“We must answer all the challenges we face — hate included — with action,” said Hadassah National President Carol Ann Schwartz in her welcoming remarks to Hadassah’s January National Assembly and Business Meetings. From January 21 to 23, 200 Hadassah leaders came together in West Palm Beach, Florida, to learn, collaborate and discuss Hadassah’s projects, priorities and the incredible impact Hadassah has been having since October 7.
“We have to respond by organizing, building institutions, building coalitions, building a nation, building ourselves,” she said. “We have to respond by standing up, speaking out and showing up, even when our senses are overwhelmed. Fortunately, these are all things that Hadassah does well.”
Hospital Updates and Important Discussions
Hadassah Medical Organization leaders and staff shared updates from Hadassah’s hospitals in Israel, including the expansion of Hadassah’s physical footprint with the new Gandel Rehabilitation Center at Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus and community health centers in Beit Shemesh; medical innovations like a clinical trial of proton radiation treatment for cancer patients; and efforts to increase mental health services for a country at war. Prof. Yoram Weiss, director general of the Hadassah Medical Organization, spoke movingly of the 475 war-wounded soldiers and civilians Hadassah’s hospitals have treated since October 7.
Participants in Hadassah’s recent Solidarity Mission to Israel shared what it was like to bear witness to Hamas’ atrocities, including speaking to families of hostages still being held in Gaza, visiting the Nova festival site –– where over 360 people were murdered –– and hearing from four women involved in documenting the sadistic mass rape of women by Hamas on October 7. Panel discussions focused on the scourge of antisemitism today, what day-to-day life in Israel looks like now, and how Hadassah is working to protect reproductive choice and address violence against women.
Youth Aliyah Co-Chairs Marcie Natan, a past national president, and Michelle Rubin shared an update about what life has been like for students at Hadassah Neurim and Meir Shfeyah since October and how they are being supported during these unprecedented times.
Rhoda Smolow, who concluded her four-year term as Hadassah national president on December 31, was honored for her service during a special tribute. “Toda raba for all you’ve done. You made your mark — Hadassah’s mark –– at every table,” said Ellen Hershkin, past Hadassah national president. “May you continue on your journey with pride, passion, purpose and love.”
Schwartz, who began serving on January 1, was officially installed as Hadassah’s 28th national president. Viviane Kovacs was installed as national treasurer, succeeding Michelle Hubertus, who was installed as the newest of six vice presidents on Hadassah’s national board, joining Liz Alpert, Peg Elefant, Fran Feldman, Valerie Lowenstein and Jill Sapperstein.
“In handing the Torah down, Moses’ final message to the Israelis can be interpreted as his saying, ‘It is not enough that you have received the Torah from me, you must make it new again in every generation.’ The covenant was not to grow old. It had to be periodically renewed,” said Natan, while officiating at the installation ceremony. “One of the blessings of Hadassah is that we have the opportunity every four years to renew the covenant. Each of you, our new officers — sitting beside those who continue in office — will play a critical role in that renewal, in keeping Hadassah relevant, enticing and exciting for the next generation.”
Two timely policy statements were enacted: “Standing Up to Antisemitism on College Campuses and in Communities Across the Country” and “Condemning Gender-Based Violence.”
Panelists discussed the precipitous rise in antisemitic incidents on college campuses since October 7 — a 700 percent increase — and how we can help counter hate in college education, support young people and build allyship in our communities.
“The world has changed since October 7. The atmosphere on campuses has been difficult for Jewish students,” said panelist Tina Malka, director of antisemitism education for Hillel International. “But it’s important to hear that yes, the voices of bad actors are very loud, making it uncomfortable for Jewish students, and also that group is not growing on campuses. The people who are virulently anti-Israel or antisemitic are not expanding on campuses. It is the same group we see every time. The good news is Jewish students are deeply engaging in education. They are diving back into Hillel. They are leaders on campus and taking on all kinds of leadership roles in really deliberate ways.”
One session focused on Hadassah’s crisis response efforts in Israel, and another on Hadassah's advocacy for US support for Israel, for the hostages and for Israeli women and girls.
Suzanne Patt Benvenisti, executive director of Hadassah's Offices in Israel, talked about what her family’s life has been like since October 7. Hadassah leaders had the opportunity to observe a moment of silence for all who have perished in the war at a table filled with lit candles.
Attendees also participated in a mitzvah project, bringing with them toiletries and feminine hygiene products and then packing them to send to area shelters, including Harmony House – YWCA Palm Beach County, a shelter for victims of domestic violence.
Hadassah’s next National Assembly will be accompanied by special programming and will take place July 28-30 in Las Vegas.
Press Release: Hadassah Adopts New Policy Statements
Policy Statement: Condemning Gender-Based Violence