netanel Ya'acob is haredi, a 28-year-old alumnus of the prestigious Mir yeshiva. He is also a magna cum laude student at Hadassah Academic College's program for a Bachelor of Science degree in biotechnology.
Ya'acobi was born in Jerusalem's Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus and was raised in a haredi part of the city. However, unlike many of his neighbors, Ya'acobi's family encouraged him to study. "I did not attend a haredi primary or secondary school," he relates, "instead I studied at the Horev School, an academically rigorous institution affiliated with the 'national religious' (modern orthodox) community."
"I am frequently asked how I could manage to pursue a degree within my community.
"In Jerusalem there aren't any other biotechnology programs, and its location a few minutes' walk from the city center is also close to my home and yeshiva." During his first year at the College, Ya'acobi also elected to continue at the yeshiva part-time.
The three-year curriculum includes courses in molecular biology, DNA analysis, molecular genetics, bioinformatics, drug design, immunology, and microbiology. The program bills itself as "combining academic skills with practical applications of theoretical knowledge."
Ya'acobi also stresses that he and other students appreciate the extensive practical experience that the school allows them.
Hadassah Academic College's roots lie in its beginnings as a technical college and practical education is still a core value.
Ya'acobi is currently working on his graduating thesis in the field of "protein quality control" (PQC at a laboratory on the Hebrew University Giv'at Ram campus. He hopes to continue his education after Hadassah, and he is aiming for both MSc and PhD.
Ya'acobi points to the school's diverse and open atmosphere as being another of its attributes.
"For me, being one of the only haredim in my major is sometimes very difficult, but I like the challenge. It's good to see the 'real world,' to find out how secular people view politics and the country; how they view haredim. Here we all work together, secular and haredi, men and women, Jews, Christians and Muslims."
"The students all get to know each other because we understand that we will spend the next three years together. We get along and make it our business to say, 'hi, I'm Galit,' or 'hi, I'm Ahmed,' and to do our homework together or to be in lab together."
Ya'acobi was recently called upon to assist the College with its new campus geared towards the haredi community.
"I believe that the lack of haredim in the sciences is in part caused by academic barriers and the lack of English coupled with social stigmas.
"Some of my Arab peers tell me that they did not speak English until 18 years-old, but were able to fix that in Hadassah's Mehina pre-academic preparatory program."
"I know that this, and that Hadassah, can be part of a solution for haredim too."
From Dublin to Jerusalem
Zak Yitro, a 25 year-old artist studying at Hadassah Academic College, made his way to Israel's capital from Ireland's. Born and raised in Dublin, he contributes his ongoing success as a new immigrant in Israel to his choice of study at the College. Yitro is the product of a traditional Jewish upbringing. His family emigrated from Ireland to Manchester, England, when he was ten years old. While in England, Yitro "got the Zionist bug" while attending schools that highlighted the importance of Israel in a strong Jewish identity.
Yitro made aliyah in 2005, and spent his first year learning fundamental concepts in Jewish philosophy and spirituality studying in a hesder yeshiva.
A hesder yeshiva program combines advanced Talmudic studies with mandatory conscription in the Israel Defense Forces.
After a year Yitro was inducted into his military service in the Air Force.
Yitro's first encounter with Hadassah came post-army while he was working as a counselor at Camp Ramah in Nyack, New York. Yitro spend some time exhibiting in the US, during which "I presented my work to the Hadassah chapter in Oceanside. "I felt welcomed by the Hadassah women, especially being so far from home. This encounter influenced my choice to attend Hadassah College when I returned to Israel."
He began studying photographic communications as part of a four year course of study at Hadassah Academic College.
"What makes this program unique is that it focuses more on technique then other schools and Hadassah provides me with the training to go into marketing and business while still focusing on art. Students are very motivated and the professors help the students build their professional portfolio. They help us to look toward the future."
Yitro has one year remaining at Hadassah Academic College and is working to combine web design and commercial photography for business promotion. He has continued to develop his artistic style and continues to exhibit his work.
Yitro has expressed his intention to take his work to the US this coming summer in order to further promote his images.
Yitro's present project, "Contained Light," combines the media of studio photography, drawing and street art in the portrayal of bottles and other types of containers as a central motif which can represent different messages, with references in art history, mass communications, and Jewish mysticism.
Read more from Barbara Sofer on her website here>>