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President’s Mission - Israel 2012
- Rhoda Dombchik,
Northern Seabord Regional President
As many of you know, I attended the Hadassah Centennial convention in Israel in October. The Regional Presidents and the Big Chapter Presidents arrived four days early for a President’s Mission. I would like to share those four days with you. What an incredible time for all of us! Suzy Grumbacher, Regional Education VP, will be describing the Centennial Convention in another article.
My first trip to Israel was in the fall of 1984. I was just amazed how I felt right at home at that time. Twenty-eight years later, there were changes in the cities and the countryside, but I felt exactly the same way. I was home.
Our plane left Newark Airport at 1:30pm and arrived in Jerusalem at 5:30am. We were met at the airport by our guide, Shlomo. Since our rooms were not ready, Shlomo took us on a tour of the area ahead of the second plane coming from JFK. The bus driver entered Jerusalem from a different direction than most people use. We took in the hills with the beautiful trees planted by JNF. From a distance we could see the Hadassah Hospital at Ein Kerem. We stopped at the Machaneh Yehuda Market. It was Friday and people were bustling around getting ready for Shabbat even at 7:00am. Each stall was filled with gorgeous fruits, small baked goods with their honey glaze glistening in the sunlight, candies, and meats. Beautiful braided challahs filled the shelves at the edge of the walkway. We could feel the excitement of the arrival of Shabbat. We took a walk around the area with courtyards tucked behind walls that were used as protection hundreds of years ago.
From the market, we drove to our hotel, the Crowne Plaza, with just enough time to check in and carry our luggage to our rooms, before we left for a prayer service at the Kotel, the Western Wall. The rest of the presidents who arrived on the JFK flight were on the bus. Marcie Natan, our National President, and Marlene Post, past National President and past International Hadassah President, led us in a prayer service at the Kotel, where there were many women praying. We could tell that this Hadassah Convention was going to be a trip of a lifetime.
At last we had time to unpack and get ready for Shabbat Dinner. Dinner at the Hotel was lovely, a typical Israeli dinner with Mediterranean dishes: lots of salads, meat, fish, and chicken. Marlene Post, Barbara Goldstein, Roz Rosen, and our National Presidential Development Chairs, Carol Ann Schwartz, and Rhoda Smolow, were hosts at each table. Barbara Goldstein, a dynamic speaker, made Hadassah come alive for us.
Barbara Sofer spoke of Leadership and Women in the Torah. I have always enjoyed getting emails from her throughout the years. Her messages give us a new perspective on what is happening in Israel through individual’s stories. It was a pleasure meeting her in person.
Shabbat awaited us the next morning. Optional early services began before our cold buffet breakfast. Our group met to discuss role models and how we can be a positive influence on others. Then we left for the Israel Museum, walking about two miles. The museum is just beautiful. It is the 10thbiggest in the world. Probably the most famous exhibit is the Dead Sea Scrolls, housed in the Shrine of the Book. I found the huge model of the City of Jerusalem during the time of King David most impressive. Magnificent treasures covered world cultures from ancient through modern times within the walls of the museum.
Havdalah was celebrated outside under the stars as we sang “Shavuah Tov”. Gil Troy, a professor at McGill University in Montreal and also a research fellow in Jerusalem at Shalom Hartman, spoke to us about “Why Zionism?” He talked to us about the importance of being good advocates for Zionism.
We then left by bus to have a light supper in the hospital mall. From there we walked down the hall to the Bloomberg Mother and Child Center in the newly opened Sarah Wetzman Davidson Tower. There was so much excitement in the air. Banners were up welcoming Hadassah members and many plaques were still covered for the special dedication. The place was beautiful. We were taken on a tour of the rooms. Instead of having up to six people in each of the patient rooms, there were now only 2 in the double rooms with each patient having his/her own window. An Arab woman with a shawl on her head invited us to see the room in which her husband was a patient. It reminded me that HMO had been nominated for a 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for its equal treatment of people of all faiths, the model of cooperation and coexistence set by its mixed staff of people of all faiths, and its ongoing initiatives in creating bridges for peace. We stopped to view the healing gardens, the lovely indoor landscaping visible from five floors and overlooking the Jerusalem Hills. The Tower also houses the new Hadassah Heritage Center. The history of Hadassah, including a special electronic display of the 25 Hadassah Presidents, and the programs that have made Hadassah what it is today, is there for all to see.
Sunday morning was the beginning of a very long, exciting day. The bus left our hotel at 8am. Our first stop was the Settlement of Ma’ale Adumim behind the Green Line. It looked like a modern city with new buildings, clean streets, and homes with beautiful flowers. The Deputy Mayor, a woman, boards our bus and explains what we see as we spend about 15 minutes touring her city. As our bus leaves the settlement, we can see Bedouin encampments. Many of their buildings have tin roofs and sheep grazing outside. The government is trying to provide more permanent structures. Our guide told us that some Bedouins use the homes for their animals, whereas they prefer to live in tents.
