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Remarks by Rabbi Jackie Ellenson

It is a pleasure to be here with all of you today, to share with you my love for Hadassah, my passion for the Hadassah Foundation.   As I have come to the end of my 3-1/2 year term as Chair of the Foundation, following 3 years of service as a Board member, it seems an appropriate time to be here, to say thank you to you and to HWZOA for this wonderful opportunity

The Hadassah Foundation is currently in our tenth year of grant-making.  Over these 10 years, we have given over $5 million dollars in Hadassah’s name, to over 60 organizations.  Our mandate is nothing less than social change, which we hope to accomplish by funding organizations that address the root causes of social problems, and to attack the gender based obstacles that confront women and girls. Our twin areas of focus continue to provide us with ample possibilities for funding.  In Israel, the field of women’s economic empowerment has become quite significant.  Women of every Israeli cultural background, Jewish, Druze, Moslem and Christian,  Ethiopian, Russian, all Israeli, benefit from our grants to organizations that promote women’s empowerment through  asset building and incentified savings, business and vocational training and job placement, legal aid, coalition building and attention to governmental funding.  In North America, Healthy Relationships, and the nexus of Jewish tradition, self-esteem and wellness are the areas we fund.  Our process is attentive and open. Our board members, all 18 of them, from all over North America and Israel, participate through vetting grant proposals, and actively and completely discussing each proposal in our meeting.  Guided by my own philosophy of reaching consensus, if not always agreement, we have participated in some very challenging discussions.  As you know, Hadassah women have very strong opinions about just about everything!  Yet, at the end of each funding meeting, our Board feels a sense of accomplishment, having taken quite seriously its mandate to use Hadassah dollars wisely.  In these last two years, the Foundation Board voted to establishe the Bernice Tanenbaum Prize, to honor Bernice as well as to recognize an emerging leader in the field of social change.  Funded by Joan Leiman and with additional gifts from Nancy Berman and the Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation, this prize has become yet another manifestation of the Foundation’s commitment to social change.

The good name of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America has spread into parts of the Israeli culture and the Jewish world that know only of the hospital.  In the work of the Foundation, the good name of Hadassah becomes attached to new initiatives and ideas. When we visit our grantees on our missions to Israel, the women we meet are pleased and honored to be associated with Hadassah.  Their link to not just a building but to an enterprise and an organization which has itself empowered women for almost a century, gives them strength, a sense of history. This link to Hadassah reminds them both explicitly and implicitly of the dream of Henrietta Szold.   Hasn’t Hadassah always been about women’s leadership, about women having a dream of a better world and then making it happen? An organization that began with two nurses in Palestine, that developed its mandate as it created the itinerant Tipat Halav donkey transports, that now supports in Israel, an unsurpassed medical center, youth aliya villages throughout Israel, the world renowned Hadassah College, Young Judea, as well as significant initiatives in advocacy for the environment, Jewish education, and health, has survived into this 21st century because it has been willing and able to look at the world, to see a problem that needs solving, and then put its resources into solving it. In this way, the Hadassah Foundation was born, out of a realization that there were new and pressing issues that needed the attention of the Jewish community.
I have been thinking a lot this past week about Hadassah’s beginnings.  I have found myself trying hard to imagine the strength of the hopes Henrietta Szold had, as she began this part of her life’s journey. What vision illuminated the profound societal changes that could be conceptualized in that drop of milk?  I wonder about the dreams of Henrietta and the original organizing group of women, and how they came to envision that the provision of health care in the Land of Palestine would change the world for generations.  It’s nothing short of miraculous, even now.  I believe that, if Henrietta Szold were alive, she too would see in the Hadassah Foundation a further expression of her aspirations for Hadassah.  Hadassah as an organization has always been able to build on the power of women to make history and to change the world, the power of women to see things as they should be, and not be silenced into accepting what is.  This power to dream, and to turn these dreams into a reality, is the true defining characteristic of this organization.  The formation of the Hadassah Foundation is yet another realization of these dreams, to make the concerns of women and girls into a priority for funding and action in the Jewish community.   It has been an amazing ten years!  In all of our grant-making, we have become profoundly aware of the challenges each organization faces, but even more so we can see the power of each dollar we give. Each and every girl and woman who is reached by one of our grantee organizations is strengthened and empowered to become an agent of change herself. This tipat halav, the drop of milk, still has life-transforming potential.

In the Jewish mystical tradition, there is the notion that there is a tiny spark, a drop, of holiness, that remains hidden in every object, in every being, in every interaction.  This hidden spark always strives to grow and become revealed in the world.  Only with human action can the spark be revealed. It becomes the responsibility of each and every individual to attempt to discover and uncover the presence of holiness, the presence of God within each spark. This process of repair and restoration, of tikkun, is an essential aspect of our human-ness and our humane-ness.  It is our obligation to gather these sparks of divinity and humanity, and to create a new world out of them.  It is our aspiration to pay attention to those hidden sparks, and bring them into reality, actualize them, by our actions and our words.  This is not a one time process. It is an ongoing dynamic which calls out to each of us, as individuals and as a community.    No one could have imagined the holiness in the Tipat Halav, in the milk bottles of our predecessors.  But in the gradual unfolding and revealing of an individual person’s hopes, or even in an organization’s hopes,  in the dollars we contribute, grow and give away, we too can see this holiness become expressed and revealed in the world.  I feel so grateful to all of you for the gift of leadership I was given, for this entry into the Hadassah world.  I too believe that each person can make a difference, and that it is our holy mandate to give our lives meaning.  I have learned so much about this beloved organization in these past few years.  I have always felt grateful to represent you and share the good work of Hadassah in my own professional community.  These have not been the best of times.  But our capability to harness the power and holiness of each person, of each dollar, becomes even more important in times of challenge.  We must always continue to dream, and then to act,  to make our power and our dollars act in the world. Our willingness to go the extra mile, to push the boundaries of what we can accomplish may be tested in these moments, but we all have risen to the occasion, and we will continue to do so.  I could not have done this work without the constant support of Linda Altshuler, our wise and caring director, and Bernice Tanenbaum, our conscience and our guide.  I have to thank Nancy Berman for having the wisdome to invite me to join her at a Hadassah Foundation program shortly after I arrived in New York.  Nancy Falchuk’s leadership of HWZOA is remarkable and profound.  The power and strength of these women inspire me and have always propelled me forward in my work.  Their commitment to the Hadassah dream has fueled my own. I could not imagine a more perfect manifestation of my values, or of my commitments to Judaism, feminism, and Zionism.   I know that Hadassah will have significant impact on me and will influence my communal commitments for the rest of my life.  Thank you so much.

 

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