We stopped at the massive Tirziu Reservoir. JNF has constructed more than 220 reservoirs throughout Israel over the last two decades. The reservoirs serve as the final stage in the water treatment process, and hold 66 billion gallons of recycled water and flood runoff for agricultural use. These reservoirs increase Israel’s water supply by 12%. 75% of the sewage water in Israel is recycled and reused, the highest rate in the world. (The U.S. is at less than 10 %.) Hadassah initiated its partnership with JNF in 1926 to reclaim swamp land and to finance the reforestation of Israel. Israel is the only country in the world that has more trees in the 21stcentury than it did in 1900.
We made two Jordan connections. We stopped at theIsland of Peaceto view the memorial to the tragedy that occurred there in 1997, when aJordanian soldieropened fire at a large group ofIsraelischoolgirlsvisiting the site on a classfield trip. Seven of the girls were shot and killed and another six injured. King Hussein of Jordan visited each of the girls’ families during the week ofshiva. We stopped next at an open crossing at the Jordan River to the Island of Peace, which used to be completely surrounded by water. Plans have been approved to develop the area further into the Jordan River Peace Park
Our next stop was at Kibbutz Degania Aleph/Bet, where we had a lovely lunch. The kibbutz was established in 1912 and is still is an agricultural community. We viewed old photos of its original settlers, including a child named Moshe Dayan. When our guide announced that we would be entering the first tunnel in the Haifa area, I could not believe that we had traveled that far north. Next - the Atlit "Illegal" Immigrant Detention Camp, where the story told in the book, A Day after Night,began. The story tells how children, adults, and families, escapees from Nazi Europe who were deemed illegal by the British, were taken off ships upon arrival, put into boxcars, brought to this camp, given showers, and incarcerated in barracks surrounded by barbed wire. Does this seem very much like the environment they had fled from in Europe? The museum, housed in a reconstructed ship similar in size and appearance to those used to transport European immigrants to Israel, uses a most creative approach. Visitors are seated facing a stage as an announcer describes scenes depicting aspects of the prisoners’ journeys: views of people in their cabins playing the accordion, chess, or cards.
Our next stop was at the Memorial for Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv. 16 basalt rocks from the Golan Heights are sunk in the ground and signify Rabin’s roots and his bond with the land. The stones, placed at different heights, symbolize the political and social earthquake that Israel endured with his brutal assassination in 1995.
We stopped for dinner at a lovely outdoor restaurant, Neve Tdezek, where we were served many courses in family style. The delicious meal gave us an opportunity to discuss the happenings of the day, the workings of our regions, and just a good opportunity to get to know our colleagues.
On Monday, October 15, the convention attendees began arriving, but the presidents had one more day of meaningful stops. Our first stop - the Mount of Olives and a visit to Henrietta Szold’s grave. The caretaker met us and told us of how he personally gathered the stones of the graves, including Henrietta’s after the Arabs plundered the cemetery. He planted rosemary around her grave and gave each one of us a piece of that plant, which is now a hedge.
Our next stop - Mt. Scopus Hospital. Built in 1938, it was in use for only 10 years when, in 1948, 78 doctors, nurses, teachers, and workers were massacred on the road to the hospital. It remained closed until after the Six Day War and reopened in 1976. It serves the population in the area, consisting of many Arabs. The first liver transplant in Israel was performed at Mt. Scopus. It is a center for genetic testing for diseases, such as dysautonomia, but its six OR’s are no longer state-of-the-art. Dr. Osnat Levtzion-Korach, the new director and the first woman to hold this position, explained that Mt. Scopus is in need of additional financial help. The caring and competence of the staff was obvious.
The Knesset was next After a security check, we were taken to the balcony overlooking the floor of the Knesset. It was pointed out where the President, the parties, and the Prime Minister addressed the Knesset. We stood before the “Declaration of Independence” on the single day the Knesset would be in winter session.
Even though it had been a long day, we squeezed in a worthwhile trip to the Herzl Museum. Zionist Theodore Herzl envisioned the Jewish State where our weary people could find ethical and spiritual fulfillment. The museum was interactive, similar to the British Detention Camp museum at Atlit.
When we returned to the Crowne Plaza, many in our group left for other hotels to be with husbands and/or friends from their regions. I remained at the Crowne with my roommate from Boston. The evening activities included the reception for the Keepers of the Gate and a Regional Dinner at a local restaurant, where members from the Northern VA, Potomac, Harrisburg, and Wilmington chapters gathered together for camaraderie and sharing. It is truly amazing how much we accomplished before the Convention even started!